L'Inconnue de la Seine, or, the Unknown Woman of the Seine, is a figure who has fascinated Parisians for nearly 150 years because of the mystery and beauty that enshrouds her.
According to the legend, one morning near the end of the 1880s, the body of a young woman, no older than 16, was fished out of the frigid waters of the Seine near the Louvre museum. In the absence of any signs of violence, the policeman who presumed that she had committed suicide and brought her body into the Parisian morgue, where it was to be placed on display for three days. The body of the unknown girl was propped up on a slab of black marble with cold water running over her to stave off decomposition, in the hopes that her family would be able to identify her. Apparently upon seeing her, the mortician was so taken with her beauty that he decided to make a plaster cast of her face, in a commendable attempt to immortalize her youth against the ravages of time.
As it would turn out, the mortician was not the only person entranced by the faint smile of the young woman - word began to spread and more and more people came to the morgue to see the mask of the "Mona Lisa of the Seine". In fact, numerous members of Parisian society began asking obtaining their own copies of the mask and displaying them in their salons, claiming that the young girl was their muse. References to the girl began to appear in literary works of the time by authors such as, Richard la Gallienne, Rainer Maria Rilke, and even Vladimir Nabokov.
The popularity of the mask was such that, today, nobody is quite sure which mask could be the original - and reproductions are still available for purchase in the plaster shops of Paris.
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