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Leonardo’s Lover!
2012 September 28
  • THATLou – Beauty & Bestiary theme,
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul

Leonardo’s Lover!

So who painted this now famous Prado-owned La Gioconda? Fueled with personalities and possibly sordid details, it’s a fun question to examine.

 da Vinci’s Helicopter drawing
da Vinci’s Helicopter drawing, taken from Wikipedia

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) is too large a topic to address for one post. But I’m happy to draw a rough sketch. Though I much prefer the paintings of many of his contemporaries (Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Botticelli all preferable marks, who also apprenticed in Verrocchio’s studio with da Vinci), it can’t be overlooked that the man was a genius. He conceptualized a helicopter in the 16th century, that’s just cool. And Pope Leo X commissioned him to make a mechanical lion that moved forward and whose chest opened to reveal lilies – this as a gift for Leonardo’s last patron, the King of France, François Ier. Leonardo was the bastard son of an aristocratic Notary father and peasant mother, and grew up in Vinci (thus his last name), near Florence. (and is buried in the Chateau d’Amboise, thanks to François Ier)

But this story isn’t about Leonardo – exactly. It’s about whoever it was who stood next to Leonardo and painted the Prado’s La Giaconda as he, Leo, was painting the Louvre’s most famous icon, the Mona Lisa. But to fill in some da Vinci background — as well as to keep your interest because it is, after all, juicy – I feel it necessary to mention that Leonardo’s name was sullied through court records in 1476; At 24 years old, he and three other young men were charged with sodomy with a well-known male prostitute. Lucky for da Vinci, one of the three companions was Lionardo de Tornabuoni — a relative of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who no doubt weighed in his influence on the court to drop the charges. So as of 24 years aged, Leonardo’s sexuality and the sexuality (and sometimes lack thereof) in his art were subjects of interest.

Andrea Salai, one of Leonardo’s two favorite pupils, is believed to be the model for Leonardo’s St John the Baptist (now at the Louvre). This eroticism as well as Leonardo’s Bacchus (another of Salai) give rise to scuttle that they were lovers. Other more erotic drawings reinforce the rumor which has been bouncing around since Giorgio Vasari (the mid-16th Century art historian and author of The Lives – a man who first put down the word ‘Renaissance’ as a description of the era) described Salai of being “a graceful and beautiful youth with curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted”. Salai’s nickname “Little Satan” was indicative of his deportment: He started out as a servant / apprentice in Leonardo’s employ at the age of 10 and within the first year was caught five times thieving, lying and cheating. But Leonardo was indulgent — to the point, 30 odd years later, of leaving Salai half of his vineyards as well as some of his paintings. This Last Will and Testament raises an interesting point, to be returned to.

Leonardo’s St John the Baptist, 1513-1516, at the Louvre
Leonardo’s St John the Baptist, 1513-1516, at the Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

Another of Leonardo’s life-long pupil / companions was Francesco Melzi, who was the son of a nobleman and “apprenticed” under Leonardo till the latter’s death in Amboise. In fact Melzi was so close it was he who informed Leonardo’s family of his death (one does wonder if Salai would have known how to write, though it’s clear he was capable with the brush).

Head conservator at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, Bruno Mottin, believes that the most likely painter of the Prado La Gioconda was one of these two students, Leonardo’s favourite pupils. If the Prado replica is eventually attributed to Melzi, it suggests a late date for the original, because Melzi joined Leonardo in 1506.

On the other hand if it’s the hand of Salai, then it’s unlikely that Salai ever inherited the original, as was previously assumed. This would mean the Louvre would have to re-examine the world’s most famous painting’s early history! A tremendous upset for the behemoth of museums – since they don’t even want to have it cleaned for fear of anything going awry (despite her looking twice her age due to the cracks in the painting – just look at the difference between the Prado’s version versus the Louvre’s in the last post).

There are a handful of articles pointing to the Prado’s La Gioconda as being at the hand of Andrea Salai, but nothing’s confirmed. One does have to appreciate this re-discovery was only made a bit over 6 months ago. As the life of either of these paintings is over 500 years I think we can cut the conservationists a bit of slack.

Next post shall wrap this story up with in two subjects – show some dazzling paintings by Leonardo’s contemporaries (listed above) and at least touch on Andrea Salai, whose real name was Gian Giacomo Caprotti, as a third-rate painter (opposed to lingering only on Salai’s salacious existence). Although ‘third-rate’ — who knows, this Prado discovery may just change history’s opinion of Leonardo’s reputed lover!
Wine, Women and a Bed
2013 June 30
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul

Wine, Women and a Bed

Flag of France
So I’m just putting the finishing touches on a new Public THATLou; “All Things Gaul, for those who have the Gall” shall debut on, yep, you guessed it: Bastille Day! The Louvre is free on 14 juillet, yet I’m banking on the fact that most people are going to be watching the military parade on the Champs-Elysées or over at Place de la Bastille, out and about in the sun. Not holed up in a dusty old museum. Moreover, I don’t think a lot of people realize the museum’s free, so it won’t be as crowded as the first Sunday of the month, when the crowds can get a bit suffocating.

It’s the first Public THATLou we’ll have since the Easter Hunt and the last till the 1 November Toussaint “Death Hunt”, so don’t miss your chance to win the glory of France, a tremendously valuable All things Gaul THATLou prize (got at the Louvre gift shop, so I guess “tremendously valuable” might be called by some a tourist trinket).  I’m pleased as punch that Mary Kay, of the wonderful blog Out and About in Paris, has signed her family up and will go on her second hunt.

As for designing the hunt, All Things Gaul has been more a process of elimination than anything, since the Louvre is of course abounding in French-related treasure. Though the hunt will theoretically get our clever hunters to all floors of all three wings of the museum, I’ve tried to make it easier to strategize in concentrated areas.
Napoleanic Battle Map
taken from Mr Shellshear.wikispaces.com

It was hard to discard some wings. I considered including Egyptian works, since the French were the first Europeans in Egypt with Napoléon’s 1798 Egyptian Campaign, when the cocky 29 year old general wanted to sever England’s India route (and supremacy over the Mediterranean) by attacking Egypt. The campaign was a failure (Nelson captured Nappy’s enormous fleet at the Battle of the Nile off of Alexandria at the bay of Aboukir (so why, I wonder, do the French have a long narrow street crossing the 2nd Arrt named Aboukir?). Nappy had to leave Egypt to his man Kléber (who was assassinated in Cairo by a Syrian student in 1800) in order to try to escape land-bound up toward Syria). However, it was a fascinating failure, because Napoléon brought 160 scholars, scientists, engineers, naturalists, artists, (including Denon, for whom one of the Louvre’s three wings is named) to scrutinize Egypt. Thanks to this Egyptology was born, and a 23-volume “Description of Egypt” was published from 1808 – 1829. The size alone of the Louvre’s Egyptian collection (2 floors of Sully, nearly half of the wing!) attests to their world-famous focus on Egyptology.
Views of Qait Bey Fortress and the Diamant Rock
Description de l’Egypte, Etat Moderne, Plate 87, Views of Qait Bey Fortress and the Diamant Rock, drawn c.1798, pub in the Panckoucke edition of 1821-9 (wikipedia.com) 


But I decided to exclude the Egyptians from All things Gaul and sprinkle it nearly exclusively on pieces by Frenchmen or of Frenchmen. We have Kings and Leaders, lots of lovely (naked) ladies, a Sevres wine cooler, a bed (What’s more All things Gaul than wine, women and a bed?).

There are a few exceptions, the Mona Lisa being one. She may not be by a Frenchman (though da Vinci did work for a French king and did die in Amboise, as written about in the Leonardo’s Lover! post), but thanks to her absurd popularity she’s come to represent Paris or France just as much as the Eiffel Tower. When 60% of one’s market relies on tourism and 80% of 8 million visitors a year go to the Louvre just to see her (so sad) then I think it’s fair to put her in an All Things Gaul hunt.

Raft of Medusa in the Louvre
The Raft of Medusa in the Louvre, by theplagiarists.com

Stay posted for the typical give away clue — and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the Géricault Raft of Medusa bonus question which appeared for our recent hunt for an Int’l law firm appears within this All Things Gaul hunt as well!
Announcing All Things Gaul!
2016 July 09
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul,
  • Misc

Announcing All Things Gaul!

This year’s version of All Things Gaul (our public THATLou celebrating France’s national day, le 14 juillet) includes the recently opened  Arts et Deco departments in the Pavillon de l’Horloge. I’ve specifically made it so that all of the treasures in this section of the Sully wing are facing the loveliest courtyard I know of, the Cour Carrée. And just in case hunters are too consumed in fine French faience and tapestries from Gobelin to notice this exquisite view, I’ve stuck in a bonus question requesting a tourist-shot of it as it is sublime. As with all our themes, this hunt has to have a chief piece. And it’s that piece that I’ll showcase on the blog before our hunt. If there’s a King of the hunt (It does give me a chuckle to have a royal for the very theme that’s celebrating Bastille Day), perhaps I should nominate a Queen of the Hunt, too?  A lynch pin to other pieces of treasure, who can provide some juicy fodder for bonus questions about Paris, the Louvre, and well, All Things Gaul… Besides, of course, the hints I’ve been dropping here!

But this public hunt is also particularly close to me. It’s the first time I’ll be “presenting” (so French) the enormously capable lady who will be taking the helm of all of our French operations. My family and I have chosen the very smartest time to move to London (when they don’t want us!) to finally expand our treasure hunting wings to the British Museum (with the creation of THATBrit, to fall under the unifying umbrella of THATMuse! Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty says we have 2 years before the UK leaves the EU, we’ll see if we can do it in that time…).

And with this move, it means that I am leaving my baby, this luddique (“playful” in French, but also you see that root of ludicrous, no?) museum romp of a company, to Miss Annie Renn. Annie has been a THATLou Rep on and off since May 2015 and in this most recent stretch these past few months has weathered the changes of the Louvre wonderfully (they’ve changed their maps, somehow forgetting to include room numbers! The guards are furious). So after Miss Renn returns home to England to get married at the beginning of September, she (with hubby in tow, bien sur!) shall return to Paris to take the helm of THATLou, THATd’Or and THATRue.  Here’s a host-hunting shot of Annie describing the rules to Henry, an adoring hunter who picked up bonus points impersonating Michelangelo’s Dying Slave in contrapposto, thanks to Annie’s instructions.
Annie describing the THATLou rules to a little boy
Medusa as Bestiary
2013 June 07
  • THATLou – Beauty & Bestiary theme,
  • THATLou,
  • THATLou – Skull Scouting,
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul

Medusa as Bestiary



Caravaggio’s Medusa (1598, Uffizi, Firenze


Tomorrow night is the first of a two-part THATLou series hosting an international law firm. Having lawyers, accustomed to scrutinizing small print, go a-hunting excites me no end, especially when they’ll be after imaginary creatures like bestiary (for balance they’re also after beauty). Will they catch this hint? Is that one too obvious? What about this bonus question — too involved? I’ve had loads of fun considering it all. And as a free-be to these fine solicitors, I’m posting the most involved bonus question here on the night before. Ironically, given their trade, they probably won’t have time to read beforehand, so I guess it’s good they’re clever enough to think on their feet to write a limerick in honor of one element of either of the below tales, both attached to the below sample treasure (NB this is expanded text, no piece of treasure has more than 10 or 12 lines, as you don’t have enough time to digest more whilst out on the prowl): 



Géricault’s Raft of Medusa (1818-1819) Louvre 


THE RAFT OF MEDUSA

Théodore GÉRICAULT (Rouen, 1791 – Paris, 1824)

19th Century French, H 4.91 x W 7.16m (in other words “Grand Format”)

The ‘Hope of Rescue’ is how Géricault chose to paint this painting, which stands as an icon of Romanticism. The Medusawas the name of a French Royal Navy frigate that set sail in 1816 to colonize Senegal. With over 150 soldiers on board, when the ship wreck took place in the Atlantic, they had to build rafts due to a shortage of lifeboats (talk about health and safety!). Only 10 people survived the 13-day odyssey, and the stories of cannibalism and brutality which ensued caught the fascination of Géricault, as well as contemporary journalists and the general public alike. This French number is famous enough to be studied in any introductory Art History class (please note the composition of two pyramids), but it’s the news story behind it that captures the interest of the general public.

The frigate was named for Medusa, the frightening Greek mythological creature with poisonous snakes for hair (talk about Bestiary!). To name a frigate Medusa in and of itself is a strange choice. Poseidon, God of the Sea, had been madly in love with the Gorgon sister Medusa, but when she spurned his love, he turned both her and her two sisters into monsters with snake hair. Poseidon also placed her in total isolation, by cursing her with the conversation-stopper-quality of being turned to stone if you met her gaze!

Aided by Athena and Hermes, the mortal Perseus went to the end of the world (where Poseidon had exiled her) to challenge Medusa, who’d been making trouble. He cleverly used the reflection of his  shield to avert her gazeand protect himself. When he got close enough to behead her, a volcano of blood sprouted, and from each drop of blood sprang more horrible creatures – Pegasus (a winged horse) and Chrysaor (a winged giant boar) – who were believed to have been Medusa’s children with Poseidon. Bestiary spawn bestiary, of course!


Perseus with Medusa’s head, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze 

So here’s the give away: take an element of this fantastic story – be it 19th Century French frigate or Greek mythology – and spin it into a limerick, for muchos puntos. Now how’s that for impetus for thinking of the quickest rhyme for frigate? Perhaps mitigate? Go to it, Lawyers!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 

Caravaggio’s 1598 painting of Medusa (at top) is among the most famous images of her in art (rightly so!), and just down the street from where she lives at the Galleria degli Uffizi is this statue of Perseus, with poor Medusa’s brains dangling from her beheaded neck (his perfect frame is standing on her body). My mother always said that what I called dangling brains was in fact her hair, but I say pshah! What child doesn’t like gore – and that gore doesn’t look like snakes, does it? The story of Medusa is also covered in this Greek Dinos — a Greek pot measuring a meter in height and filled to the brim with diluted wine … My those Greeks liked to drink! Both of these pieces of treasure often appear in the same hunt and cross reference each other so to reinforce the story — perhaps highlighting what instrument allowed Perseus to get close enough to slice Medusa’s head off!

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This Gericault Raft of Medusa is certainly a juicy number. Being such an iconic piece of French Romanticism (and Louvre “Greatest Hit”) I dare say it also appears in the Public Hunts “All Things Gaul” hunt held every Bastille Day (works only by Frenchmen) and in the Halloween Death hunt.

Here are lovely write ups of the first Halloween Hunt, one in Aussie in France the other in Colleen’s Paris. The former write up includes the following limerick (unfortunately I’m not at liberty to post any of the clever limericks the lawyers wrote due to client confidentiality)

Poseidon the god of the sea
Rarely took time for a pee, but
He pulled down his trunks
Screamed “you are all skunks”
And did it before all who could see

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Noted elsewhere in the blog, strictly speaking the term “Bestiary” covers Medieval European imaginary creatures such as Unicorns, Griffins, Dragons, etc. For the purposes of you seeing a broader expanse of the Louvre, however, the Beauty + Bestiary THATLou theme stretches the definition of Bestiary to Egyptian Sphinxes, Greek Centaurs and as you see here, the likes of half-human Gorgons.
Who's the King of Bastille Day?
2013 September 14
  • THATLou,
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul,
  • THATLou- Kings + Leaders

Who's the King of Bastille Day?


photo by Chirag D. Shah, found on Flickr

So who is the THATLou King of Bastille Day?

So Bastille Day is tomorrow. In America when you hear “Happy 4th (of July)” one thinks of the Liberty Bell in Philly, of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (men in wigs and tights, oh yeah!), a big middle finger to fat Georgie III and that small island across the Atlantic. Flags, picnics, parades. John Philip Sousa. The feelings are happy, independent, straight-forward. Simple. Much like Americans, perhaps. 

But I’m not sure everything is so cookie-cutter clean here (comme d’habitude, the French being the kings of the complicated color: Grey). First of all the very term Bastille Day is exclusively Anglo. Then these “Happys” or well wishing. Well. One (as in: one who is a foreigner who lives here and just doesn’t get it, such as me, I suppose) can say “Joyeux 14 juillet”, but the French often do a double-take when this is foisted on them.

I do most of my THATLou work at a café on Fbg St Denis called Quincaillerie and Damien, one of my favorite waiters there, told me it’s possible to say – as in, grammatically it’s not wrong. I asked him why and he said, “what’s happy about it?” Good point. The date in fact isn’t as clear, the 14th of July is just the beginning of a long struggle of the people. People without rights (“rights come later”, as Damien pointed out) got fed up and stormed the Bastille, a fortress. They had to fight for a remarkably bloody 4 more years, before any significant heads went toppling (literally). As for the complicated question of “rights” well, let’s leave that to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

If I’d made this Bastille Day THATLou completely appropriate to France’s National day, I’d’ve confined the treasure exclusively to the period leading up to & following the revolution, but then our fine treasure hunters wouldn’t get to cover 40 to 50% of the Louvre, which is what they’ll be navigating tomorrow. Moreover, quite frankly the Revolution is a period of French history which bores me. It’s completely lacking in the charms of Henri IV’s lovers or Francois 1er’s Renaissance art commissions.

So to focus on la Fête Nationale, the theme for tomorrow’s hunt is “All Things Gaul, for those who have the gall” hunt. And who had more Gaulish Gall than King Philippe-Auguste?



At the ripe old age of 15 he inherited the throne (in 1180) and over the next 43 years expanded his territory considerably. He was the first of the great Capetian kings of medieval France & destroyed the English-based Angevin Empire which greatly extended his empire. For the first 10 years P-A made his mark on his capital in both good and bad ways (in 1186 he started having the streets paved (much earlier than I would have guessed), however, under his rule, the expulsion of the Jews was in 1182 — they were allowed to return only on condition that they pay a heavy tax in 1198).

But on a larger scale (which will of course bring us back to Paris) he had remarkable military prowess. In 1190 (aged 25, when his first wife died) he left for the crusades & within a year took control of the thorny terrain of Normandie (Richard the Lionheart had been made prisoner of Henri VI in 1194). Following the death of Richard, Philippe-Auguste continued to feud the new King of England, John (who invaded Normandie in 1202, as well as Touraine, Anjou and Poitou). By 1214 Philippe-Auguste had defeated John at the Battle of Bouvines (which was significant enough to force King John to have to sign the Magna Carta).



A page taken from a Cambridge manuscript. I found on a great history quiz site (where they acknowledge the French won) 

On the personal side he was far less decisive. After his first wife, Isabelle de Hainaut, died in 1190 he mistakenly married Ingeburg of Denmark. He tried to undo this mistake, with another perhaps larger mistake. The day after he married the sister of the Danish king he procured the annulment of his marriage by an assembly of bishops and turned around to marry Agnes de Marenie. A move which merited a quick excommunication from Pope Innocent III. By January 1200 Innocent III imposed an interdict on France, which forced Philippe-Auguste to pretend to be reconciled with Ingeburg (in fact he refused to live with her & kept his Danish mistake in semi-captivity. Only when Agnes died in 1213, did he accept Ingeburg as France’s queen (although still not by his side!).


photo taken by Sophie-G.net

In the meantime, tomorrow’s hunters may very well want their “give-away” (I can only get people to read this blog out of thatlou bribery, apart from those who my mother pays. Thank you, Momma), which was promised to them last weekend – so here you go, guys, this will be your bonus question: First find Philippe-Auguste’s conical structure photographed herewith (easy, as its outline is clearly delineated on the map and is the core of Sully, under the Cour Carrée). Apart from being asked to just take in the sheer SIZE of those boulders, you’re reminded that back in the day you’d be standing in water right now – you’re in a moat. So, for an extra 20 bonus points, please have your teammates pose as though they’re being eaten alive by an alligator, the last whisp of life being outside Philippe-Auguste’s formidable structure!

There you go, hunters, Just reading this post you’ve made XX points out (yes, that 20 I just highlighted, but there might be other tidbits that serve as bonus material, herewith!). Until then, have fun at the firemen balls and seeing the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower and not saying Happy Bastille Day!


Photo taken from Kid Culture

Another piece which may just appear in All Things Gaul is Géricault’s Raft of Medusa, as written about in Medusa as Bestiary.
Birding About at the Louvre
2015 January 12
  • THATLou – Angels & Wings,
  • THATLou,
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul,
  • THATLou – Animals in Art

Birding About at the Louvre




The fact that this painting of a Crowned Crane, also known as the Royal Bird, was painted from life was revolutionary in the 17th Century. Before Pieter Boel (1622 – 1674) animals had mostly been painted from stuffed animals and for their emblems and allegories (Durer being an exception, he regularly painted from the real deal, too).

Boel apparently set up shop in the ménagerie at Versailles, where a small octagonal pavilion was surrounded by enclosures in which exotic and domestic animals were kept in semi-liberty. His paintings, which were nearly scientific, were then used by the tapestry manufacturer Gobelins; this crane, for instance appears in the foreground of the month of August in “The Months” tapestry (aka The Royal Houses). I, for one, prefer Boel’s fine plumage to that of the wall carpets (don’t you think of Persia for carpets?). But one
mustn’t quibble, tapestries are quintessential to France’s history, and as a Charles Le Brun painter (as the animal-expert), Boel played an important role in France. 



Gobelins, found in the 13th Arrt (at the metro station named after it), was Louis XIV’s royal tapestry factory. It was Henri IV (my favourite king, as he fought for his inherited crown for 20 odd years before he just pooped out and converted to Catholicism in order to rule France. As he said, “Paris is worth a mass”) who rented space in Gobelins for his Flemish tapestry makers — more than 200 of them, I believe.

Boel was born in Antwerp, though I’ve had trouble discerning whether the Louvre considers him Flemish or French — he died in Paris, and was a member of Charles le Brun’s team of painters for Gobelins; Although since Flanders was a part of Burgundy, I guess I history blurs the lines of distinguishing whether Boel was Flemish or French. His naturalist studies are all over the Richelieu wing of the Louvre (the most pleasant of the three wings, because it’s 80% less crowded than the Denon wing!) from 17th C France to 17th C Flanders, to adjoining stairwells where these fine parakeets can be found (“room 20” is actually at the top of a rather grand stairwell).



Ooops! Did I say that out loud? What if you go on one of the THATLous? This fine plumage could very well be in an Angels + Wings THATLou, or of course the Animals in Art. Not to mention the fact that Boel’s Versailles role & Gobelins contributions make him a fine candidate for All Things Gaul!  Anyway, to put THATLou and the Louvre aside for just a minute (they does seem to nose its way in everywhere!) both our Indian bull from yesterday’s post and these Flemish French flocks are fine renditions of naturalists paintings. From the Met to the Louvre, India to Versailles, these creatures seemed to prevail in the 17th Century.
Queen of All Things Gaul
2014 April 16
  • THATLou – Ladies au Louvre,
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul,
  • THATLou- Kings + Leaders

Queen of All Things Gaul



Dragon Lady Queen of France, Marie de Medici, by Frans Pourbus

MARIE DE MEDICI, Queen of France Frans Pourbus the Younger (Antwerp 1569 – Paris 1622) 16th Century, Netherlands

Marie de Medici & Henri IV had a sour marriage: in part because the Bourbon king had a penchant for the ladies (his favorite lover is being naughty in this hunt) & in part because Marie was meddling & power-hungry (it was in her Florentine blood – here take twenty points for naming another Medici Queen, touched on in these pages**). Despite this, they had six children, one of whom would become the Queen of England (Henrietta-Maria, married to Charles I) & another Queen of Spain (Elisabeth, married to the Hapsburg king, Philip IV). After Henri was assassinated (1610) the Parlement de Paris made Marie “Regent” to her young son, King Louis XIII. She did a great deal for Paris, having the Palais du Luxembourg built (based on her childhood home, the Palazzo Pitti, it currently houses France’s Sénat), which she placed in the Jardin du Luxembourg (based on Florence’s Boboli Gardens). If you’d like to learn more about her and these 6th Arrondissement Paris gems we have a Latin Quarter THATRue. But shameless self-promotion and Paris history aside, we’re straying from Marie’s story: when Louis XIII came of age her dragon-queen side had no intention of ceding power. Twice he had to exile his mother (to Blois + Angers, respectively) & twice she staged rebellions (talk about persistent — And against her own son!). Finally by 1628 Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII’s chief minister (whom she had procured a cardinal-ship for, but as with all those close to her, he ended up becoming one of her many enemies) had her exiled from France altogether. Richelieu (known as history’s first what, again? History’s first Prime Minister is the answer found herewith but not in your hunts! Aren’t you glad you bothered to read this post?!?) was not to be meddled with either: Marie died in exile in Cologne, in 1642 a year before her son Louis XIII died. 



THATRue launch in 2014, in front of Marie de Medici’s Palais du Luxembourg, photo by Lindsey Kent of Pictours Paris…

If you like this blurb on Marie, you can get more on our Latin Quarter hunt!
** After Queen Catherine de Medici, Marie’s elder, was widowed by Henri II, she had the Tuileries gardens built for her Palais des Tuileries (1564); both the gardens and palace got their name from the tile factories which they replaced (tuile means tile in French). The 23-hectare gardens we know today — which connect the Louvre, where the kings lived, to Place de la Concorde, where French monarchy came to an abrupt (and bloody!) end — date to 1664 at the hand of André le Nôtre, Louis XIV’s Versailles gardener. And for all you competitive souls looking to pick up some bonus points, those words in bold up above may just help you on your hunt — and well done on reading up on Louvre treasure prior to your hunt!
Trilogy of Death, Part I
2014 February 15
  • THATLou – Skull Scouting,
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul

Trilogy of Death, Part I

The grisly Death Hunt isn’t far from us.  Our Black-Clad Hunters will be tasked to find all sorts of skulls, from Death overlooking 17th C Dutch Vanitasscenes, Egyptian Mummies, Roman Sarcophagi, and there’s even a silver ‘skull clock’, as seen below. To merge the two in a single object makes sense as both time (and the fact that with each passing day, all of our time is running out) and skulls are typical Memento Mori motifs. These scary skull-clocks are a great discovery in the Objet d’Art section of the Louvre – on the 1stfloor, just off IM Pei’s enormous escalator unifying 3 levels of Richelieu (oh boy, I think that might have been a give-away!). Protestant clock-making centers like Blois made a lot of these skull-clocks, a reminder that a handful of Skull Scouting treasures also overlap with the All Things Gaul hunt.



18th century Memento Mori Clock, Paris, Louvre

So which piece of treasure is the king of the hunt, the Master of the Morbid? They’re all so gloriously ghoulish it’s hard to choose which to give-away. So as a process of elimination, which piece is inextricably tied to the history of Paris? 

La Morte St Innocent fits this bill beautifully, both for Skull Scouting as well as “All Things Gaul” as he is quintessentially French. La Morte is the lynchpin of Parisian Death – the epitome of just how macabre Medieval Paris got. Apart from Death’s appearance and adjoining plaque (which reads “There is not a single being alive, however cunning and strong in resistance, whom I will not slay with my dagger & give to the Worms as their Pittance!”) his birthplace is key to setting the tone of central Medieval Paris.



La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre


Before examining Death itself, which deserves a post unto itself and will be the third of this three-part series let’s have a look at where he’s from: Cimitière des Innocents which was also the birthplace of La Danse Macabre.



Dance of Death (woodcut) Hans Holbein the Younger, 1491 (German printed edition, folio CCLXI recto from Hartman)


Named for the Massacre of Innocents (St Innocents was the same name of an adjoining church, once facing rue St Denis), Cimitière des Innocents (CDI) had been housing the dead since Gallo-Roman days. Originally outside the city walls, as the city expanded it ended up smack dab in the center of town (where current-day place Joachim-du-Bellay is). It was where rue St Denis and rue Berger meet, and abutted Paris’s famed central Market, Les Halles. In the 12th century it was still a perfectly orderly graveyard, with an individual space allotted per body. By the 13th century it was the graveyard for Paris’s parishes without cemeteries as well as a dumping ground for the dead of the nearby hospital, Hôtel Dieu (which, if facing Notre Dame, is directly to your left – to escape the throngs of ND goggling tourists you can always dip into Hôtel Dieu’s peaceful plant-filled courtyard).  But back to Medieval France – With so many incoming dead CDI was starting to ooze. Soon it would grow to a festering sore, Paris’s pussing pustule emitting ghastly gasses.



image taken from Cadrans solaires disparus  (michel.lalos.free.fr)

How could it not? While Paris grew, the CDI plot of 135 meters x 65 meters did not. Moreover the number of deaths due to famines, wars (100-Years War, the 30-Years War), let alone the Plague were enough to send heads spinning. During several bouts of the plague in the 14th Century an estimated 800 people died a day in Paris, the Plague of 1418 poured nearly 50,000 dead into CDI over a five-week period, in 1466 another 40,000 perished in Paris. With the swelling of such numbers, mass graves were created. They’d leave a pit open till 1500 cadavers filled each crevice, then close it off for the worms to do their decomposing jobs, filling another 1500-body pit just inches over.



Plan de Turgot, de 1730

Imagine the stench of your Saturday morning marketing – how could the Crown allow such (un-)sanitary conditions to co-exist? That’s your Hallowe’en cliff-hanger for the day. I’ll continue this gory CDI glory tomorrow, and shall get us back to the Master of the Morbid! Thus, hopefully, auguring the spirit of Halloween (smiley-face, exclamation mark)! 

Things in bold tend to refer to bonus questions…
Trilogy of Death, Part II
2014 April 12
  • THATLou – Skull Scouting,
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul

Trilogy of Death, Part II



Fontaine des Innocents, by John James Chalon (1823)


So yesterday we pondered the dead at the Cimitière des Innocents (CDI), once Paris’s largest and oldest graveyard smack dab in the middle of town (where the Renaissance Fontaine des Nymphs, aka Fontaine des Innocents** currently is, near the RER Les Halles station). Our cliffhanger left us off with figures; when space ran out at CDI, mass graves of 1500 cadavers per pit were created. Left open till they were filled (the air must’ve been tangibly disgusting!), they were then closed off and a new one of equal size was dug. With the horror of numbers checked off, what about the business of death?



Plan de Turgot (1730)

Income from each burial – mass or otherwise – went to St Eustache (the large church to the north of current-day Les Halles) after CDI became part of its parish property in 1303 (it was later the property of St-Germain-des-Auverrois, the church just across the road from the Louvre’s Cour Carré). The Bishopric of Paris owned much of the lands and tax rights over central Paris, which caused them to open the marketplace next to the cemetery, so to better monitor the trading and assure that they got their share from the trading. The cemetery was opened to merchants in an attempt to reclaim a part of their monopoly over Paris trade.



St Eustache church with Les Halles in foreground. Taken from WikiCommons, photo by Alfie Lanni (Flickr)


The living and the dead co-existed to a point where a whole genre of medieval art – the “Dance Macabre” – was created on the back wall of the CDI. From an art historical point of view this makes CDI supremely important, as the 15th century Dance of Death was the first and finest known example. Unfortunately the wall was razed in order to expand the abutting road, but there are several Holbein woodcuts as well as French and English prints of it, as well as descriptions.



WikiCommons – Une des 17 gravures sur bois de la Danse macabre du cloître des Saints Innocents à Paris. Publiées en 1485 par deux éditeurs parisiens, Guyot Marchant et Verard, elles furent diffusées dans toute l’Europe. Le seul exemplaire parvenu jusqu’à nous se trouve à la bibliothèque de Grenoble.

Since they were making hand over fist, the Church pointedly ignored sanitary issues repeatedly raised by the Crown. What overflowed as quickly as the church coffers was the GROUND. Skeletons of decomposed dead went to charniers (wall closets lining graveyards, housing bones of the dead), but the cadaver’s fatty residues remained in the earth, leaving greasy mounds that couldn’t process the dead at the rate it was being asked to.  Yet the only modification the church would make was to raise its funerary charges!


The court of Louis XV issued an investigation in 1763 of the neighboring Les Halles commerce. Inspectors recorded local stories of meat that rotted before one’s eyes, a perfumerie unable to sell its wares due to the putrid air, tapestry merchants whose rugs changed color if exposed too long and wine merchants whose barrels yielded only vinegar. Several edicts by various Kings to move the parish cemeteries out of the city were resisted till the situation came to a head in the spring of 1780 after a prolonged period of rain.

On 30 May a cellar wall bordering CDI gave way under the weight of the excessive burials and humidity and spilled a mess of decomposed corpses, thus infecting the mud. Talk about a gush of gore! No horror film could top this. The building was evacuated but not even the thickest masonry could keep the stench of rotting flesh at bay, which finally prompted Louis XVI to exile all parish graveyards outside the city walls (you wonder why Montparnasse, Montmartre and Pere Lachaise are in the outer arrondissements – there’s your answer).



Père Lachaise, photo taken from WikiCommons

By 1786 bones of 6 million bodies were exhumed from cemeteries throughout the city and moved to the catacombs (former mines) out of town, at Denfert Rochereau (in today’s 14th Arrt). Just as a grisly conclusion – Many bodies hadn’t fully decomposed and had turned to margaric acid (fat). This fat was collected and turned into candles and soap. Guess that’ll make you think twice before washing your face with soap!



Paris Catacombs “Stop, this is the empire of death” photo taken from MichaelJohnGrist.com **

Fontaine des Innocents (1547-1550) was built by architect Pierre Lescot (there’s a street with his name in the Les Halles area). François 1er, and later his son Henri II had Lescot transform the old Louvre (originally a fortress under Philippe Auguste) into a palace. The Cour Carré that we see — The Sully Wing’s courtyard – is thanks to Lescot’s designs. Jean Goujon was the sculptor for both the Fontaine des Innocents as well as the Cour Carré. Both also collaborated on the roof of the church across the road, St Germain l’Auxerrois.

La Morte St Innocent will conclude our 3-part Trilogy of Death.
Trilogy of Death, Part III
2014 May 17
  • THATLou – Skull Scouting,
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul

Trilogy of Death, Part III

In the past few posts I’ve banged on a fair bit about the truly grisly Cimitière des Innocents. First touching on numbers of dead , then covering the business of the death all the while trying to augur the fear & horror involved in a proper Halloween celebration.



Comtesse d’Auvergne, XV siècle France, Louvre


But where’s the dough, you’re probably asking? Our fine hunters need some reward for all the reading they’ve done (although whether you know it or not you’ve been given at least two answers in the past two posts – for both the Skull Scouting hunt as well as if you’re going on an All Things Gaul hunt — as the French are so good at being Masters of the Morbid!). As we’re closer to the final count-down I will cut to the chase and just tell you that our friend Death (as seen below) is on the ground floor of Richelieu in Cour Marly, room 13 (& no you’re not allowed to read this blog post whilst playing – but Room 13 makes sense, no?).



It gets better: This fine female from Auvergne (above) is in the same room as our friend Death (below). She does not have butterflies in her stomach — she’s dead. So what’s eating her up?  Yes, worms are decomposing her corpse in the grisly affair of DEATH! Man, those French! So here’s a cut & paste of the actual treasure clue, as a dead ringer (a dead give-away? — how else can I try to incorporate death in here?!?).



La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre


DEATH ST INNOCENT (La Morte St Innocent)

Alabaster, H 1.20m x W .55m x D .27m – from Paris’s Cemetery of Innocents 

16th Century French, sculpture (end of Middle Ages) — Cour Marly


The plaque at Death’s foot reads “There is not a single being alive, however cunning and strong in resistance, whom I will not slay with my dagger & give to the Worms as their Pittance!” Quick take a whopping fifty bonus points with your team pointing to worms in this room – and just look at what they’re doing! Talk about appropriate for this gruesomely ghoulish death hunt! So our friend Death was originally kept in the Cemetery des Innocents (CDI), which was found smack dab in the center of Paris – abutting the market place of Les Halles. The CDI started out as a perfectly orderly graveyard, with a space per individual. But as the city grew, the small swath of CDI (just 130 meters by 65) did not. When space ran out mass burials began to be conducted – up to 1500 dead could be buried in one pit before a new one was dug. Just think about the stench as you’re going marketing right next to this grisly pit of death. Horrible. No one had the sense till Louis XVI moved it from the center of town, and in 1786 our friend Death here was moved first to St Gervais then to Notre Dame, where he is unveiled with his ominous (now-missing) dagger only one day a year. Which was? You guessed it, La Toussaint(All Saints’ Day)!


POINTS: 60


Remember if there are words in bold they may answer future bonus questions — as these treasures can apply to various themes.
The Borghese Beauty
2015 February 04
  • THATLou – Ladies au Louvre,
  • THATLou – Angels & Wings,
  • THATLou – Beauty & Bestiary theme,
  • THATLou - Love Hunt,
  • THATLou – Skull Scouting,
  • THATLou – All Things Gaul,
  • THATLou- Kings + Leaders,
  • THATLou - Food & Wine

The Borghese Beauty

In our most recent THATMuse post we lingered on an introduction to the Borghese Collection at the Louvre. Though necessary, it was honestly a bit sober. So in developing this story line (before getting to the actual crux — an item or two of the collection itself!) I thought we needed some juicy gossip. And what makes for juicier gossip than scandal? It’s hard to top the stories of Messalina, as touched on in a previous post, but Pauline Borghese, Napoleon’s sister and wife to Prince Camillo Borghese, certainly comes a close second in “shock” factor. 



Pauline Borghese as Venus Victrix, at Galleria Borghese, Rome, www.wikipedia.org

She was the beauty of the family, 6th of the 8 children born to Napoleon’s parents in Ajaccio, Corsica. At the age of 16, in 1796 (just as Napoleon was starting to make his mark on history, during the Italian Campaign), she fell madly in love with a 40-year old syphilitic philanderer. To distract her, the family married her off to one of Napoleon’s soldiers, General Victor Emmanuel Leclerc (whom Nappy incidentally caught her being let’s say, indiscreet with behind a screen at the Palazzo Mombello in Milano — but I get the idea he didn’t share this morsel with his family).  

Despite having a son by Leclerc (Dermide, whom Napoleon, ever the control-freak, named), Pauline set herself up with many a lover. The family was posted to Haiti, which is where she may have developed her taste for sleeping with black men. It is well documented (a small bit of trivia that I remember from high school when we had to spend time at the Museo Napoleonico in Rome. Just as an aside, these completely un-useful bits of trivia is exactly how my history teachers hooked me on their rich subject) that she was in the habit of having her large black servant, Paul, carry her to the bath every day, and would spend an inordinate number of hours receiving guests from the bath – talk about being hungry for attention! She’d also apparently use ladies-in-waiting as foot servants — literally stepping on their backs.



Portrait of PrinceCamillo Borghese, by Francois Gerard (1770-1837) location unknown, wikipedia.org

Unlike either her older brother (who spent a large part of his life being her PR spin doctor, in addition to being self-appointed ‘Emperor’ of Europe) or Messalina (3rd Empress of Rome and a flagrant hussy), Pauline didn’t seem to have any ambition — her interest was pure frivolity and sex. Eight months after Leclerc died she secretly remarried the handsome Prince Camillo Borghese. This rush infuriated Napoleon (Ironically with such a sister, Napoleon tried to instill a code of good morals. Compare Jacques-Louis David’s Portrait of Mme. Recamier (1800, at the Louvre) to Antonio Canova’s sculpture of Pauline – which at her request was nearly nude and posed as Venus Victrix – 1805-8 at the Galleria Borghese). Throughout her infidelities, there was a modicum of decency and even loyalty about her. Though she swiftly cheated on Borghese — who was forced into selling a large part of his family’s art collection to his nouveau-riches self-coronated Emperor brother-in-law — she also secured Camillo the post of Governor of Piedmont and guardian of Napoleon’s prisoner, Pope Pius VII (two tasks Camillo coveted). And though she caused a lot of trouble for her brother (who adored her), she is also the only Bonaparte sibling to have supported him after he was deposed and sent to Elba. 



British Embassy on rue du Fbg St Honore, taken from flickr.com/eisenphotovideo


In fact according to Alistair Horne’s The Age of Napoleon, she liquidated most of her assets to go and live with Nappy in Elba and better his situation (although she kept her pretty frocks `to make him happy`). Among her assets was a sumptuous little number on rue du Faubourg St-Honore which she sold to the Duke of Wellington after the Battle of Waterloo, and which since then has been the British Embassy of France. Apparently Wellington “gained the respect of the Parisians when, as the victor, he could have grabbed it for nothing, but insisted on paying the full price.



Pauline Borghese’s Paris Palace, now the British Embassy taken from Hector Berlioz’s website

Just as a small reminder – when little morsels are randomly placed in bold, it just may mean that those could conceivably arise as answers to bonus questions. The Borghese Beauty is applicable to any number of THATLous, since the Borghese Collection has the Three Graces (Beauty), wild satyrs (Bestiary), wonderful Craters (Food & Wine), and Roman Sarcophagi (Skull Scouting Halloween Hunt), etc. 


English historian Alistair Horne has written a number of great books on Napoleon and his time. And here’s a good New York Times article about the Borghese Collection au Louvre (no bonus questions – just if interested).