Muslim pupils ‘offended’ by Renaissance painting of nudes to be disciplined

Students were shown the painting Diana and Actaeon by the Italian artist Giuseppe Cesari
Students were shown the painting Diana and Actaeon by the Italian artist Giuseppe Cesari - HERITAGE IMAGES/HULTON FINE ART COLLECTION

Muslim pupils who expressed outrage after their teacher presented a Renaissance painting of nude women in class will be disciplined, France’s education minister has said.

A French teacher at the multicultural Jacques-Cartier college showed students the painting Diana and Actaeon by the Italian artist Giuseppe Cesari, which portrays a Greek mythology story in which the hunter Actaeon sees the goddess Diana and her nymphs bathing.

The work, which depicts a naked Diana and four female companions, is held at the Louvre museum in Paris.

Sophie Vénétitay, secretary general of the Snes-FSU secondary school teachers’ union, said: “During a French class, a colleague showed a 17th-century painting that showed naked women.”

“Some students averted their gaze, felt offended, said they were shocked,” said Ms Vénétitay, adding that “some also alleged the teacher made racist comments” during a class discussion.

A pupil’s parent sent an email to the school director saying that his son was prevented from speaking during that discussion and that he would file a complaint.

“We know well that methods like that can lead to a tragedy,” Ms Vénétitay told BFMTV news. “We saw it in the murder of Samuel Paty. Our colleagues feel threatened and in danger.”

Teachers at the Issou school said that pupils admitted lying about events in their art class but that the damage had been done.

“We’re dealing with vindictive parents who prefer to believe their children than us,” they said.

Staff at the Jacques-Cartier school in Issou refused to work on Monday and held a protest saying they feared for their safety
Staff at the Jacques-Cartier school in Issou refused to work on Monday and held a protest saying they feared for their safety - X/Twitter/CartierPro38632

Gabriel Attal, the education minister, visited the school in person on Monday and later said that a disciplinary procedure would be launched “against the students who are responsible for this situation and who have also admitted the facts”.

A team would also be deployed to the school to ensure it adhered to the “values of the republic”, he said.

Staff at the Jacques-Cartier middle school in Issou, west of Paris, refused to work on Monday, saying they feared for their safety given the recent murders of two teachers by jihadi terrorists.

Dominique Bernard was stabbed to death by a Muslim man in his school’s playground in the northern town of Arras in October.

In 2020 a civics teacher, Samuel Paty was stabbed and beheaded by a terrorist in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 12 miles from Issou, after he showed his pupils a caricature of Mohammed in a class on free speech.

In an email sent to parents on Friday, teachers said they were exercising their right to stay away from classrooms over the “particularly difficult situation” and “an increase in cases of violence” as their daily reality.

Deteriorating discipline at the school

The school’s head teacher recently asked the education ministry for more staff and resources to deal with deteriorating discipline at the school, saying that fights and death threats and threats of rape had become common among pupils.

“We feel we are clearly in danger. We are supported by our direct superiors but not from higher up. This is a real call for help,” said one teacher.

Last week a Paris court convicted six teenagers over their role in events that led to the beheading of Mr Paty, who was their teacher at the middle school in Conflans when he was killed by Abdoullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old of Chechen origin.

In another sign of school-religion tensions, the state this week said it would withdraw funding for the country’s biggest state-subsidised Muslim high school. In its teaching of Muslim ethics, the Averroes school, in Lille, was found to be violating French republican values.

On Tuesday, Jordan Bardella, leader of the hard-Right National Rally party, warned that “freedom of expression is under threat in France from an all-conquering political Islam that is imposing on our society its laws, its way of life and its prohibitions”.

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