Metaphysi-K-al Cernuschi / Philippe Charlier



The Cernuschi Museum? A tomb. A vast Chinese tomb. Giant. A pile of various objects, polished by the years, fragmented by time, disparate, like a collective burial without skeleton but of which only the offerings and the walls remain.

In the center: a giant Japanese Buddha, on the base of which are spread out, finely engraved, the names of the donors. How many jewels melted to cast the bronze? How many mantra sung to accompany the fusion? The statue is holy for the sanctity of the donors. A loaded object, which has a sacred power, much more than a simple sculpture.

At his feet: tomb doors, tomb frescos, tomb offerings. Fruit bearers, barbarians with horribly Western traits, camels with mysterious bumps, dancers with agile breasts, aerial musicians, clear jade “bi” discs of unparalleled purity, leather shoes bearing the imprint of small deformed feet, lacquers with fragility timeless, hands of Boddhisattva with feline grace, cloisonné enamels on a copper soul, heads of lions with tasty fangs, deities with animal heads, clarity of the outside that breaks the majesty of darkness, terracotta dwellings for the ancestors’ souls, wooden statuettes covered with human horses (servants for the dead), tripod vases in the shape of a pair of buttocks, dragons carrying rain, hunting deer stalks of immortality.

At the Cernuschi museum, we do not know if we are alive or dead. We do not know if we are a human or a god. We do not know if we are anything rather than nothing. Lost in the vastness of hells and divinities, we come out with the idea that we touched with the fingertip something that looks like the infinite.


Philippe Charlier, MD, PhD, LittD, is a forensic practitioner and anthropologist. He works on representations of the human bodies, and rituals related to diseases and death. He loves words, and more.

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