The Beauty of Human Error/ Polska Sztuka Ludowa - Konteksty 2014 Special Issue

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The Beauty of Human Error/ Polska Sztuka Ludowa - Konteksty 2014 Special Issue


antropologia współczesności


Polska Sztuka Ludowa - Konteksty 2014 Special Issue s.112-119


Stomma, Ludwik


Instytut Sztuki PAN




Licencja PIA









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The Beauty
of Human Error
In Memoriam Professor
Aleksander Jackiewicz

Act I. The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower was erected upon the occasion of
the World Exhibition in 1889 and conceived as the at­
traction and embellishment of the event. Its author, as
the name indicates, was engineer Gustave Eiffel, ear­
lier known as the builder of a viaduct over the Sioule
(1869), a bridge in Porto (1876), and, predominantly,
the 122 metre-tall Garabit Viaduct (1878), a techno­
logical miracle of its time. The tower brought him not
only immortal renown but also the Legion of Honour,
which Eiffel received on inauguration day (31 March
1889) from Minister of Trade Trade Édouard Lockroy
(in place of Prime Minister Pierre Emmanuel Tirard,
who became short of breath and could not reach the
uppermost platform; lifts were installed several weeks
later). The Tower is 301 meters high and weighs 9 699
“This tower is the fulfilment of an eternal dream...”
- Prime Minister Tirard said without undue exaggera­
tion in his inauguration speech. Designs for soaring
constructions ”befitting the capital of the world”
had been presented already to Charles VII, Francis I,
Henry IV, Louis XV and Napoleon... Almost at the
last moment the realisation of Alfred Picard‘s monu­
mental project was hampered by the July Revolution.
To the end of 1886 Eiffel’s rival was Jules Bourdais,
supporter of a cylindrical tower, also 300 meters tall
and topped with a hundred powerful floodlights that
would illuminate evenly not only Paris but also the whole
of Bois Boulogne, Neuilly and Levallois, all the way to the
Seine. Taking into consideration the height of our houses,
wrote a malicious journalist, standing like cliffs along
narrow canyons, and the fact that the streets of Paris do
not radiate concentrically from the site intended for this
monstrous column one may presume that the city roofs
alone would become flooded with light; hence, probably
contrary to the intentions of the authors, only our cats will
benefit while pedestrians will continue breaking their legs
in the darkness. 1
Despite “eternal dreams” the ultimate decision to
embark upon building a ”steel construction accord­

ing to calculations made by engineer Gustave Eiffel”,
signed on 8 January 1887 by Eduard Lockroy and the
prefect of Paris Eugène Poubelle (yes! - the one re­
sponsible for dustbins), produced a storm of solemn
On 14 February “Le Temps” published an open
letter addressed to Adolphe Alphand, chief architect
of Paris. The signatories included, i.a. Guy de Mau­
passant, Alexandre Dumas, Sully Prudhomme, poets:
François Coppée, Leconte de Lisle, painters: Jean
Louis Meissonier, Leon Bonnat, William-Adolphe
Bouguerau, Adolphe Willette, architects headed by
the designer of the Paris Opera Charles Garnier, mu­
sicians, with Charles Gounod, and actors, including
Victorien Sardou...: Citizen and dear countryman!
We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and ama­
teurs devoted to the beauty of Paris that had remained
intact until now, come to protest with all our might and
indignation, in the name of the unrecognised French taste,
French art, and French history that now find themselves
threatened —we protest the construction, on the very earth
of our capital, the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower that
public spite, often imbued with good sense and a spirit of
justice, has already christened the Tower of Babel. With­
out succumbing to chauvinistic exaggeration we may
boldly state that Paris is undoubtedly the most beauti­
ful city in the world. Along its streets, wide boulevards,
enchanting riverbanks and promenades there tower
the most magnificent works of mankind. The spirit of
France, the author of those masterpieces, delights in
this flourishing of stone dignity. The Italians, the Ger­
mans, and the Dutch, albeit correctly proud of their
artistic heritage, do not possess anything comparable
with ours, and thus Paris stirs curiosity and admiration
in all corners of the world. Are we to desecrate all this?
Is Paris to subject itself to the tradesman’s mentality of
a machine constructor by losing its beauty and hon­
our? Yes! - This tower, which even commercialised
America would not want, is unquestionably an insult
to the town. Everyone feels this, all repeat this, all
are anxious; we are merely a weak echo of a rightly
disturbed public opinion. Foreigners arriving at our
exhibition will cry out in surprise: “This is the mon­
strosity chosen by the French to give witness to their
taste!?”. Mercilessly jeering, they will be right. Paris of
the lofty Gothic, Paris of Jean Goujon, Pilon, Puget,
Rude, de Barye, etc. ... will become Paris of Mr. Eiffel.
In order to understand the l egitimacy of our outrage
it suffices to imagine this ridiculous Tower ruling over
Paris in the manner of a pillar of black factory smoke
and smothering with its barbaric weight Notre-Dame,
Saint-Chapelle, Tour Saint-Jacques, the Louvre, the
Dôme des Invalides, L ’Arc de Triomphe ... All our
monuments humiliated and belittled, vanishing in this
mad dream. For twenty long years we shall be forced
to watch how the shadow of an atrocious column


Ludwik Stomma *


made of twisted tin will fall upon this city, trembling
with the troubled genius of past centuries. - We turn
to you, Sir, who loves Paris so much, who has granted
it so much beauty, who has protected it so many times
against the devastation and vandalism of industry, and
who has the honour to shield it once again. We turn
to you, Sir, while guarding the cause of Paris because
we know that as an artist who loves all that is beauti­
ful, great and just, you will devote all your energy and
eloquence. And if our call will remain unheeded, if
our arguments will be rejected, if Paris will insist to
be defiled, then let us, the signatories, and you, Sir,
at least leave for posterity this protest, which does us
The signatories did not have to wait long for a
riposte: the Tower is not a useless object - Lockroy
replied, nor is it an ordinary attraction at the World
Exhibition; on the contrary, it provides science with
invaluable services. Eugene-Melchior de Vogue stated
that the Tower is the immortal victory of masonic
lodges over degenerate clericals, a blow dealt against
parochial mystifications, revenge for the defeat of the
freemasons of Senaar, and an embodiment of the om­
nipotence of science raising the tower of Babel, an
edifice forbidden by the Biblical God. 4 Magnificent
proof of the industrial power of our land; a monument
of secular genius; an extraordinary flight of secular
thought ... - added others, and Gaston Tissandier
concluded that the Tower will symbolise not only the
skills of contemporary engineering, but the whole age
of Science and Industry, in which we live; it will be­
come a monument of gratitude for the heroes of scien­
tific renascence at the end of the eighteenth century
and the Revolution of 1789, who delineated the paths
of progress.5
As the construction work advanced and the Tower
grew, the opinions of its supporters became louder and
more exalted. The above cited de Vogiie, speaking in
the name of the Eiffel Tower, addressed the bell towers
of the Notre-Dame cathedral: You old abandoned tow­
ers, which no one obeys any longer. Do you not see that the
poles of the Earth, now turning around my steel axis, have
changed1 I am the power of the universe brought under
control by the genius of calculations. Human thought runs
along my members. My forehead is encircled by radiance
brought from the sources of light. You were ignorance, and
I am Science! 6 An anonymous author of Guide officiel
de la Tour Eiffel echoed his opinion: Only from here
(from the second platform of the Tower - L. S.) it is
possible to grasp the great progress of History. Here, N a­
ture and History demonstrate their peak. It is here - on the
plain stretching at your feet that the past took place. It is
here (on the Tower - L. S.) that the future will become
fulfilled. (...) Thanks to its form of a factory chimney the
Tower triumphantly guided into Paris industry, of which
attempts were made to deprive the city. Soaring proudly, it

reminds the heavens about the might of progress, the vic­
tory of Science and Industry. 7 The praise was crowned
with Adolphe David’s Symophonic Poem, opus 63:
- Engineers and workers arrive at Champ de Mars
- Beginning of work and the Tower foundations
- The clangor of iron (moderato e martellato)
- Ironworkers (allegro et gaiement)
- Turmoil and anxiety among the workers (allegro
- First platform, the Tower grows, the summit is
closer (andante cantabile)
- People on the Tower (moderato accelerando e
crescendo jusqu’à la fin)
- The French national anthem and flag (lento e
It should be added that according to its adherents
the localisation of the Eiffel Tower accentuated its
symbolic dimension. Up to 1765 Champ de Mars had
been covered with vineyards, and then, for the next
15 years, it served as a training area for cadets of the
nearby Military Academy. From that time, however, it
became renowned for numerous spectacular events:
1783 - the Robert brothers launched a huge bal­
loon (which fell in Gonesse, near Ecouen, causing
panic among the local peasants),
1794 - the Blanchard balloon,
July 1790 - Fête de la Fédération under Tal­
leyrand. In pouring rain more than 300 000 Parisians
swore an oath of loyalty to the Nation and the Con­

Ludwik Stomma


November 1794 - the execution of Jean Baillie,strous”, “hideous”, "ridiculous, “horrible”, “made not
astronomer and mer of Paris (the same who responded
of stone” but of “tin twisted with screws” ; it “smothers
to a comment made by the hangman, who noticed
the town’s monuments with its barbaric weight” and
that he was shivering with fear: Oui, mais cest seule- is the reason why “Gothic Paris will become the Paris
ment de froid (Yes, but it is only the cold).
of Mr. Eiffel”, etc. Ethical arguments proclaimed: “the
June 1794 - Apotheosis, the Festival of the Su­Tower is a profanity”, “it robs of all honour”, “it hu­
miliates”, is “an insult” and “a new Tower of Babel”,
preme Being, organized by Robespierre,
while utilitarian arguments added: “it is useless” and,
November 1804 - Napoleon presented the Le­
finally, socio-ideological ones claimed that the Tower
gions with eagles,
1863 - the launch of “Le Geant”, a two-storey bal­ was created by the “tradesman’s mentality of a ma­
chine constructor”, “even commercialised America
loon built by A. Nadar,
would not want it”, it is an ”industrial product”...
1867 - International Exhibition,
1878 - World Exhibition.
Counter-arguments include: ’’victory over the cler­
gy”, “’parochial mystifications”, “ignorance” and the
The construction of the Tower lasted 26 months
“’past” ; a triumph of “’iron”, “’industry”, “science”,
(795 days, to be precise). The Parisian press reported
about the course of the work with growing enthusi­ ‘’free thought”, “secular genius”, the “future”, the
asm: The workers compete zealously, full of admiration
’’tradition of the Enlightenment and the French Rev­
for the common task. They do not fear exhaustion or in­ olution”, “usefulness”, and, finally, a pathos-suffused
clement weather: be it winter or the hottest summer days
admission: “Yes, this is the new Tower of Babel”.
they labour with total devotion, courage and an undeterred
It is easy to notice that the symmetric arguments
and counter-arguments seem to be arranged in two
will to successfully complete the Tower - wrote “Le cri
opposition cycles:
du peuple” in June 1887. “Le Rappel” added on 13
August: The number of curious onlookers watching the
1 - industry: art; engineer: artist; iron: stone,
construction continues to grow. Foreigners passing through
2 - the future: the past; science: religion; freedom:
Paris return from the site of the great undertaking delighted
and slightly jealous. (...) All agree that the Tower appears
Take the first contrast - industry: art.
to be growing by itself.
The French: I’industrie (and the Polish: industriFinally, on 1 April 1889, after all the speeches,
alizacja/industrialisation) is derived from the Latin:
celebrations, orders, and ribbons tourists mounted the
industria, i.e. collective work, the activity of a closed
Tower. The guest book placed next to the entrance
group of the initiated... Up to the eighteenth century
to the stairs makes it possible to learn about their first chevalier d’industrie signified a felon, a member of a
impressions 8.What summit will the genius of the French band of thieves. This negative timbre survived all the
reach in 1989? —The clouds will tell!’ (a visitor from Bra­ way to the middle of the nineteenth century suggest­
zil); Oh Egypt, my beloved homeland, how I would like to ing unsuitable, common, and even degrading activity.
see from the peaks of the pyramids a work as mighty and
Art, on the other hand, from the Latin: ars-tis (talent)
magnificent as the Eiffel Tower, erected with the hands of and the Indo-European aritus/ritus, refers to a rite, sac­
your children!; Oh my native land! When will you achieve
ral activity, the sacred, an encounter of the individual
such a success? (a Hungarian); French genius, you will
and the sacred.
always be foremost in the world!’; Seeing the Eiffel Tower
upon the etymological level the distinction into
I am proud to be French; Just as on the Tower of Babel
industry and art thus delineated further contrasts:
here too a great mixture of languages but it does not divide
industry: art
people —on the contrary, it unites in a unanimous ado­
the collective: the individual
ration of France (a Greek woman); I discovered on the
the profane: the sacral.
Tower the expanse of my native seas (a Breton). Only a
Parallel, the iron: stone opposition, in which iron is
certain Bloumette expressed some distance: The more I
a transposed material while stone ”was begat without
admire the Eiffel Tower the more I experience the infinites­ human intervention” places us vis a vis a fundamental,
imal nature of high heels; a sergeant of the 18th infantry
structural culture: nature opposition.
regiment preceded Freudian interpretations and wrote
Myth - Roland Barthes maintained - consists in
succinctly and concisely: An imposing penis!. The sole
overturning culture into nature or, at least, the social, the
cultural, the ideological, the historical into the “natural".
sceptical and embittered reaction of the day was the
What is nothing but a product of class division and its
one (is this not an additional symbol?) of our kinsman
from the land on the Vistula: We build ever higher, we moral, cultural and aesthetic consequences is presented
fall ever lower. Stanislas Skarżyński. Fortunately, his
(stated) as being a "matter of course"; under the effect
voice was drowned in the general clamour.
of mythical inversion, the quite contingent foundations
of the utterance become Common Sense, Right Reason,
The opponents proposed aesthetic arguments
against the Tower, which they regarded as “mon­ the Norm, General Opinion, in short the doxa (which is


the secular figure of the Origin). 9 The basic function
of collective impression thus consists of a permanent
transition of the cultural to the natural, the mythical
justification and integration of culture. Meanwhile, in
the peculiar case of the adherents of the Eiffel Tower
we are dealing with an opposite tendency - we reject
Nature! We consciously speak in favour of the trans­
posed. We do not want revealed traditions but truths
created by us. We are the future! We are the heretics!
... So many dreams of Castorp and Settembrini are to
be found here, so many predictions of futurism and
An anthropologist, however, knows, and this is
the painful complaint of his (nomen omen) profession,
that there is no truth or liberty, and that a myth will
only replace a previous myth. The myth cherished by
the supporters of the Tower was emancipated society
without tradition, religion, and the past, progressing
towards unruffled freedom just a step away. This is
freedom devoid of tedious injunctions and numbing
taboos from the past. Industry, iron, science !
Fifty years later, miniature Eiffel towers advertised
(and sometimes still do) spots for cosy rendezvous in
Portugal, Central America, the Far East, “all the cor­
ners of the world”. Decorations depicting the Tower
are also, in our epoch, an indispensable component
of Parisian cabarets, which, like “Folies-Bergère” or
“Crazy Horse” consider or offer themselves as truly lib­
erated “’in the Parisian spirit”. Even in private brothel
apartments in St. Denis a small golden model of the
Tower is virtually unavoidable.
Once: industry, iron, science; now: nudity, plumes,
Chanel... New generations ruthlessly travestied the
ideas of the adherents of engineer Eiffel. Did they ac­
tually betray the message?
In June 1984 the lesbians of Paris, demanding the
right to legal marriage, carried at the head of their
procession a cardboard Eiffel Tower, and in the back
a banner: ’’May secular thought win” ... . The Sun
emerged from behind the clouds and smiled upon the

Act IL L’A rt de Triomphe
The construction of L’Arc de Triomphe an­
nounced by Napoleon on the battlefield at Austerlitz
went on for thirty years (15 August 1806 - 29 July
1836). In the meantime, France witnessed the fall of
the Empire, the Cossacks entering Paris, the Bourbon
Restoration, the Hundred Days, another Restoration,
the July Revolution, the onset of the reign of Louis
Philippe ...
Originally, the Arc was to stand in the presentday Place de la Bastille, since this was the route along
which the army returned from the East along St. A n­
toine. The project was changed by the Minister of
Foreign Affairs Jean-Baptiste de Nompère de Cham115

pagny, who skilfully suggested to the Emperor that the
Arc, soaring over the Etoile tollgate, would be visible
from the Tuileries, and thus always before the eyes of
the Triumphant Commander; more, His Majesty will
ride under it while on his way to Malmaison. 10
The walls of the Arc were 5,40 meters tall when
suddenly Jean-Frangois Chalgrin, the author of the
design and chief architect, died on 20 January 1811.
Work conducted under the supervision of his loyal
student Louis-Robert Goust during the tragic days of
the fall of the Empire, attained a height of 20 metres.
A seven years-long delay now followed. Construc­
tion was not renewed until 9 October 1823 upon the
basis of an ordinance issued by Louis XVIII but with
a new decoration-ideological programme. The Arc
was now to laud Bourbon supremacy in the Span­
ish war. Goust was assigned a political controller
- the ultra-royalist architect Jean-Nicholas Huyot,
who by systematically questioning all of Chalgrin's
drawings ultimately, in February 1830, led to Goust’s
Huyot’s triumph was short-lived. Five months lat­
er, the July Revolution abolished the Bourbon dynasty.
Louis Philippe returned to the original conception of
the Arc - a monument commemorating the glorious
victories won by the Revolution and the Empire; its
realisation was entrusted to Abel Blount, whose name
was etched for all eternity at the top of the eastern

Ludwik Stomma


The Arc is 49,5 metres high and 22 metres deep,
decorated with sculptures, bas-reliefs, and numerous
1. Sculptures.
- From the Champs-Elysées
on the right pillar: The Departure of the Volunteers
of 1792 by François Rude (a student of Pierre Cord­
elier); a sculpture today known as La Marseillaise,
whose name comes from the “genius of war” dominat­
ing a group of female figures;
on the left pillar: Napoleon’s Triumph by Jean
Pierre Cortot.
From Neuilly:
two allegories by Antoine Etex: Resistance (on the
right) and Peace (on the left ).
2. Bas-reliefs.
- From the Champs-Elysées:
on the right: Death of François Séverin MarceauDesgraviers at Altenkirchen 21 September 1796,
on the left: The Battle of Aboukir (25 July 1799).
Kincei Mustapha surrenders to Bonaparte and Murat.
- From Neuilly:
on the right: General Bonaparte on the bridge at
Arcole, 17 November, 1796. In the foreground: Bona­
parte and the drummer boy André Etienne;
on the left: Capture of Alexandria by Kléber (2
July 1798).
- From Avenue de Wagram:
Battle of Austerlitz (2 December 1805). Napoleon
leads the Guards to attack.
- From Avenue Kléber:
Battle of Jemmapes (6 November 1792). Charles
Dumouriez begins the cavalry attack. In the back­
ground, amongst the staff officers: the recognisable
figure of the Count of Chartres - the later King Louis
3. Inscriptions.
A. 150 names of localities associated with the mili­
tary successes of the Republic, the Directorate, and
the Empire. Looking at a map of present-day Europe
we find 35 sites in Italy, 29 in former West Germany,
25 in Spain, ten in France, nine in the former Soviet
Union, eight in former East Germany, seven in Bel­
gium, five each in Egypt, Austria and Poland (accord­
ing to the spelling from the Arc: Pultusk, Ostrolenka,
Eylau, Danzig, Breslaw), four in The Netherlands, two
in Portugal, and one each in former Czechoslovakia
(Austerlitz), Luxembourg (Luxembourg), former Yu­
goslavia (Montenegro), Switzerland (Zurich), Israel
(Jaffa) and Hungary (Raab-Gyór).
B. Names of 660 military commanders represent­
ing over ten nationalities. Alongside the French they
include Germans, Italians, Belgians, the Dutch, the
Swiss, Spaniards, seven Poles: Kniaziewicz, Poniatowsky (Poniatowski), Lasowski (Łazowski), Dombrowsky (Dąbrowski), Zayonscheck (Zajączek),

Sulkosky (Sułkowski), Klopisky (Chłapowski)... and
even commanders from Austria (Scherer), Ireland
(Kilmaine), Dominicana (Briux) and Venezuela (Mi­
From Place de l’Etoile (today: Place Charles de
Gaulle-Etoile), crowned with L’Arc de Triomphe, there
radiates a dozen (since 1854) wide avenues: Avenue
des Champs-Elysée and, counting clockwise, Avenue
Marceau (François Marceau-Desgraviers, 1769-1796
- revolutionary general, victor from Coblenz and Neu­
wied, died at Altenkirchen aged 27), Avenue d’Iéna
(Napoleon’s victory over the Prussian army, 14 Octo­
ber 1806), Avenue Kléber (Jean Baptiste Kléber, 1753­
1800 - victor from Fleurus, commander of the Egyptian
army, stabbed in Cairo), Avenue Victor Hugo, Avenue
Foch, Avenue de la Grande Armée (from 1805 this
was the official name of Napoleon’s Army), Avenue
Carnot (Lazare Carnot, 1753-1823 - leading activist
of the French Revolution, member of the Directorate,
provisional minister of war serving under Napoleon,
later an opponent of Napoleon, during the Hundred
Days accepted the post of minister of internal affairs,
exiled in 1816, devoted himself to research), Avenue
Mac-Mahon (Esme-Patrice Mac- Mahon, 1808-1898
- general, royalist, distinguished during the Crimean
War and at Magenta, stifled the Paris Commune, Pres­
ident of France, in 1873-1879), Avenue de Wagram
(Napoleon’s victory over the Austrians, 4-6 July 1809),
Avenue Hoche (Louis Lazare Hoche, 1768-1797 revolutionary general, cruelly pacified the Vendéans)
and Avenue de Friedland (Napoleon’s victory over the
Russian army, 14 July 1807).
The Arc closes one of the most magnificent vis­
tas of urban planning in the world: Place de l’Etoile
- Champs-Elysées - Place de la Concorde with the
Luxor Obelisk (thirteenth century B.C.) - the Tuiler­
ies Garden - Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel - the Lou­
In a poem mentioning his father, a general whose
name was omitted from L ’Arc de Trimophe, 11 Victor
Hugo wrote:
Oh! dans ces jours lointains où l’on n’ose descendre)
sur ce bloc triomphal ou revit tout l’empire
ou l’histoire dictait ce qu’il dictait ce qu’il fallait écrire
vous avez oublié sire un nom militaire
celui que je soutiens et que portait mon père
c’était un vieux soldat, brave entre les plus braves
dont le sabre jamais ne dormait au fourreau
et que napoléon enviait à moreau
pourtant sur votre mur, il est oublié sire
et vous avez eu tort et je dois vous le dire
car le poète pur, de la foule éloigné
qui vous aborde ici de son vers indigné

Ludwik Stomma


sire! et qui vous souhaite un long règne prospère
n'est-ce pas de ceux qu'on flatte en oubliant leur
L ’Arc de Triomphe was intended to be a monu­
ment commemorating the power of the French army,
national pride, and the invincible might of the Empire.
It served as a point of departure for the funeral corteges
of Ferdinand Foch (1926), Joseph Joffre (1931), Philip
Leclerc (1947), Jean-Marie Lattre de Tassigny (1952)
and the hero of colonial wars - Louis Lyautey (1961).
It is here, next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,
established in 1921, that the ceremonial changing of
the guard is held. Here runs the obligatory route of all
war parades...
The tourists, however, blissfully unaware of the
blood-stained pages of military history and visiting
colourful Paris distant from the roar of canons and
the dust of the battlefields, lift their heads to seek
on the Arc the names of native localities or familiar
sounding surnames. The English appropriate Clarke,
MacDonald, Hatry, and Pierce; the Germans - Kellerman, Struts, Stengel... the Spaniards - Almeras,
Miquel, Loverd...: the Portuguese - Cosmao, Dugua...
; the Lithuanians - Baltus; and the Czechs (I heard
this!) - Zayonscheck... Never mind the fact that those
dead are probably rolling over in their graves. In this
chaotic mixture of languages the Arc becomes a sign
of cosmopolitanism rising above national frontiers, ar­
mies, and a gung-ho legacy.
Paradoxically, it is those clueless tourists who are
right. From the very onset, albeit independently of
the intentions of its authors (naturally, if we recog­
nise them as individuals working on sketches and not
the collective genius of history), the Arc was already
a symbol of that, which is most alien to the power of
armies and the might of empires - a symbol of toler­
ance and probably the only building in the world from
which the revolutionary Dumouriez, Emperor N apo­
leon, and King Louis Philippe Bourbon look down;
this is the starting point of the exits of avenues named
after the perpetrator of regicide Carnot and the reac­
tionary monarchist and hangman of the Communards
Mac-Mahon, together with Victor Hugo, defender of
the latter’s right to asylum (a stand for which he was
exiled from Belgium), the bloody enemy of religion
Hoch and the self-declared supporter of clericalism
Foch... . Recall yet another vista from the Arc span­
ning from the nineteenth century (Champs-Élysée),
towards ancient Egypt, the sixteenth century (the
Tuileries Garden) and the thirteenth century (the
Louvre).... It becomes apparent that Place de l’Étoile
is the site of overcoming and eradicating contradic­
tions between epochs, ideologies, and nations. A site
for unity, for everyone, a refuge. Coincidentia oppositorum.

Even more so considering that the patron of this
conciliation of the opposites is the powerful shadow of
the One who was the god of war and the little corpo­
ral, a monarch and a liberator of nations in the name
of the ideals of the revolution, an Italian Corsican and
“the greatest Frenchman”, a tyrant and the one who:
augured ultimate salvation/ For men’s long-exiled liberties
(Pushkin). 12
Naturally, one could say that these are mere intel­
lectual speculations and theoretical paradoxes. Let us
then take a look at the Arc guest book 13. What joy to
see the gateway to liberty (a Czech); Only twice in my
lifetime could I experience similar uplifting moments - see­
ing the Statue of Liberty in New York and the Arch of
Triumph in Paris! (a Moroccan); Welcome, land of asy­
lum and human rights! (a Romanian); France! You are
forever the homeland of liberty! (a tourist from Lyon)...
Not by accident do covers of guidebooks and albums
showing Paris as a multicultural town, the capital of
liberty, feature the Arc de Triomphe, while the night
life and frenzy offered by the same town are accompa­
nied by our old familiar friend, the Eiffel Tower.
As long as Ravic from Erich Marie Remarque’s
Łuk Triumfalny found in Paris refuge and shelter, the
massive grey shape of L ’Arc de Triomphe, as if made
of liquid silver, towered above14. When, however, the
French police arrested and deported the refugees, and
when we know that the ominous time of nationalist
hordes and ideologies is returning, the square turned
into a sea of darkness, in which even L’Arc de Triom­
phe vanished. 15


Act III. The Sacré-Coeur Basilica
Vineyards, mills, wooden cottages, a dozen crys­
tal clean founts, deep caverns - remnants of gypsum
mines, the small church of St. Peter, eight cosy streets,
and a small square. The fact that Montmartre Hill
(from: mar tray —execution site) preserved its Arcadian
character all the way to the 1870s is a strange caprice
of history considering that already Louis XVI wished
to erect here a royal necropolis (the project was well
advanced), the Directorate - a mausoleum, Napoleon
- a Temple of Peace, and Louis XVIII - a monumen­
tal column (the subscription was initiated). History
too did not spare the hill. In 1814 it was the site of a
bivouac of the Russian army (which set fire to half a
century) and in 1815 - of the English. In June 1848 the
insurgents waged their last bloody battle here, and on
22 May 1871 the famous platoon of woman-Commu­
nards, including Liza Michel and Elisabeth Dmitrieff,
put up desperate resistance against the first army corps
of Versailles led by General Ladmirault 16. But after­
wards the vineyards once again flourished, orchards
blossomed, and trees forgot all about the past ...
It was precisely illusory longing for bucolic idyll
and freedom as well as a much more rational one for

Ludwik Stomma


cheaper life that in 1860-1865 inspired a group of
young painters, the so-called Manet Company, to set­
tle down on the hill.
Renoir worked in studios in, successively, Tourlaque, Caulaincourt (slightly lower) and Cortot
streets; Degas - in Blanche, Lepic and Fontaine
streets; Cézanne - in Hégésippe-Moreau; Van Gogh
and his brother Theo lived in rue Lepic. Then there
was Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley... This group of
peers (in 1865 the oldest, Pissarro, was 25 years old,
and the youngest, Renoir, was 24) made Montmartre
famous across the world. The site of their meetings
- Café Guerbois - became the stuff off legends but al­
ready when... the artists had long left the hill.
On 24 May 1873 the Adolphe Thiers cabinet was
forced to announce its resignation by 362 votes against
342. On the same day, Thiers, whom Polish textbooks
depict as a reactionary and the hangman of the Paris
Commune, was recognised by the Parliamentary ma­
jority as much too soft, liberal, and republican. One
of the first steps made by the new monarchist cabinet
was to issue a decree (24 July 1873), proposed by the
renowned extremists Hubert Rouault de Fleury and
Alexandre Legentil about the erection of the SacréCsur basilica on top of Montmartre.
A competition was immediately announced in
December of the same year 17, and the design chosen
from among 78 projects was the one by the architect
Paul Labadie, modelled on the Romanesque-Byzantine
church in Saint-Front (Périgueux).
The text of the resolution passed on 24 July 1873
mentions the need to expiate the crimes of the Commune
and for the Papacy’s loss of secular power... . It thus
constituted an arrogant demonstration of the clerical
conservatism of the new authorities, easily recognised
by French society. In a country still partly occupied
by the Prussian army (which left Nancy on 5 August
1873, and Conflans and Jarnay in as late as Septem­
ber) the resolution also reflected fierce opposition
against the anti-religious Kulturkampf policy consist­
ently conducted by Berlin (14 May 1873 - the enact­
ment of a law against the Jesuits, 14 May 1873 - the
dissolution of smaller seminaries and the restriction of
the bishops’ jurisdiction) and thus, mutatis mutandis,
featured an anti-German hue. Finally, the choice of
the Abadi project contained an easily discernible pro­
Russian gesture. N ot without reason was the Russian
Ambassador Alexander Gorchakov invited to the first
display of the model. By referring to the traditions of
the East the white domes of the Sacré-Csur were sup­
posed to evoke Franco-Russian political rapproche­
ment. Unfortunately, an excess of politics usually does
not exert a favourable impact on works of art....
Building the Sacré-Coeur basilica took 38 years from the instalment of the cornerstone on 1 February
1874 to the completion of the bell tower in 1912; even

then, work on the interior had to be continued with
an interval during the Great War; ultimately, conse­
cration took place on 16 October 1919 in the presence
of nine cardinals, 12 archbishops, and 98 bishops from
all over Europe.
All agree - Josette Devin wrote - about the extraor­
dinary ugliness of this building, unfortunately one of
the most conspicuous and known in Paris. The war of
1870 thus proved to be just as unfortunate for France
as for the beauty of Paris... . Next, however, he added
that surprisingly, just as in the ugliness of a beloved
face we start to perceive charm and beauty, the Paris­
ians grew used to to Sacré-Coeur and even shower the
basilica with sincere affection. 18
In reality, not everyone was compelled to grow ac­
customed. The church is living proof of French light­
heartedness and contempt for the well-worn canons
of beauty - the “Times” wrote in October 1919. Just
as the Impressionists overcame the aesthetic images of
their epoch, so today these white walls accomplish the
same on the very same spot... . In an interview given
to “Le Figaro” upon the occasion of shooting the film
The Life of Emile Zola (1937) director Wilhelm Dieterle went even further: I am not surprised that the Im­
pressionists were so fascinated with the Parisian lightness
of this fantastic building in the white afterglow...
When in about 1907 the walls of Sacré-Coeur
were already tall enough to imagine their ultimate
shape, Manet (d. 1883), Van Gogh (d. 1890), Sisley
(d. 1899), Pissarro (d. 1903), and Cézanne (d. 1906)
were no longer among the living. Others had left
Montmartre long ago, driven away, as in the case of
Monet, by the hubbub of the great construction site.
But who cares?
Day and night, steps leading to the basilica are full
of colourful throngs of tourists longing for the careless
subtlety of Parisian life, wishing to imbibe the legend
of the Montmartre of the Impressionists and the Bo­
hème, and taking photographs against the backdrop
of the Byzantine gates of the sanctuary. When I asked
them, by no means facetiously but simply as a curi­
ous anthropologist, what Impressionist work was their
favourite, more than 50% answered: Sacré-Coeur.
This should not come as a surprise when reading
travelogues and looking at the collages featured on
postcards or the canvases by thousands of mediocre
painters on show in Place du Tertre. The basilica has
simply gotten mixed up with the Bohème, and socalled historical facts have once again proved to be
non-essential and dissolved - this time - in the fumes
of absinthe.

The beauty of human error? Or, actually, of three
assorted errors: the change of the subject of ideology
(the Eiffel Tower), the change of ideology itself (L’Arc

Ludwik Stomma


de Triomphe) and, finally, the change of chronologi­
cal transposition (Sacré-Coeur). These differences,
however, are secondary and the essence lies in the dy­
namic emanated by ostensibly unchanging and static
objects. “Ostensibly”, since this is an illusory static
quality. The Eiffel Tower was quite different in the
positive and optimistic era of Jules Verne than in the
passionate and decadent “belle époque”. Similarly, the
meaning of the Notre Dame cathedral, Mona Lisa, and
Van Gogh’s Sunflowers also changed. An historian of
art is supposed to describe an artwork (while an his­
torian - an event) as such or, eventually, against the
background of “its”: time, i.e. that for which it was
The anthropologist is interested in an object within
the dynamic context of culture, an ever-living mythical
object. The beauty of human error - is it not already
an error that the Notre Dame cathedral is an “histori­
cal monument”, that people ”tour” it, that the police
regulate traffic in the cathedral naves during Midnight
Mass? Is this not a new sign within an equally novel
system of values? A new myth? Structural anthropol­
ogy is charged with “losing the author”, with no longer
remembering who was the architect of L’Arc de Tri­
omphe and who painted Sunflowers. What a misun­
derstanding! Structural anthropology does not deal
with something that can be found in every lexicon.
Instead, by studying the subtle game of meanings and
myths it continues to rediscover the authentic author:
lost in the labyrinth of history, unaware, but still the
untiring genius of social imagery.
Otherwise, all is true: Paris is the city of liberty,
lightheartedness, cosmopolitanism, subtlety, frivolous
ambiguity. It is also a refuge, the capital of the world
and coincidentia oppositorum.
Everyone who reclines on the lawn in front of the
Eiffel Tower may feel how Axis Mundi - the axis of the
world - runs across his navel. 19

A. Picard, Tours de 300 metres de hauteur, “Revue de
l’architecture et des travaux publics”, 1885, p. 32.
2 According to the original project the Tower was to be
pulled down after twenty years.
3 After: H. Leyrette, Gustave Eiffel, Paris 1986, p. 172 and
4 E. M. de Vogue, A travers l’Exposition, “Revue des Deux
Mondes”, VII/1889, p. 19.
5 G. Tissandier, La Tour, “Le Figaro” (special edition), 2
April 1889.
6 E. M. de Vogue, op. cit., pp. 24-25.
7 Guide officiel de la Tour Eiffel, Paris 1987, pp. 5-6.
8 After: J. P Spilmont, M. Friedman, Memoires de la Tour
Eiffel, Paris 1983, pp. 191-193.
9 R. Barthes, Changer l’objet lui- même, “Esprit”, vol.
IV/1970, p. 6.
10 H. Dillange, LArc de Triomphe et le Carrousel, Rennes

11 V. Hugo, LArc de Triomphe.
12 A. S. Pushkin, Napoleon, [in:] Dzieła wybrane, Warszawa
1965, p. 92.
13 Visitors' book at the Arc de Triomphe Museum, availa­
ble at the Museum - year 1986.
14 E. M. Remarque, Luk Triumfalny, Warszawa 1973, p. 117
and 370.
15 Ibid., p. 482.
16 W Serman, La Commune de Paris, Paris 1986, p. 500.
17 J. Hillairet, Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris, Paris
1980, vol. l, p. 269.
18 J. Devin, Paris de toujours, Paris 1968, p. 149.
19 Salvador Dali was wrong - the axis of the world (centre
du monde) is not situated at the train station in


Stomma, Ludwik, “The Beauty of Human Error/ Polska Sztuka Ludowa - Konteksty 2014 Special Issue,” Cyfrowa Etnografia, Dostęp 30 czerwca 2022,

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