Major row erupts in France after nude painting shown to pupils

Teachers walk out after ‘offended’ pupils at a school near Paris refused to look at Renaissance-era painting as teachers walk out

Matt Mathers
Tuesday 12 December 2023 17:51 GMT
(Wikimedia Commons)

France’s education minister has said he will “never accept” school pupils refusing to look at art amid a row over a teacher showing her pupils a painting of nude women.

Gabriel Attal, the minister for national education and youth, told parliament that the role of the French school is to “train republicans” following the incident at a school near Paris.

Pupils at the Jacques-Cartier school refused to look at Diana and Actaeon, a Renaissance-era painting portraying a mythical scene from Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is housed in the Louvre.

They also accused the teacher in question of making racist and Islamophobic remarks, which she denied.

Her colleagues walked out as a result of the row although all lessons had resumed by Tuesday, following days of disruption.

Tensions at the school were said to have been running high since the start of term. Officials said parents had complained about punishments handed out for unsatisfactory work and poor behaviour.

Mr Attal visited the school and said that disciplinary proceedings had been opened against three students “who caused this situation”.

“The role of the French school is to train republicans”,  he told French politicians. “I will never accept that at the Republic school we refuse to look at a painting.”

Sophie Venetitay, from the Snes-FSU teachers union, told the AFP news agency that several first-year high school students, aged 11 and 12, said they were offended by the work by 17th-Century Italian painter Giuseppe Cesari.

She said some students had “averted their gaze”, “felt offended” and said they were “shocked”.

According to local media reports, a parent wrote to the school the day after the incident, claiming that his son had been prevented from expressing himself later in a class discussion.

Ms Venetitay said staff felt they had been left feeling unsupported and working in a “degraded climate”, adding the incident reminded her of the brutal killing of Samuel Paty.

Mr Paty was stabbed then beheaded near his secondary school in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in October 2020 after showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a class.

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