The otherworldly beauty of antique figurines in the heart of Paris

Silent Partners and Cage Dolls

Tucked away in a square in Paris near the Boulevard Saint-Germain des Prés is a store called Yveline Antiques.

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Crossing the threshold means transporting yourself not just back in time, but sideways into a world of figurines and mannequins with their own stories to tell.

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The store’s namesake, Yveline, opened the antiques shop in 1954 to sell her furniture, objects, paintings, and curiosities – objects that “instilled in the gallery rooms an aura of poetic wonder.” Today, Yveline’s granddaughter Agathe continues the work.

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Agathe is also the photographer behind the store’s popular instagram account, where most of the photos in this article come from, and where I first fell under the spell of Yveline Antiques.

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On a recent visit, Agathe took me on a tour of the gallery rooms, carefully explaining the history behind her figurines. Many of them, like those below, were used by artists as “Silent Partners,” or models for their paintings.

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During the Renaissance period, painters began to move away from religious depictions and toward a vision of the human body that was more anatomically correct. The Silent Partner was born out of a need for subjects that could remain still for long periods of time.

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According to one observer, the Silent Partner added a “layer of intrigue – an otherworldliness, an uncanniness and a fetishized stillness.” Oskar Kokoschka, an Austrian artist, even commissioned a life-sized doll of the woman he loved, following her marriage to another man. According to the story, he beheaded the mannequin after the completion of his painting…

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The use of Silent Partners flourished well into the 19th and even 20th centuries. Over time, their makers gained reputations as talented artisans working hard to optimize the mobility and veracity of their creations.

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In the gallery rooms of Yveline Antiques, the Silent Partners sometimes assume the role of the painter.

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The “Cage Doll” or “Santos Doll,” seen below is another frequent inhabitant of the store. Taking their name from the Spanish word for saint, the dolls were created as copies of 17th century carvings by priests.

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They served in the 18th and 19th centuries as at-home altars in areas where distance or war made it difficult to travel to church.

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Spanish settlers also brought Santos dolls to Latin America as a tool to convert native populations to Christianity.

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Yveline Antiques boasts plenty of other curiosities in its catalogues, including Crèche figures, which are associated with nativity and crib scenes, and paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries.

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Still, its the imposing presence of the larger mannequins that stuck with me. Their gaze left me with the impression that I was a guest in their house, a place of artistry and imagination where they, truly, are the masters.

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Via Yveline Antiques.

Don’t forget to follow their instagram account!

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