Muslim pupils 'offended' by Renaissance painting 'to be disciplined'

Muslim pupils who sparked row by taking ‘offence’ over Renaissance painting of nude women shown during class then ‘wrongly accusing teacher of racism’ will be ‘disciplined’, France’s Education Minister vows

  • Staff members at Jacques Cartier school refused to work on Monday in solidarity
  • Six teenagers were recently convicted for their role in the killing of Samuel Paty

Muslim pupils who voiced outrage after their teacher showed them a Renaissance painting of nude women will be disciplined, France’s Education Minister has vowed.

The students are said to have wrongly accused the staff member of racism, with posts circulated on social media, prompting a furious row and complaints from parents.

The female staff member at Jacques Cartier in Issou, west of Paris, was reportedly left fearing for her life after she showed the 17th century masterpiece – ‘Diana and Actaeon’ by the Italian painter Giuseppe Cesari – in an art class on Thursday.

The work portrays a Greek mythology story in which the hunter Actaeon bursts in at a site where the goddess Diana and her nymphs are bathing. It shows a naked Diana and four nude female companions, and is held at the Louvre museum in Paris. 

Minister Gabriel Attal visited the school on Monday and said that a disciplinary procedure would be launched ‘against the students who are responsible for this situation and who have also admitted the facts’.

The Jacques Cartier school in Issou is at the centre of a row after a teacher showed a 17th century nude painting to children

A sign hung outside the school claimed that incidents at the school were up while resources to deal with them were in short supply

‘Diana and Actaeon’ (pictured) by the Italian painter Giuseppe Cesari, portrays a Greek myth in which the hunter Actaeon bursts in at a site where the goddess Diana and her nymphs are bathing

French education minister Gabriel Attal said those who made false claims about the teacher in question would be punished

Staff members at the school refused to work on Monday in solidarity with the teacher.

The crisis comes after a French court on Friday convicted six teenagers for their role in the 2020 beheading of Samuel Paty outside his secondary school near Paris, after they helped to identify him to a radicalised Islamist.

Paty, a 47-year-old history and geography teacher, was stabbed and beheaded in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in October 2020, just 12 miles from Issou.

Following the latest furore, teachers have said that they too are worried they could be attacked, The Times reports.

On Thursday, ‘during a French class, a colleague showed a 17th-century painting that showed naked women’, said Sophie Venetitay, secretary general of the Snes-FSU secondary school teachers’ union.

The name of the female teacher and false claims that she had made racist remarks to Muslim students were subsequently circulated on social media, reports said, raising fears that she could be targeted.

According to Le Figaro, the students allegedly accused their teacher of racism – claiming that she showed the painting as provocation and as a means to target her Muslim students by showing them naked women.

In reference to the furore, Venetitay told broadcaster BFMTV.: ‘We know well that methods like that can lead to a tragedy… We saw it in the murder of Samuel Paty. 

‘Our colleagues feel threatened and in danger.’ 

The painting was reportedly shown during an art class for students aged 12 and 13.

‘Some students averted their gaze, felt offended, said they were shocked,’ Venetitay said, 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, she said.

Venetitay said it was the ‘final straw’ for teachers at the school, who had complained of a ‘very degraded climate’ as well as a ‘lack of support’ from management despite ‘several alerts’.

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’ at the high school.

They described ‘palpable discomfort’ and ‘an increase in cases of violence’ as their daily reality.

Teachers said the students had admitted to making things up in posts online, that that it was too late to quell the anger. ‘We’re dealing with vindictive parents who prefer to believe their children than us,’ they said in a statement.

Teachers at the school said behaviour had been deteriorating even before the row, with students fighting and threatening rape.

‘We feel we are clearly in danger. We are supported by our direct superiors but not from higher up,’ one teacher told The Times. ‘This is a real call for help’.

Attal 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. 

The same school reportedly logged 10 incidents of discrimination or racism in the school term this year, according to French broadcaster BFMTV.

Le Figario quoted sources as saying that life at the school has long been been tense.

One source told the newspaper that the principle of the school was on leave at the time of the incident, and that ‘reinforcements have been sent in order to strengthen the number of school life staff’. 

History and geography teacher Samuel Paty, 47, was decapitated outside a school near Paris

Pedestrians pass by a poster depicting French teacher Samuel Paty on November 3, 2020, following the decapitation of the teacher on October 16

Paty was violently stabbed to death and then decapitated by 18-year-old Chechen refugee Abdoullakh Anzorov on October 16, 2020

A photograph taken on October 16, 2023 shows a commemorative plaque for slain teacher Samuel Paty  near the Bois d’Aulne school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, outside Paris

Paty’s death sparked a large demonstration in Paris by advocates for freedom of speech

‘The climate within this college has been tense since the beginning of the year, in particular due to parents of students who systematically question the content of the courses and the punishments,’ the source adding, noting that several complaints have been filed by teachers.

The tensions come after a series of attacks against teachers in recent years.

In 2020, Samuel Paty was murdered after messages spread on social media that Paty had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

And in October, another radicalised Islamist stabbed his former teacher Dominique Bernard to death in the northern town of Arras.

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