Our final Love Hunt Blog before Valentine’s Day is all about its chubby little mascot: Cupid. Check out the whole series here, here and here! However our little cherub has a much more storied past, before he was reduced to selling cards and chocolates.
Originally Eros in Greek, the God of Love, in some versions he is one of the oldest forces in the universe, predated only by Chaos and Gaia (Earth). Most commonly though the Romans knew little Cupid as the son of Venus, Goddess of beauty. Her husband was Vulcan, but Cupid’s father is Mars, God of War, naughty! (This might be useful on your hunt!) The winged archer is a symbol of how flighty love makes us, and he carries a bow because love wounds us from afar. He is also sometimes depicted as blind, to show how love is indiscriminate and makes us blind to all else.
You might also find him riding dolphins on fountains and other classical architecture. Though clearly many Roman artists had clearly never seen an actual dolphin before ever in their lives.
But Cupid of course could not avoid being struck by one of his own arrows. Eventually even the God of Love finds himself deeply in love with a mortal called Psyche. Psyche originally meant ‘soul’ or ‘breath of life’, rather than mind in the original Greek. She was a mortal of great beauty hated by Venus for stealing worship and attention away from her. Venus send her son to make Psyche fall in love with something hideous but poor Cupid scratches himself with an arrow and instead falls deeply in love with her. He spirits her away to his villa in secret, so everyone will believe she is in love with a monster like his spiteful mother wanted.
In the ‘Beast’s’ castle Psyche is entertained by songs, and dinners that serve themselves as she slowly starts to fall for the mysterious beast she never sees… Sound familiar? (Be our guest, be our guest… what’s the story? Have you guessed?) Until one night she sneaks into Cupid’s room as he sleeps. She is so startled by his beauty, that she stumbles into his nearby arrows and falls head over heels for him too!
After some brief torturous quests to the Underworld to placate Venus, her jealous mother-in-law, Psyche is given ambrosia by Zeus, king of the gods. This makes her immortal and Cupid and Psyche live happily ever after! Their wedding feast was second only to Thetis and Peleus, also found in our Love hunt!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 goodNew York Times article about the Borghese Collection au Louvre (no bonus questions – just if interested).
Last time we wound our way from considering the Prado and Spain in the general, to zeroing in on a contemporary replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. In our last post we shamelessly lingered on poor Leonardo’ssex life (with the weak excuse of saying “hey, the Prado La Gioconda may have been by this pupil / servant / lover, Andrea Salai, so we better delve into some sodomy charges, right?”). In so doing we also trashed Leonardo to a small extent to say that THATLou prefers plenty of Leonardo’s contemporaries. In other words, we’ve really been all over the place, from Madrid to Paris, and through Leonardo’s boudoir. Now we aim to turn a slightly more positive note, one which isn’t quite so NY Post Page Six, or Hello!Magazine trashy. And we can also shake this ‘we‘ing. What, do we think we’re royal or something, with all this smut?
Let’s start with touching ever so briefly on some examples of masterpieces by Leonardo’s contemporaries. da Vinci studied in Verrocchio’s Florentine studio alongside Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticcelli, and one of my all time favourites, Domenico Ghirlandaio. I won’t examine any of these three painters in depth, just want to drop you off with some of their paintings herewith. And then our next post, concerning Andrea Salai, will be the conclusion to this round-about Prado Mona Lisa series. It’s timely to consider Salai, as his paintings may just become a spot more valuable if conservationists decide that the Prado’s La Gioconda was by his hand and not by Francesco Melzi.
My favourite painting at the Louvre by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 – 1494) is constantly being lent out. I guess this is a tribute to how good it is, but I find it very annoying indeed when I find the flimsy little paper hand-scribbled by some curator apologising for the fact that it’s gone missing for another few months. It’s a great painting. Despite his grotesque nose, the Old Man’s look is so quiet and calming as he considers his grandson. You can nearly see him thinking.
Another Leonardo contemporary who I prefer is Sandro Botticelli (1445 – 1510). Though I didn’t include his Louvre Venus and Three Graces when I was considering various Three Gracesin July (including the recently-discovered Three Graces by Cranach ‘s – which is just unsurpassable), I’ll take this complete non-sequitur as a chance to include it herewith. Couldn’t you picture this Venus and Three Graces in at least one THATLou? Perhaps a Ladies at the Louvre hunt, or better still the Love Hunt which is due to take place for couples and lovey-doves the evening of Friday 14 December?
Pietro Perugino (1446 – 1523). He’s a tricky one to choose a fave at the Louvre, because there are so many good ones. There’s always something tactile for me with Perugino. The paint is so smooth and the colors so uniform that he makes me want to stroke the canvas. Anyway, if I have to choose, I’ll go with his St Sebastian (which as a total aside, I was interested with how many St Sebastians we came across at both the Thyssen Bornemiszia, as well as the Prado. Do the Spanish have a thing for him, perhaps?).
After today’s segue-way of some top-tier Renaissance painters, the next post will take a step down (or back?) and worm its way back to the likely painter of the Prado’s version of La Gioconda – and will take a look at Andrea Salai’s paintings. That Little Devil!
The Winged Victory of Samothrace has appeared in many THATLous, from Angels + Wings to of course Beauty + the Beast(iary). A variation of the write up attached to her (below in italics) generally has some sneaky bonus question inserted. As she’s an Icon of the Louvre, her photo is on the map — easy to find making her only 10 game points*. Sometimes the bonus questions request hunters to pose in their photos with their hands as she once had them, cupping her lips as she calls out Victory! With her hand on display nearby within the Daru Staircase (some of her fingers were found in a drawer at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna), it would take hunters a bit of time to actually read the Louvre’s information sheets about her in order to win these craftily embedded bonus points (Or maybe you’ve already read this very post, saving you time on your hunt!). Other bonus questions get involved in her whereabouts, Samothrace being in the Northern Aegean sea, north of Pergamon (an important ancient Greek colony in Turkey that at times became a ping pong ball between the Persians and Greeks).
The Winged Goddess of Victory / Nike of Samothrace (Nike = Victory in Greek) stands proudly on the prow of a ship, soaring above the Daru Stairwell. She is one of those Hellenistic treasures we all have to study in Art History 101, a piece as noteworthy to the Louvre as the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo. She was found in Samothrace where a sanctuary was consecrated to the Cabeiri (gods of fertility) whose help was invoked to protect seafarers and to grant victory in war. Honouring these gods, they offered this nearly nude Nike made of Parian Marble in a religious act. It has also been suggested that she was dedicated to Rhodes, in commemoration of a specific naval victory. No one is certain of her provenance, however, the partial inscription of the word Rhodes implies the whereabouts of whatever battle she was presiding over.
That said the Archeological Museum of Samothrace contests this Rhodian provenance, maintaining to this day that she was erected by the Macedonian general Demetrius I (aka Poliorcetes) after his naval victory at Cyprus between 295-289 BC. Samothrace was an important sanctuary for Macedonian kings, furthermore her spiral figure also appeared on contemporary Macedonian coins.
Wherever this beauty is from, she was discovered dislodged by the French Counsul (read: amateur archaeologist) Charles Champoiseau (I’m convinced that all British, French and German 19th century Consuls, Consul Generals and Diplomats were required to be ‘amateur archaeologist’ — on the prowl in foreign lands to see just what they could ravage their visiting countries of. Diplomacy was a side business they fit in when they happened to be in town for a cocktail and shower). M Chamoiseau swiftly excavated her, sending both Nike and the prow on which she stands to the halls of the Louvre in 1863.
By 1884 she was holding sway over the grand Daru Staircase and has been there ever since…. Sauf! During WWII. She was removed on 2 September 1939 — to be sheltered in the safety of Château de Valençay (along with other Louvre Icons, Michelangelo’sDying Slavesand the Venus de Milo), in case Paris saw war. Every time I mount these stairs among the throngs of tourists I think of these evacuating railway tracks (as seen below) and how incredibly lucky the treasures of the Louvre and Paris were not to have bombed during WWII — but also how horribly ironic is was that Nike’s original purpose was to be the first in battle against the Titans, protecting Zeus, and yet here she was hiding out in a Château cowering against the Germans. Anyway, WWII is subject on France I probably shouldn’t get into.
The 7th century BC Greek poet, Hesiod has it that Nike was the daughter of Styx (Hatred) and Pallas (God of War Craft); Part of a powerful clan, Nike was sister to Zelos (Rivalry), and Kratos (Strength) and Bia (Force). When Zeus was preparing to battle the Titans, Styx and her brood pledged their allegiance to him. Zeus made Nike his charioteer and proclaimed that the four children should remain by his side always (who’d be stupid enough to turn down the children of Hatred, when it comes to fighting a war?). Though Nike was a popular theme for Greek sculpture, her story doesn’t really continue past Zeus’s battle against the Titans.
As for her wonderfully sexy form, with typical Hellenistic material no thicker than cling-wrap, her movement forward is powerful. For a thorough examination of this I recommend this page from the Met’s website for a context and timeline on the Hellenistic age. As per the first photo’s caption, she was meant to be viewed from the right, so the detail of her left side is relatively course.
The proper pronunciation of Nike is Nee-Kay — Just Say It!
* You’ll see when we meet for the THATLou briefing, the Louvre map has photos of six highlights per floor on their map. When it’s such a “greatest hit” (my joke term for these Louvre icons) those treasures are only worth 10 game points, as there’s no challenge to finding them. That is NOT TO SAY you don’t want to find these easy-to-find Icons, because you’ll be well rewarded with bonus questions on pieces like the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, or our own Nike of Samothrace.
When things are in bold, usually that’s a hint that they refer to bonus questions…
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.