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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, 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, 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!

Sleeping Hermaphroditus. Greek marble, Roman copy from 2nd century BC after a Hellenistic original of the 2nd century BC, restored in 1619 by David Larique — with mattress by Gianlorenzo Bernini, http://www.wikipedia.org

It’s really not so easy to follow a post concerning Pauline la Pute (or as she was known in history Pauline Borghese, Napoleon’s sister & Prince Camillo Borghese’s wife). I love the drafty old halls of the Louvre. Why else would I be toiling so at trying to expand the museum for THATLou participants and readers? But I know that an article on the history of the Borghese Collection isn’t that sexy. And though the Borghese Collection’s Three Graces, a perfect candidate for this Sunday’s Ladies at the Louvre hunt (hint hint, nudge nudge…), is a sexy piece of sculpture… They’re, well. Virtuous — so not quite so much fun as our scandalous friend Pauline.

St Teresa in Ecstasy, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647 in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria

So instead of trying to top the juice, I thought I’d go for the anatomically interesting:  The Sleeping Hermaphrodite! There’s an excellent church in Rome (well there are a few, if your all time favourite period of art is Baroque Roman architecture, which is the case for me. This is the lucky result of having glorious gilded swirls, dramatic moving marble, fat flabby volutes, convex and concave facades all crammed down my throat from a young age by my avid mother) called Santa Maria della Vittoria. It’s by Carlo Maderno (teacher to rivals Bernini and Borromini). Sta Ma della VIttoria is famous on a mass scale because of Bernini’s most excellent and much-studied sculpture in the Cornaro Chapel called The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa* (oh the jokes my predominately Protestant and Jewish art history classes would make in HS over the “Ecstasy” the horny saint went through — but that’s for another entry, or another blog. On being juvenile in Rome and New York, sometime. One day. For now though, I’ll try to rein in my enthusiasm and save you from more parenthetical tangents).

Carlo Maderno’s Santa Maria della Vittoria (1605-1620), Rome, photo from http://www.wikipedia.org

In any event, in 1608 when the foundations of the church were being dug they found this 2nd Century AD Sleeping Hermaphrodite in the ground (it’s near Diocletian’s Baths), a Roman copy of a 2nd C BC Hellenistic sculpture. Cardinal Scipione Borghese**, nephew of Pope Paul V, caught word of this find and descended on the construction site immediately, saying “Hey, I’ll be taking that lovely SheMan thank you very much (ah the joy of being a Pope’s “nephew” in 17th-century Rome)” and brought it directly up the Pincian Hill back to his Villa Borghese where he created a room just for his new prized possession, the Sleeping Hermaphrodite. (Incidentally he also paid for the facade of Sta Ma della Vittoria twenty odd years later). Then in 1619 he set Gian Lorenzo Bernini (architect of St Peter’s Baldacchino, as well as of the Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona) to the task of sculpting the marble mattress to cushion his Sleeping Hermaphrodite.

ront of the Borghese Collection’s Sleeping Hermaphrodite – http://www.Utexas.edu

In Greek mythology they didn’t really give hermaphrodites a lot of importance until the Hellenistic period. The idea of these poor beings with mixed up male-female chromosomes came to the Greeks from the East by way of Cyprus. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1974 edition) says the legend of the Hellenistic period made Hermaphroditus a beautiful youth, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. The nymph of the fountain of Salmacis in Caria became enamored of him and entreated the gods that she might be forever united with him. The result was the formation of a being half man, half woman. It was typical of Hellenistic sculpture in so far as it had a theatrical element of surprise to it and was meant to be seen from two different angles.

front of the Borghese sleeping hermaphrodite, wikicommons

There are sleeping hermaphrodites scattered about, but the Louvre’s is the most famous. The Galeria Borghese in Rome has a lesser one, the Uffizi has another Roman copy. Both the Prado in Madrid and Met in NY have life-sized bronze sleeping hermaphrodites, the former ordered by Philip IV. The composition clearly influenced Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus at the National Gallery in London. And we won’t even go into the poets (Swinburne to name one) who devoted ode after ode to the subject.

All of this is good and well, but the big question you are probably asking yourselves — Does the Sleeping Hermaphrodite deserve a space in the Ladies at the Louvre THATLou?


* Whilst discussing the female orgasm, psychologist Jacques Lacan said that “you only have to go and look at Bernini’s statue in Rome to understand immediately that she’s coming, there is no doubt about it.” (“Encore,” Sem. XX: 70-71). This tidbit is a tip of my hat to my sister in law, a psychologist in Buenos Aires who introduced me to Lacan.

** Cardinal Bishop Scipione Borghese was not only Bernini’s patron, but Caravaggio’s as well. If you like the Baroque, you like Scipione.

When you think of the Wild Things of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are you might as well think of Gorgons. As any American who grew up since it was published in 1963 will remember Max was sent to bed without his supper because he roared his terrible roar and gnashed his terrible teeth and screamed his terrible scream too wildly. A forest grows in his room and he’s transported by sea to where the Wild Things live, but Max cows them easily, and becomes the King of All Wild Things by staring them down, unblinking as he holds their yellow eyes steady. Perhaps because Sendak had a soft side, or perhaps because children’s book publishers wouldn’t have permitted it, but Max doesn’t behead The Wild Things as Perseus did their predecessor, nor does he make the Wild Things as terrifying as Gorgons. He couldn’t have.

The very word Gorgon means Dreadful or Terrible in Greek.  They were popular in Greek mythology – if you looked them in the eye you’d turn to stone. Perseus famously outsmarted the most famous of the Gorgons, Medusa, by looking at her in the reflection of his shield, and then beheading her serpent-haired head. Sadly for her, Medusa was not immortal as her two Gorgon sisters Stheno and Euryale were.  They were said to be the daughters of the sea God Phorcys and his sister-wife Ceto (a sea monster).

Red-figured cup by Douris, 480-470 BC, Cerveteri, Etruria now in the Vatican Museum. The python is regurgitating Jason (gross, eh?!?), the Golden Fleece hangs from a branch while Athena looks on with her aegis bearing the Gorgon and helmet with winged lioness, http://www.wikipedia.com

Often they were depicted as having fangs and skin of a serpent, and hair made of poisonous snakes.  Sometimes they had wings of gold, brazen claws, tusks of a boar.  Lionesses and sphinxes are often associated with them, and generally they were used in architecture to protect the building – for instance temples protecting the oldest of oracles (the oldest stone pediment in Greece, dated from 600 BC, is from the Temple of Artemis at Corfu and what is in the primary location, smack dab in the middle of the pediment? A Dreadful Gorgon of course).

Disk Fibula Gorgoneion Bronze with repoussé decoration, Boeotian production under Corinthian influence, second half of the 6th century BC. From Asia Minor, at the Louvre http://www.wikipedia.com

So why do I linger on Gorgons? Perhaps because, apart from protecting temples and installed protectively in architecture, Gorgons frequently appear in Greek pottery….  Greek Pots could very well figure in a good Food and Wine THATMuse. Likewise Gorgons would be prime suspects for a Bestiary THATLou, which remains unscheduled as such but is bound to pop up sooner or later. For instance this Gorgon Pot found in the Sully wing would be a great cross-purpose pot for both the Food + Wine THATLou as well as a Bestiary hunt, no?

Gorgon Painter Dinos, taken from Google Images

What makes it so special is that it is one of the first pots to have a continuous narration (where one piece of art depicts the story at different stages) of Perseus’s story, where he’s running from Medusa’s Gorgon sisters (as seen below). The pot scene is so famous that history named the painter the Gorgon Painter, though he of course did many other pots in the 6th century BC.

Gorgon Painter Dinos, 580 BC, taken from Wikipedia

More on all these topics – Gorgons, Food+ Wine THATLou, Bestiary, Greek Pots – soon. For now I’ll leave you with a hyperlink to Maurice Sendak’s obituary in the NY Times from this past May.

The idea of adding a Food section to the blog was originally Aussie in France’s Rosemary Kneipp, who lives just opposite the Louvre in Palais Royal and ran her own “Five Places to lunch Near the Louvre”. She gave me this wise idea an age ago, when we met for a Louvre photo shoot last May, to accompany a piece she wrote for Ma Vie Française on “Why I Came to France”.

Though I do love a good nibble + swig, my forté is more aligned to pondering painting and the like. So what better opportunity to introduce my wonderful THATMuse colleague, Jenna-Marie Warnecke, than now? With no further ado, here is the first Food + Drink 5-mins-from the Louvre series, this one with a guest post by the pen of Paris Cheapskate:

After spending a couple of hours running around the Louvre, racing against time to rack up the points necessary to win THATMuse, you’re likely to be not only pooped but also hungry. There’s no shortage of (overpriced) cafés nearby where you can relax and grab a bite, but if it’s a nice day out, you can do no better than to have a picnic in the nearby Jardin des Tuileries.


One of my favorite spots to get an easy, quality to-go bite is Flottes And Go at 2 rue Cambon (75001), just across the street from the Jardin des Tuileries (and about a 10-min walk from the Louvre). As an arm of the next-door brasserie Flottes, this bistro boutique is the perfect spot to pick up everything you need for a fabulous picnic from wine to cute napkins.


Fresh sandwiches like focaccia and salmon or quiches with ricotta, zucchini and tomato run about 8€, while you can also grab smoothies and organic sodas like pink grapefruit for 2-4€ and gourmet ice cream with flavors like honey lavender for 4€. There are also plenty of adorable French souvenirs to pick up while you’re at it, including jams, spices, decorative tins and cookbooks.


And though Flottes has its share of sweets from artisanal chocolate to gelato, I’d recommend taking a few extra steps down the street to Pierre Hermé (4 rue Cambon, 75001) to try one of their famous macarons. Pierre Hermé macs are renowned for their perfect texture and wild flavors, from chocolat-foie gras to the Ispahan, a delicious blend of rose-raspberry. They are the ultimate picnic dessert!

photo taken from Chérie City (www.cheriecity.co.uk)

Jenna-Marie Warnecke writes regularly for Girls’ Guide to Paris and The Huffington Post. In addition to being a professional writer, she also runs Paris Cheapskate, regarding a wide array of events in Paris for those who have an eye to their purse.

Jenna’s also been known to run the odd THATMuse, in the absence of yours truly, as well as to assist with large Treasure Hunts, such as the 40-person Dutch Railway company (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) corporate event we hosted last night. You can follow her movements on Twitter at @jennawarnecke

For those of you with a minute to both watch and listen to the below, I thoroughly recommend it. The music, played by Yo Yo Ma, is Bach’s Sarabande from Suite for Solo Cello #1 in G Major. The video needs no introductions, it’s sublime as it is:

Would that THATLou be so creative

What more appropriate to the Beauty & Bestiary theme (or the Ladies au Louvre theme) than to linger on Three Graces (of which the Louvre has many – from Lucas Cranach’s to the Borghese 3 Graces) Bestiaries are fantastical animals, such as griffins, centaurs, unicorns, even gargoyles. They appear in all sorts of fun places, such as scrutinising Paris a-top the belfry of Notre Dame (Gargoyles), or overlooking Darius’s Palace at Susa (Griffins), as written about in the Benetton of Near Eastern Art.

So until I’ve reached a decision for the next THATLou, I’m going to linger on these two subjects, the Beauty and the Beast, and if you have a say on which subject would make the best THATLou theme, please feel free to either vote on the THATMuse facebook page or leave a comment here.

Three Graces (1482) detail in Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera at the Uffizi, Wikipedia

What personifies beauty or ladies in the arts for me are The Three Graces. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1974 edition) defines The Three Graces:

Greek = Charities, Latin = Gratiae. In Green religion = Goddess of Fertility. The name refers to the pleasing or charming appearance of a fertile field or garden. Their number varied in different legends, but usually there were three: Aglaia (Brightness also Elegance), Euphrosyne (Joyfulness also Mirth, Good Cheer) and Thalia (Bloom also, Youth and Beauty, Festivities).

Depending on the legend, they’re said to be the daughters of Zeus and Hera (or Eurynome is the daughter of Oceanus sometimes) or Helios and Aegle (a daughter of Zeus). Frequently the Graces were taken as goddesses of ‘charm’ or ‘beauty’ and hence were associated with Aphrodite (the Goddess of Love), Peitho (her attendant) and/or Hermes, a fertility and messenger god.

In early times they were often represented with drapery, but by the time the Romans got to them they were usually full-fledged flashing us: Unembarrassed of their beautiful form, and usually draped around one another opposed to in drapes. More to come on them this week.

Three Graces (1503-1504) Raphael, Museée Condé, Chantilly France, WikiPaintings

An example of Bestiary, to wait their turn and be covered after lingering on some beauty with various Three Graces…

Centaur, Borghese Collection Louvre, http://www.ArsMagazine.com

* The first image of the Three Graces is a sculpture by Antonio Canova (1814-1817), which is currently at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, who launched a public campaign to purchase it, much the way the Louvre bought Lucas Cranach’s Three Graces with another museum grassroots campaign.

Cranach’s 3 Graces, with journalists, http://www.artdaily.org

In November 2010 the Louvre was made aware of a Lucas Cranach’s The Three Graces, which had been in private collections since it was painted in 1531. There’s another lesser Three Graces by Cranach at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas (seen below), but this 1531 Three Graces was not only unknown to the general public it was in pristine condition.  Henri Loyrette, Director of the Louvre said “the work’s astonishing perfection, its extreme rarity, and its remarkable state of preservation allow it to be called a ‘national treasure’”. That’s a big endorsement, by a very big fish. Internationally speaking, that is.

The Louvre scrambled to raise the enormously small amount of 4 million euros, but their acquisition department could only raise 3 million (does make you wonder), so they made an unprecedented on-line appeal to individual donors for the rest. Within a month they raised the 1 million euros from an estimated 7000 donors (initially the papers said it was 5000 donors, but the Louvre later corrected the figure).

Lucas Cranach´s Three Graces (1531) 24cm x 37cm, oil on wood, image taken from in.artinfo.com

What I don’t understand is why, when the National Gallery of Scotland raised 50 million pounds (in 2008 for Titian’s 1559 Diana and Acteon from Lord Sutherland) or the Tate raised 5.7 million pounds (for a Rubens drawing, The Apotheosis of James I (1628) — when Viscont Hampden threatened to sell it abroad, god forbid) was it such a big deal for the Louvre to appeal to the public for a measly one million euros? Why are we talking such small potatoes? Le Monde said that the average donation was 150 Euros, and that a quarter of the donations hovered around 50 Euros. That’s great. Grassroots is important, but the figure does pale in comparison. Another quandary – how could it have been on sale for so little when Henri Loyrette – the man himself — director of the Louvre!, said that it was a candidate to become the Louvre’s “Next Icon”? I can’t underline, bold, italicize, emphasize this point enough. Let us not forget that Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold for 106 million dollars at Christie’s in NY in May 2011, that Munch’s The Scream sold for 120 million dollars at Sotheby’s, again in NY, in May 2012. They’re fine paintings, sure, but to my single-minded eye the talent that Lucas Cranach has over Munch and Picasso trumps them. Moreover, doesn’t age count for anything these days? Guess not.

1535 Three Graces, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in Kansas at http://www.nelson-atkins.org

This treasure is currently (as of Feb 2017) not on view because the Louvre has closed half of the top floor of Richelieu (yes! HALF!) for many months. Usually it’s on the 2nd floor Richelieu, Room 8; This is in a side room in the 16th Century German section.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 – 1553) was friends with all of the big hitters of his Renaissance Germany: painter Albrecht Dürer, reformist Martin Luther, and the various Electors and Emperors for whom he painted. Apart from being a very successful painter, he was a estimable businessman with a license to sell wine, an elected member of the Wittenberg town council (several stints), owner of a publishing press (in addition to the 400+ paintings by him, there are more than 100 separate woodcuts in the form of book illustrations and six engravings), owner of numerous properties and an apothecary. An example of his social stardom: in 1523 he hosted King Christian II of Denmark as a guest to his home.

Lucas Cranach´s Three Graces, 1531

For most of his life he was court painter to Friedrich III the Wise, Elector of Saxony (who Charles V would later accuse of treason, and who Cranach followed into exile), and in this role he had an enormous workshop (where his sons, Lucas the Younger especially, flourished). Like Rubens and painters in general, his workshop was what allowed him to be so prolific. Many of his paintings are only in part by him,  and were also in tribute to his talent at hiring talent.

As was written about in the last post (the Next Louvre Icon), an exception to this is the recently discovered The Three Graces (1531) which was done by Cranach’s hand alone, according to Vincent Pomarède, chief curator of the Louvre’s Painting Department. Apparently laboratory testing showed that there were no preliminary studies underneath the painting, which is what brought the museum to this conclusion.

The work’s small size (24cm x 37cm, Oil on Wood) indicates that it was commissioned for a patron’s home. Louvre curators speculate that this allowed Cranach to make the subjects all the more provocative, with a black background that focuses the viewer’s eye on the women’s flesh. The fundraising website said the painting emitted a “disturbing eroticism.” But this eroticism was not uncommon to Cranach’s work. Take for instance, the Louvre’s own Venus Standing in a Landscape (1529). She, too, is buck naked holding the signature thin veil as clear as saran wrap.

Venus Standing in a Landscape, 1529, taken from commons.wikipedia.org

The identity of the three nude women in The Three Graces – seen from the back, the front and in profile – is not certain. The Louvre’s fundraising website (which is one of the few sources addressing it, since the painting has been in various private collections since it was painted in 1531) wondered whether it could be an allegorical representation of Charity, Friendship and Fidelity opposed to its namesake, The Three Graces. The woman in the center has that unusual flat hat which counters the argument of it being an allegorical representation. The woman on the right clasps her raised ankle, almost looking like she’s stretching for the 100 meter dash.

Just to show you that Cranach didn’t only focus on soft porn — here’s another of the treasures from the Louvre’s collections is Portrait of Magdalena Luther, daughter of Martin Luther.

Cranach’s Magdalena Luther (1540), taken from http://www.portraittimeline.com

PS from the last post (where I tell you the whereabouts of this gem) – I’ve been asked about the sale of The Scream: During the Sotheby’s auction it was bought by a private collector. It took 12 minutes of the price climbing for this 1895 pastel version of it. Edvard Munch painted four Screams, three of which are in Norwegian museums. This 120 million dollar version was sold by Petter Olsen, a Norwegian shipping magnate whose grandfather was friends with Munch. A good Op Ed on the sale – making it the most expensive painting in the world at the moment – can be found in this NY Times article by Pulitzer Prize winning Art Critic Holland Cotter.

It’s funny how these posts come about. Because of the last post concluding the Three Graces series, I’ve had the Borghese Collection at the Louvre on my mind. However, there are so many places to start on this topic, and so many paths to stray to. A rocky relationship between Italy and France is certainly one (think the Italian Campaign of 1796-7, where Napoleon made his name), as is the actual collection of 695* incredible antiquities (the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, the Borghese Gladiator, the Three Graces, to name a few). Just how these antiquities got to the Louvre is worthy of a large part of Marie-Lou Fabréga-Dubert’s two-volume tome “La Collection Borghese au Musée Napoléon,” published jointly in 2009 by Musée du Louvre Editions and the publishing branch of the Beaux-Art de Paris. The NY Times reviewed it favourably here, and as with any good review the Times provides great morsels from the book.

Borghese Gladiator
The Borghese Gladiator at the Louvre

Then there are the personalities — Napoleon has never been short on providing history with anecdotes, his brother-in-law Prince Camillo Borghese of the Roman nobility, is of course the source of the collection and then there’s Napoleon’s sister and Camillo’s wife, Pauline, whose salacious habits were already well established in her first marriage to General Leclerc (I believe “Bacchanalian Promiscuity” was attributed to her when she was in Haiti with General Leclerc).

And of course we can’t overlook the minor characters — minor to history, but with entire wings and courtyards named after them I guess “minor” is relative. Dominique-Vivant Denon (Director of Imperial Museums), and Ennio Quirino Visconti  (“overseer” of Roman Antiquities at the Musée Napoléon — what’s now the Louvre), were responsible for the mammoth task of getting the antiquities from Rome to Paris — no easy feat when the British had an embargo in the Mediterranean which made the French travel overland. Denon, Sully, and Richelieu will certainly have their THATLou posts at one point or another (concerning both the wings as well as the colourful characters of French history). In one of my first posts I wrote about the Visconti courtyard, which is about to be all over the press when the new Islamic wing opens this September (supposedly – the opening’s been postponed for a few years).

Villa Borghese, Rome
The Villa Borghese gardens

PS/ I can’t seem to get to the bottom of just how many antiquities Napoleon (mmm, sorry, I mean the French State) bought from Borghese. Wikipedia, which of course isn’t to be trusted, says it’s 344 antiquities. A figure I’ve seen in other googled sources (who perhaps used wikipedia).  When addressing the Borghese Kylix the Louvre’s website says Napoleon bought Borghese’s entire collection — which of course can’t be right as there’s a small museum with  just a few Berninis on the Pincian Hill in Rome called the Villa Borghese (photographed above, where Denon and Visconti started their shipping process). So though I haven’t read Mme. Fabréga-Dubert’s 2-volumes, I have chosen to go with her figure of 695 pieces. If for no doubt because I’m from NY and trust the editors of the Times to at least quote her correctly.

Galleria Borghese Extra Info:

HOURS: open Tuesday – Sunday, from 8:30 – 7:30 pm

ADDRESS: Piazzale del Museo Borghese, 00197 Roma (in the middle of the large park, Villa Borghese)

THATMuse Recommendation: Purchase tickets on line, before you go (they can often be sold out as it’s one of the best museums in Rome, with Bernini, Caravaggio, Canova and the lot!)

The THATMuse blog has content pieces about the actual museums where you’re hunting, but we’ve also amassed plenty of recommendations of what to do in Paris and London apart from your museum time. Check out our “Travelling in Paris & London” category on the blog for pieces from kid-friendly parks, cafes and toyshops to romantic cocktail lounges near our museums.

Which European capital, Paris or London, is more kid-considerate when it comes to parks? In the Battle of Green Glory, it may take an American to decide. This post, which first appeared in the Telegraph, was written by expat Daisy de Plume, founder of THATMuse.

Carousels

Sorry, London, there’s no contest when Paris’s oldest carousel was designed by Charles Garnier, who also happened to build the city’s opera house. The Jardin du Luxembourg’s carousel has animals swing from the ceiling and a tricky ring game. London’s Jubilee Gardens, on the South Bank, has a sweet little carousel to make you feel like you’re in Mary Poppins, but on the carousel score, Paris has no competition. Anywhere.

Paris: 1

Picknicking

Approximately 47 per cent of London is covered by green spaces, making it perfect for picnicking: with city spots like Russell Square which are ideal for a pit stop after whizzing about the British Museum, as well panoramic swathes of green such as Hampstead Heath.

While Paris parks are lovely, they are more to be observed, not interacted with. Usually there are only designated portions of grass in which Parisians are permitted to spread out. One of the best of these is the Marais’s Place des Vosges.

Of you are the sort who prefers a dry picnic, according to Weather2Travel, Paris has 170 days with some rainfall each year, while London has just 155, giving the British capital a clear advantage.

London: 1

Jumping

After a treasure hunt at the Louvre, the sunken trampolines in the adjacent Jardin des Tuileries are a great spot for kids to bounce off some energy. Costing €2.50 (£2.25) for five minutes, the trampolines are off the beaten track, so the queue is never long. Did you know that the Jardin des Tuileries had hidden trampolines? London’s trampoline “parks” are indoors, not central and relatively expensive. This cannot compete with flipping about in the 17th century park designed by Le Nôtre, chief gardener of Versailles

Paris: 1

Playgrounds

Kensington Gardens’ Diana Memorial Playground and the large playground at Jardin du Luxembourg are both fantastic: both have guards at the entry to keep tots from escaping, snack food stands, bathrooms, and are great fun for kids aged 2 – 12.  The Diana Memorial Playground is a joy for children aged two to eight or so.  The Jardin du Luxembourg playground costs €2.50 (£2.25) entry, so for free fun, London pips Paris to the post.

London: 1

Getting Lost

A special treat for Parisian enfants of all ages is the labyrinth in the Left Bank’s Jardin des Plantes, where kids can climb in the hollowed-out bushes and secretly make their way up to the next level while parents wander up the spiraling dirt path. France’s main botanical garden, you can visit galleries of natural history within the park

With terraced levels being crowned by a looking-point gazebo, the labyrinth looks a bit like a massive green ziggurat. It’s a delight for kids, but perhaps agree to a special whistle prior to letting your children out of sight, or if they’re older agree ahead of time that you’ll meet at the gazebo apex.

The conical maze is hidden behind the art deco Winter Garden; many Parisians don’t even know about it, associating the Jardin des Plantes with the 18th century zoo and botanical gardens.

Paris: 1

Wildlife

There is plenty of animal-spotting to do in both cities, from feeding the pelicans and mallards in St James’s Park, to doing a beeline to the beehives of the Rucher École beekeeping school in Jardin du Luxembourg.  Coram’s Fields, near the British Museum, tips the scales in London’s favour, with an adorable, if somewhat worn, petting farm with goats, bunnies and chickens.

London: 1

Treasure Hunting

Sculpture scouting is my son Storsh’s preferred game in Parisian parks; the Tuileries has 20 Maillol alone, and more than 200 sculptures and urns, while our family favourite, Jardin du Luxembourg, has 106 sculptures. Likewise, London’s Regent’s Park is filled with wonderful contemporary sculpture during the art fairFrieze.

Paris: 1

Zipwires

London’s Coram’s Fields has a great zipline, as does Holland Park, but the standing, swerving one in Jardin du Luxembourg is exciting, too.That said, nothing tops climbing a ladder the height of a tree to zipline across Canal St Martin during the seasonal Paris Plages, something many Parisian parents look on with great jealousy.

However, London triumphs with Battersea Park’s impressive Go Ape course. Ticketed slots cost £20/person but this aerial adventure park makes a great holiday treat. Kids (and parents) will turn into Tarzan as they swing, climb and zip from tree-top to tree-top. You must be a meter tall to play, although there is a playground for little siblings. Paris doesn’t have anything quite like it.

London: 1

We may have to call it a diplomatic draw – but choose your city based on which activity most appeals to you!

Jacquemart-André Museum

Welcome to the 1st of the Monthly Museum Musings (MMM), where we’ll linger on lesser known museums (when compared to the Louvre that leaves us pretty much open to any of the more than 150 museums across Paris). MMM will focus predominately on Paris (though at times we’ll stray to other cities’ fine collections) and will be defined by a brief overview of the collection at hand, as well as a quick “In the Neighbourhood?” element to provide suggestions for a stroll one could take before or after your Museum Musing. If you have suggestions of a museum you’d like covered or would like to contribute, we’d love to hear from you!

The Frick Collection in New York, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, London’s Wallace Collection: All of these places were the mansions of wealthy families, now housing their art collections for the public. Paris’s version of this big-home, small-museum type is no less impressive, though perhaps slightly less known on an international scale: The Musée Jacquemart-André.

Jacquemart-Andre Museum

The couple, Edouard André and his wife Nélie Jacquemart, collected old masters such as Titian, Uccello, Van Dyck and Rubens. Though the quality isn’t quite on par with Frick’s peerless collection, some of the 15th and 16th century Italian paintings are divine. Paintings aside, the house is a piece of art unto itself with a gorgeous aerie, plant-filled interior courtyard with a Tiepolo fresco overlooking the double-spiraled staircase. Downstairs you see Edouard and Nélie’s separate bedrooms – the toilet of which has always fascinated me with its various embroidered furniture (didn’t it get wet with splashes? No matter). Made into a museum in 1913, you can also go for one of the best high teas in one of the prettiest salons in Paris. I work in the neighbourhood and go for a delish mango salad on special occasions when I can go a-missing for a few hours of pretending to be a lady-who-lunches.

A visit to the museum is certainly worthwhile, though the 8th Arrt ‘hood is dry with row after row of Hausmannian façades fencing in the tree-lined boulevards. They’re mostly international law firms and companies or posh residences, impenetrable to tourists and expats alike.

In the neighbourhood?

It’s less than 10 minutes by foot up to Parc Monceau for a stroll where the first parachutist landed in the 18th century. If you have kids Parc Monceau has a pony trail that my toddler’s fascinated by (and counting the minutes till he’s big enough to go for a ride). For now though, he’s content with the adorable Parisian 19th Century swings and picnic green rare to many a Parisian park.From there you could go to the pedestrianised market street, Rue de Levis in the 17th Arrt, for a drink and some fabulous people-watching.

Or if you want a more ‘famous” version of Paris it’s 10 minutes west to the l’Arc de Triomphe, where you feel like you’re at the center of it all. It’s true the expanse of all of the boulevards, the Champs-Elysées in particular, meeting at your feet is something to write (at least a postcard) home about!

Jacquemart Andre Museum


What’s on now?

From Zurbaran to Rothko is running from March 3rd to July 10th 2017. Alicia Koplowitz has amassed through Grupo Omega Capital Ω, a collection that reflects her own personal tastes, bringing together numerous masterpieces from some of the world’s greatest artists. The Old and Modern Masters feature heavily in her collection, fostering a dialogue of sorts across the centuries: antique sculptures and paintings by Zurbarán, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Guardi and Goya can be seen alongside paintings and drawings by Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Van Dongen, Modigliani, Schiele, de Staël, Freud, Rothko and Barceló, as well as sculptures by Giacometti, Bourgeois and Richier.

 

Logistics

Details: 158, boulevard Haussmann 75008 Paris

www.musee-jacquemart-andre.com

Metro: Miromesnil (lines 9, 13), St Philippe du Roule (line 9, closer)

Hours: Open 7 days a week, 10am – 6 pm, Monday till 8:30 pm

Prices: Adults cost 13.50 euros, students 10.50, kids under 7 are free (as of 2017)

Perspective epitomizes the marriage of Arts + Sciences, so it should be no surprise that I’m providing this as the give-away clue to all those clever BAC-aged youths who’ll be on the hunt for Science at the Louvre tomorrow afternoon.

Science-Académie (known as Science-Ac’) was established in 2006 with just a few hundred students. Today this Paris-Montagne Association now stands at 2000 students, enlivening the interest of high school students and pre-BAC kids in Science. Science-Ac was born from the l’Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS is the French equivalent of MIT, for you American readers), and has generational dons or tutors per each level, PhD candidates doing lab work alongside high-schoolers. Their proximity in age, no doubt bolsters the inspiration for the students to further their scientific studies.

Tomorrow a group of Science-Ac’ students will be scouring the Louvre for 25 pieces of art that marry Art with Science. For instance a double-sided David and Goliath painting by da Volterra  inspects the Centripetal and Centrifugal forces of David’s use of the sling. But as such physics strays from typical THATLou reading I’ll do a give-away that’s a bit closer to home.

Here are two works of art in two separate wings on two separate floors of the Louvre. One is by a Northerner (Dutch) the other by a Southerner (Sicilian), but both are true masters of perspective in entirely disparate ways. Scientific perspective is an approximate representation, on a flat surface (such as a canvas or paper), of an image as it is perceived by the eye. The two most characteristic features of perspective are:

  1. Objects are drawn smaller as their distance from the observer increases
  2. The distortion of items when viewed at an angle (spatial foreshortening)

In art the term foreshortening is often used synonymously with perspective, even though foreshortening can occur in other types of non-perspective drawing representations.

da Messina’s Christ at the Cross

CHRIST AT THE COLUMN Antonello da Messina (1430-1479), 15th C Italian Painting

This fine painting is tiny, only .30m x .21m wide, so in a reversed way it pops out among the Italian Painting gallery. Antonello’s acquaintance with the rules and foreshortenings of Tuscan perspective allow him here to show a living, monumental Christ whose Passion thrusts itself upon the viewer. This immediacy is enhanced by the illusionist handling of the knot in the rope: set at the bottom of the composition, it appears to rest on the frame, as if on the ledge of a window opening onto the divine. During his apprenticeship in the Naples of the Princes of Aragon – collectors of the work of the Northern painters – Antonello acquired Flemish oil painting techniques: the layering of paint and glazes creates depth and subtle transitions from shade to light, while also enabling meticulous realism in physical terms and in the stroke by stroke rendering of Christ’s hair and beard. Science Ac kids are asked to pose with his pained expression (just think of all Christ had been through at this point). To me he’s saying “how much bloody longer do I have to go through this torture?” It’s a fantastic painting.

de Hooch Card Players in an opulent interior

CARD PLAYERS, Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684), 17th C Dutch Painting

During his decade in Delft (Holland), Pieter de Hooch was deeply influenced by the color and strict lines of the art of Carel Fabritius, who also influenced Vermeer (huh, Vermeer’s Astronomer may just be nearby, then!). de Hooch developed a personal style that proved a success, basing his compositions on a colorful, artful use of perspective, with figures fitting harmoniously into the overall scheme. His works are subtly illuminated with lateral sources of light and often feature a series of rooms leading from one to the next. The lines of the marble floor tiles here draw the viewer’s attention to the vanishing lines of the painting. The spatial elements opening onto the exterior-windows and half-open doors are punctuated by a contrasting play of light, accentuating the lines and volumes. For an extra fifty bonus points have your team point to the small hint of another room in this charming scene. (and yes for you hawk-eyes, the pretty girl in the foreground is cheating with her lad).