Starting as sharp as the sculptor’s chisel.
A steely citrus brought to a point in renderings of lemon and its steely, burlier cousin citron.
The artist’s hands, armed with tools of petitgrain and wood, carve out the fleshier whole.
Cool galbanum-polished marble, made lustrous with lentisque, soon forms concupiscent curves.
Voluptuous lines of beauty that serve to excite and some disturb.
The shapes, muscular and sensual, soft and hard are unmistakably human.
A pleasure for most a pain for a few to regard.
So with deference to slighter, politer affected innocence.
A massive stone leaf is erected to cover that which otherwise might, and cause fright.
And the the piece becomes firmly all about the fig frond.
Annick Goutal’s Ninfeo Mio is a majestically intimate work of art, searchingly sensual to the point of becoming a delicious profanity in perfume form.
Conceived as a impression of a Roman garden in the height of summer, it’s interplay between the green fleshiness of fig leaf and the taught power of citrus and galbanum makes for a fecund fragrance more redolent of the revels of the Imperial Court than the lives of mere plants.
The briskness of the opening lemon note at once reveals that this is a aroma with fixed intentions, the smell is stripped from the rind laying bare the fruit’s inner facets in an instant.
Then follows galbanum in all it’s travertine assertiveness, an intervention almost architectural in it power.
But the beam is quickly roused into a relief of human forms and fig leaf scrolls, never fully realist, always artful, always surely stone.
And then an effect quite unexpected, out of a series of notes another, not present itself is conjured.
A definite dessicated coconut, of soft Eastern dishes, pastries and anointing oils appears and makes everything that has gone before even more luscious, bordering on the lascivious.
This must have been the sort of scent with which courtesans and concubines, favourite gladiators and golden boys were made to shine.
It is lusty and stony in equal part, one measure divine the other utterly human, sacred and profane and perhaps too powerful for all to handle.
The statue of Michelangelo’s David was presented to Queen Victoria by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857.
She passed it at once, it is said without ever having looked upon its ‘obscene’ form, to the South Kensington Museum, today’s V&A.
When finally she resolved to visit her priceless new piece she expressed herself inexpressibly shocked, an act which only a Sovereign can perform.
In reaction to such censure, curators immediately commissioned a composite stone fig leaf to preserve their new possession’s privacy.
The leaf, half a metre long, as befits a man six metres tall, was installed whenever ‘women of quality’ wished to view the masterpiece.
And so things continued until the time of Queen Empress Mary, indomitable wife of George V, who would become the world’s greatest dowager after husband’s death.
Mary of Teck, the most cultured individual Britain’s modern royal family have managed to import, required that the plaster cast be removed and the piece’s glory fully restored to public gaze.
Yet, for many contemporaries, the statue, so they thought, had remained more sexual when part covered.
The tension between concealment and nudity being a thing of sexual excitement.
The imagination more powerful even than the hands of the most revered master.
So fig leaves you see can sometimes be more erotic than the things they obscure.
The Perfumed Dandy.