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Paris 1830-1881 Paris

Enfant mort d’hydrophobie

Enfant mort d’hydrophobie

Signed along the left edge, center, Cérémonie

Bronze, set into the original oak frame

Oval, 11 x 8 ¾ inches

260 x 220 mm


Paris, Salon of 1880, no. 6174


S. Lami, Dictionnaire des Sculpteurs de l’école française au dix-neuvième siecle, Paris, 1914, vol. I, p. 311

Cast circa 1880

The once universal fatality of untreated human rabies, or hydrophobia, explains the terror of the disease, transmissible from animals to humans.  The saliva of a rabid dog is the common means of transmission. Symptoms develop within ten to fifty days after exposure and increase in violence as the disease progresses.  In the late stage of rabies, symptoms include inflammation of the brain, delirium, hallucinations and spasms in the throat muscles that are so painful that the patient cannot eat or drink, and so will refuse water in spite of great thirst. Death will ensue without fail within two to ten days after these clinical manifestations.

This dreaded disease had no cure until Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) developed a vaccine for human rabies in 1885. He had begun to work on the disease in December 1880 and reported progress to his scientific peers regularly.  By 1884, he announced a vaccine based on modified rabies virus which he claimed protected dogs.  In the following year he proceeded to develop a preventative treatment, using graduated doses of the vaccine, to build up immunity during the long incubation period of the disease. It was a triumph of such magnitude that a public subscription was launched to establish a clinic for treatment and research for vaccines that could cure other fatal diseases.  The Institut Pasteur was inaugurated on 14 November 1888, and its example led to the founding of similar institutes across Europe, Britain, America, and Asia.

The continuing relatively high levels of death in the second half of the nineteenth century and the wide circulation of reports from laboratories in France of major advances in research kept rabies constantly in the public mind at the time.  Cérémonie’s unusual and possibly unique bronze relief presented here is a response to this pre-occupation.  It is an anomaly in the oeuvre of the sculptor who is better known for his portraits and equine subjects. Not unlike depictions of plague in the seventeenth century, this bronze demonstrates an artist’s concern for what was then a deeply feared threat to society.  The artist shows in high relief the head of a young boy exhibiting the final stages of hydrophobia or fear of water:  the child’s mouth is open as he gasps with thirst, his neck muscles swollen from spasms. The hem of a sheet at the lower left suggests that he is lying in bed.  The unflinching realism of the subject, rendered with tender compassion and with exceptionally high quality of modelling, won Cérémonie the bronze medal in Sculpture at the Salon of 1880.

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