The Most Kissed Face of All Time

by L-Johnson
Rescue Annie

The death mask of a woman who was found drowned in the River Seine became the model of the face for the CPR mannequin "Rescue Annie".

She has a face that was considered the ideal beauty of her time period, inspiring a generation of models and actresses. She has been referred to as having the most kissed face of all time. She has an enigmatic smile comparable to that of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Her attractive visage became a trendy addition to the walls of hundreds of homes in Paris and throughout Europe. At least a dozen writers have included her in novels, plays, and stories. Her face has also helped save the lives of countless people across generations. It all started when her deceased body was pulled out of the Seine River in Paris in the late 1880s.

L’Inconnue de la Seine, or the “unknown woman of the Seine” was a young woman who drowned from what was believed to be suicide. At the time, the bodies of unknown people were laid out at the Paris morgue in a chilled room fronted by a window. Passersby would frequently look in the window to see if they could identify any of the deceased. Unfortunately, nobody recognized the young girl. It’s believed that the morgue attendant, was captivated by her sweet smile and made a death mask before she was buried in a pauper’s grave. Death masks were rarely made for unclaimed bodies as there was no way to recoup the costs. Her death mask became so popular that many copies of the mask were made.

Her mysterious death became the subject of many writings, some of which fictionalized her death as being the result of tragic suicide after an unrequited romance. Her face and surrounding mystery became popular throughout Europe. Copies were produced of her death mask which were sold in souvenir shops. Her death mask became an art fixture in the homes of Bohemian Parisians; factories started producing the mask in vast numbers as it became a “must-have” wall adornment. Her beauty was popular throughout Europe. According to essayist and critic Al Alvarez, “A whole generation of German girls modelled their looks on her.” … “the Inconnue became the erotic ideal of the period, as [Brigitte] Bardot was for the 1950s.”

Decades later in the late 1950s, an American doctor, Peter Safar, believed that the best way to teach people how to perform CPR, a technique which he pioneered, would be to use a mannequin for the training. A fellow doctor recommended that a Norwegian toy maker, Asmund S. Laerdal, would help to make a working mannequin. Years before Laerdal had been moved by the story of the unknown girl of the Seine, and so he decided to use her face for the training mannequins. As a toy maker, he already made a doll called “Anne” which had been a successful product for his company. He decided to keep the name “Anne” for the training mannequin but added “Resusci” to the name to differentiate between the two. “Resusci Anne” or “CPR Annie” as it became known in North America has since continued to be manufactured in many variations since the original Rescue Annie, including modern versions with computer monitoring. The intrigue and appeal of L’Inconnue’s face of death mystified a generation and helped teach a new generation the kiss of life.

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