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A young woman with nonhuman countenance, is carried on a conch shell, wafted to shore by playful zephyrs; and it seems that heaven rejoices in her birth.”

-Poliziano

Who is this young woman Poliziano is speaking of? It’s none other than Venus, the beautiful goddess of love! Venus, and other gods and goddesses, are central icons in some Renaissance works especially as scholars and artists alike looked towards the classics. Remember Bronzino’s An Allegory with Venus and Cupid or even Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne? Those are just a few paintings we’ve touched on that focus on the myths!  

I’d like to introduce you to another great painting featuring Venus: Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus! This painting reimagines the very beginning of our favorite love goddess. For inspiration, Botticelli most likely looked towards his friend Poliziano and classical writers Homer and Virgil.  

Why don’t we see what Botticelli’s painting has to say about Venus!?  

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Italian painter, Tiziano Vecellio, better known as Titian, knew how to tell a story in a single frame. In one painted scene, Titian weaves together a story of abandonment and the thrill of love at first sight alongside the immortalizing and captivating powers of classical gods and playfully rowdy mythical creatures. This is the pictured story of Bacchus and Ariadne.  

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Leicester Square (say it like Lester) is a cultural hub and entertainment center in London. From great dining, shopping, theatres and casinos, Leicester Square has something for everyone! Read on to discover just what you can do during your visit.  

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Gods, goddesses, and creatures, oh my! Bronzino took advantage of such mystical figures to create an intellectually pleasing (and eye-catching!) allegorical painting. Let’s decode the many interlocking secrets hidden throughout An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (1545).  

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Hans Holbein the Younger, Self Portrait at the Uffizi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re ever curious about 16th century portraitists, look no further than our German friend, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543)! He’s one of the most accomplished painters out there with his versatility and technical ability. Like our good friend, Jan van Eyck, Holbein used oil painting to achieve realistic textures in his works. Many 16th century celebrities – from King Henry VIII, Erasmus, to Anne of Cleves – vied for Holbein to capture their looks.  

But wait! When discussing Holbein, we have to mention his double portrait (it’s practically full-length and life-sized), The Ambassadors (1533). At first glance, this eye-catcher commemorates two friends, showing off their wealth and status. But, if you look closer, you’ll notice references to the English Reformation and Holbein’s own message about life and mortality. Since it’s Halloween season (BOO! 👻), it seems fitting to take a closer look at such spooky themes! 

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Oil, light, marriage, wealth, religion, and a mystery man in a mirror. What can we make of this? Who is Jan van Eyck? Read on to find out!

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Why would anyone want to bury a ship? This question is asked in the Netflix original movie “The Dig” which explores the 1939 Great Ship Burial excavation at Sutton Hoo. Read on to find out about the true story behind the movie!

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Who is Paolo Uccello? What is he known for? What can we learn from his work? Let’s find out! Read on to find out who Paolo is while taking a closer look at one of his masterpieces: The Battle of San Romano.

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Trafalgar Square is a central gathering place you might have been to many times, but do you know everything about it? Read on to discover tidbits about its present, past, and some quirks (surveillance lamp attachment, anyone?).

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Roman Coins © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The British Museum holds a coin collection bearing the faces of Roman emperors and empresses, including Marcus Aurelius and Faustina the Younger. While not all these coins are currently on display, the stories behind them are filled with politics and drama. They tell a dramatic tale about those who ruled one of the largest empires in history.  

One particularly interesting empress was Faustina the Younger (130-175 AD), the daughter of Roman Emperor Antonius Pius (ruled 138-161) and empress Annia Galeria Faustina (more well-known as Faustina the Elder). In fact, a coin of Faustina the Elder is displayed at the British Museum and is part of a future British Museum THATMuse digital hunt! Stay tuned and follow us on Instagram for updates! She was married off to her cousin, Emperor Marcus Aurelius (ruled 161-180), by her father. Together they had twelve to fourteen children, only six of which survived to adulthood, five daughters and one son. Their son, Commodus, became the Roman Emperor after his father.  

Rumor Has It

Rumors flew around the Roman Empire that Faustina the Younger had committed adultery multiple times – the most memorably with a gladiator. Though probably false and created by Faustina’s biggest enemies, the rumors are a lasting piece of Faustina’s legacy. 

Picture of statues of Faustina and Marcus Aurelius.
Faustina & Marcus Aurelius, Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Carole Raddato, License CC BY-SA 2.0

According to the legends, Faustina fell head over heels in love with a gladiator – despite her marriage to the emperor Marcus Aurelius. In the Roman times, gladiators were seen as sex symbols and as an aphrodisiac. Rich women in the Roman Empire would swoon over the gladiators. Some hired them as body guards to protect them, as well as have affairs with them. The story goes that when Marcus Aurelius found out about the affair, he was advised to take an unusual approach!  

As told in the Historia Augusta, Marcus Aurelius had the gladiator executed and forced Faustina to “bathe in his blood” — ick! A gladiator’s blood was a way to renew passion between the adulterer (Faustina) and their spouse (Marcus Aurelius). Therefore, afterwards, Faustina and Marcus Aurelius slept together.  

Family Affairs

Alongside gladiators, Faustina is believed to have slept with sailors and soldiers. One lasting legacy of these affairs were the rumors about her son, Commodus, as people said he was the son of Faustina’s gladiator lover or another lover making him an ‘illegal’ child. Though never confirmed, many believe it true based on descriptions of Commodus acting like a gladiator during his ruling. There were also rumors about Faustina ordering deaths, including poisoning and executions, which made many believe she was an evil.  

Despite the turmoil which surrounded her reputation, upon her death, Marcus Aurelius buried Faustina the Younger at the Mausoleum of Hadrian in Rome, and claimed her a deified mortal. In a life of scandalous love affairs, executions, and rumors, Faustina’s story would be at home on reality TV today. Would you turn on “Keeping up with the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty”?

Sniffer, schnozz, snoot, honker, snout, beak, nariz, nez. Whatever you call your nose, don’t turn it up at guerilla street art! One intriguing display, which has been surrounded by tales and legends is the Seven Noses of Soho.

The Admiralty Arch nose. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, David Liff, License CC BY-SA 3.0. 

In 1997, 35 plaster noses appeared in London. This guerrilla art installation appeared in popular areas and important public buildings. The National Gallery sprouted a nose, as did Tate Britain, Piccadilly Circus, South Bank Centre, and St Pancras Station. Many of the 35 noses were discovered and removed, but seven remain today (hence the name, Seven Noses of SoHo!). The Endell Street nose, while not in SoHo but in Covent Garden, is one of the remaining sniffers. You can find this white plaster cast affixed to the side of Service Graphics (Hmmm…could that help you on our new London Street Fun treasure hunt?)  

The best-known legend of these seven noses states that if you find all seven noses, you will become fabulously wealthy and live a life of grandeur. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Our London Street Fun hunt doesn’t take you to all of the noses, but we’ll introduce you to one of them, which is a great start on your journey to gain fabulous wealth when you find the rest! 

The St. Pancras Nose. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Colonel Warden, License CC BY-SA 3.0.

One nose, in particular, is surrounded by many an urban legend. Attached to the Admiralty Arch, a landmark building connecting the Mall to Trafalgar Square, this small nose cannot be removed without damaging the building (if you follow us on social media @That_muse_ on Twitter and Instagram this will be old news to you, and if you don’t follow us, you should for more fun facts!) 

One legend says that this nose was installed to mock Napoleon, and cavalry troops tweaked the schnozz as they passed under the arch. Others say that the nose honors the Duke of Wellington, who was particularly well known for his honker of a nose. The Admiralty Arch nose has even been rumored to be a spare for the memorial statue of Admiral Lord Nelson which adorns the top of the Trafalgar Square column in case the original fell off!  

These are fun tales, but alas the histories of the noses have an explanation. While the noses debuted in 1997, it wasn’t until 2011 that artist Rick Buckley came forward to reveal the truth about the mysterious sniffers around London. Buckley was responding to an increase in CCTV cameras in London. He explained that he was inspired by the Situationists, a group of artists from the mid-nineteenth century who used sporadic performance art as a form of social critique and protest.  

The Quo Vadis Nose. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Colonel Warden, License CC BY-SA 3.0.

 “I wanted to see if I could get away with it without being detected,” Buckley told the Evening Standard, “The afterthought was that it would be great if these protrusions would become part of the structure themselves.” The noses were produced with a mold of Buckley’s own and made with plaster of Paris and polymer. They were then affixed to the walls with glue and painted to match the color of the wall to which they were attached.  

Next time you’re in London, keep an eye out for these nosey pieces of public, guerilla art! Here in bold is an answer to your THATMuse challenges on the London Street Fun treasure hunt: the Endell Street Nose can be found on the Service Graphics building in Covent Garden!

If you liked this THATMuse blog post, check out our others, such as 5 Fun Things about London’s Convent Garden! and Street Treasure Hunts.

Upon first glance, you might expect this alleyway to be filled with witches and wizards shopping for wands at Ollivander’s, school robes at Madame Malkin’s, or buying new spell books at Flourish and Botts. Unfortunately, this charming street is not Diagon Alley, the center of London’s Wizarding World in Harry Potter series, it is actually Goodwin’s Court!

Goodwin’s Court! Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Davric, CC BY-SA 4.0.  

Located a short walk away from the Leicester Square tube station, Goodwin’s Court was clearly a key inspiration for the wizarding world! If Diagon Alley isn’t designed to look like Goodwin’s Court, then Knockturn Alley (the dark wizard’s Diagon) was definitely inspired by this London alleyway. It is believed that the Harry Potter film team could not use Goodwin’s Court as a filming location, due to the fact that it was too narrow, but they took major inspiration from the alleyway still. 

Can you imagine waving your magic want in Goodwin’s Court? Photo from E2 Architecture.  

Take a look at these clips from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone in America) and from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Can you see where Goodwin’s Court provided inspiration?

Diagon Alley Scene – Harry Potter

Diagon Alley – Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets 

The Harry Potter movies aren’t the only ones to use Goodwin’s Court in some film capacity – the movie Mary Poppins Returns actually used the alleyway in a scene (click here if you’re interested in more iconic London film locations)! As Emily Blunt and Lin Manuel Miranda traipse through London with grand musical numbers, they dip into an alleyway looking for a hidden door. This alleyway, you guessed it, is Goodwin’s Court! The charming street looks just as perfect within the Great Depression era of London, as it does in a magical wizarding world! 

Check out this video: London Film Locations 2 – Covent Garden: Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, Superman and more! to get a sneak peak into the different films shot at Goodwin’s Court!

The plaque on Goodwin’s Court dates its origin back to 1690. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, John Levin, CC BY-SA 2.0. 

This charming piece of London offers a window into the past with gaslit lamps, ornate window fronts, and exclusive foot traffic fit for Charles Dickens and eras past. According to a plaque at the entrance of the alleyway tells us that Goodwin’s Court was built in 1690 (Wow!) and was previously known as Fishers Alley. The buildings are believed to be over 300 years old – older than the United States of America even!  

Goodwin’s Court is a great photo location — duel your friend as if you were Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, or click your heels in the air like Mary Poppins, Jack, and the Banks kids (you’ll get the chance to pose for a pic on our London Street Fun hunt!). This slice of history is not only a window into the past but a window into some of our favorite movies! Explore Goodwin’s Court and make a little magic of your own by adventuring out on our new London Street Fun treasure hunt! 

If you liked this blog post, you may also like our other THATMuse post Four Iconic London Film Locations as well!