Have you ever wondered about where the face of the world famous Laerdal CPR dummy Resusci Anne came from?
Well, the story goes that a male pathologist was said to have recorded the face of an unidentified young woman who been found drowned in the River Seine in Paris sometime around the late 1880s. The young woman appeared to be around 16 years of age due to the firmness of her skin and the pathologist was so taken by her beauty that he worked for hours to make a plaster cast of her face.
She was considered so beautiful that the worker said; “Her beauty was breathtaking, and showed few signs of distress at the time of passing. So bewitching that I knew beauty as such must be preserved.”
The cast was also known as “Bewitching Woman”, a nickname that never caught on. The cast was also compared to the Mona Lisa, and other famous paintings and sculptures so much that, in the following years, copies of the mask became fashionable figures in Parisian Bohemian society.
In the following years, numerous copies were produced. The copies quickly became a fashionable morbid fixture in Parisian Bohemian society. Albert Camus and others compared her enigmatic smile to that of the Mona Lisa, inviting numerous speculations as to what clues the eerily happy expression in her face could offer about her life, her death, and her place in society.
The popularity of the figure is also of interest to the history of artistic media, relating to its widespread reproduction. The original cast had been photographed, and new casts were created back from the film negatives. These new casts displayed details that are usually lost in bodies taken from the water, but the apparent preservation of these details in the visage of the cast seemed to only reinforce its authenticity.
Other accounts state that the cast was taken from a young German mistress (also said to be the man’s natural-born daughter) who bore the child of a mask-maker who sold the cast and then committed suicide (in the Seine River) when her baby was stillborn.
I prefer to think that she was the young woman from the Seine that the pathologist was so taken with. As far as accounts can tell she was never identified despite numerous copies of the cast being made and displayed in Paris at the time. It’s ironic that she is perhaps the most recognisable face now in CPR training rooms worldwide.