We like to think that Living Statues started in Ancient Greece with sculptors using live models to create their statuary. Whether that is true or not, historians agree the origin of Living Statues started during the Renaissance. Royalty used Living Statues in parades and pageantry for special events in the Court.
During the Renaissance, they used Living Statues in an art form called “Tableaux Vivants”, -- French for “Living Picture”. Performers would dress, paint themselves, and remain still for hours at a time, so guests could visualize paintings. These performers and backgrounds would be on a large platform and displayed throughout the night in a beautiful spectacle.
Tableaux Vivants were also used during the Victorian era, but in two very different ways. Nativity scenes were a popular version of Tableaux Vivants and Living Statues in the US and UK, and are still performed to this day. Not surprisingly, the Circus usurped this trend starting in 1840 with none other than PT Barnum. He used them often, and the crowds were amazed at the uncanny resemblance to real stone or gold. Olga Desmond, a beautiful Londoner mesmerized and shocked audiences with her Living Statue performances because--you guessed it--she did them nude.
1940’s London was no stranger to Living Statues either. Another woman named Mrs. Henderson included nudity in her live artistic performances. She started directing Tableaux Vivant shows, and she discovered a loophole in the law that allowed artists to perform “publicly nude”, if they remained motionless and she took advantage of it.
Fast forward to 1960. The trend found its way on screen in many films, most notably: The Phantom of The Opera. In the mid 2000’s, the popular TV show, Gilmore Girls had an entire episode dedicated to Tableaux Vivant, with the two main characters; Rory and Lorelai, posing as works of art in front of the entire town of Stars Hollow. Living Statue Festivals are enjoyed all over the world from, The World Statue Festival in Germany (established in 1996) to, The International Festival of Living Statues in Romania (established in 2011)
The grandest show of them all remains The Pageant of the Masters, held in Laguna Beach, California each summer since 1932. Each year a theme is selected, and models are painted and posed to match the precise look of famous works of art.