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What would the City of Lights be without one of its Enlightenment lights? For 18 months, worried Parisians have been missing a statue of the philosopher and historian Voltaire, which disappeared from its base in August 2020 during a wave of statue overthrows around the world.

Rumors have spread that Voltaire – whose real name is François-Marie Arouet – was the victim of a “culture of cancellation”, suppressed by politically correct town hall officials because, while he wrote to denounce the slavery, he owed part of his fortune to the trade of the colonial era and was accused of racism and anti-Semitism.

Right-wing commentators were outraged. Had the Parisian authorities followed the example of the city’s Nazi occupiers, under whose regime Voltaire’s original bronze was removed in 1941 and melted down?

Jean-Pierre Lecoq, mayor of the 6th arrondissement of Paris, declared at the time: “I demand Voltaire’s return to Square Honoré-Champion.

Today Paris deputy mayor Karen Taïeb said the statue would be back on a pedestal ‘within the year’, adding that it needed restoration, having been vandalized and damaged not only by painting but by the elements. . “He has now had minor cosmetic surgery in that we have redone his nose, which was almost eroded,” Taïeb said.

However, Voltaire will not return to his pedestal near the left bank of the Seine just behind the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts. Instead, the statue, by sculptor Léon-Ernest Drivier, will be placed under the arcades of the University Faculty of Medicine, 800 meters away. “Taïeb said: ‘We thought about installing it on the Quai Voltaire, but the curators said no because it’s very polluted there.'” The experts say that if we leave it outside, it will be even more damaged; even rain could cause it to deteriorate.

She added that in the new site the statue would be protected from the elements but still visible to the public: “I can understand that people are worried about the statue as it was removed at a time when there was a lot of news about statues. I don’t know if the motives of those who damaged the statue were political, but our only motivation is conservation. The City of Light will continue to have its man of lights.

Neither the Ministry of Culture nor Lecoq answered the questions.

In 1878 a bronze statue of Voltaire was commissioned to mark the 100th anniversary of his death and placed on the Quai Malaquais. It was melted down during World War II. The Drivier version was placed in the Square Honoré Champion in 1962.

Professor Matthew Fraser of the American University of Paris, whose forthcoming book Monumental Fury: The History of Iconoclasm and the Future of Our Past examines the toppling of the statue, said: “It is sad to see Voltaire moved… the statue was placed there for a reason: Voltaire died nearby on what is now the Quai Voltaire. Moreover, it was only a few dozen meters from the original bronze statue which was torn down and melted down by the Nazis, who despised Voltaire for his Enlightenment ideals.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said France will not topple any historic statues. “The Republic will not erase any name from its history,” he said in June 2020. “We must look at our whole history with lucidity.”

theguardian Gt

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