THATMuse

SEKHMET THE DESTROYER  

black statue of lion headed Egyptian goddess sekhmet at the Louvre
Sekhmet at the Louvre

Sekhmet was a fierce warrior goddess, protector of the pharaohs and daughter of the sun god Ra. She was the goddess of destruction and purging, and was worshipped in Memphis as ‘the destroyer’. Her name means, “the (one who is) powerful or mighty” but her nicknames include “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles”, “Mistress of Dread”, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls”–sounds like a friendly lady. Pretty awesome nicknames, huh? Might be a good source of inspiration for coming up with your next THATMuse team name, right?  

She’s often depicted as half woman/half lioness (Incidentally, can you think of any other gods and goddesses who also have animal features, perhaps featured on the THATMuse blog? Hint: his name begins with an H and he has the head of a hawk).  Sekhmet was closely associated with the desert, and therefore often shown with a sun disk on her head.  

four statues of sekhmet in room 4 British Museum wearing sun disk headdress.
Statues of Sekhmet in Room 4, British Museum

In one myth, she was sent to earth to destroy her dad’s, Ra, enemies but she grew so bloodthirsty she almost killed off everyone—to stop her, Ra poured out a mass amount of beer stained red (with pomegranate juice) tricking Sekhmet into thinking it was blood. She drank so much of the red beer and became so drunk that she gave up killing people and went back sleepily and peacefully to Ra. When she awoke from her drunken stupor, the first thing she saw was Ptah—the god of creation, and fell instantly in love with him.  

Egyptian papyrus with hieroglyphs and images of gods
Can you spot Sekhmet with her Sun disk headdress? How many other gods can you name?

Every year there was a festival to honor Sekhmet, where Egyptians would get completely black-out drunk to imitate her. (Is it just me, or does this festival sound like a good excuse to throw a party?) Mankind also had to constantly appease her with offerings to abate her wrath. Egyptologists think that Amenhotep III built a temple with over 700 statues to her so that people could honor her every day of the year with a different statue. Hence part of the reason why statues of her abound: say hello to this bloodthirsty babe at the Louvre and the British Museum, and also at the Met and the Vatican (Don’t THATMet or THATVat have a ring to them?!)  

OR; HOW TO DEFINITELY LOSE A BOAT RACE

See Part 1 of our Egyptian Gods series here!
Just a heads up: some of the things in bold might be the answers to bonus questions on your hunt!  

Isis gave birth to a baby boy with the head of a hawk (must have been a freaky experience), called Horus. When Horus was all grown up, he decided to fight his evil uncle Seth for the throne. (Since his parents were siblings, Seth was his uncle on both sides—freaky, right?)  

Sculpture from British Museum of falcon headed egyptian god horus on one knee with one fist raised and one to his chest

Seth challenged Horus to a series of contests to see who would become king of Egypt. In one battle, Seth gouged out one of Horus’s eyes, but it was restored by the goddess Hathor (the mother of the sun god Ra). The ‘Eye of Horus’ became a symbol of healing and protection in Egyptian art. Keep an eye out for it next time you’re scouting out Egyptian treasure!  

blue yellow and red eye of horus amulet from the British Museum
An Eye of Horus amulet from the British Museum Collection

The contest that Seth and Horus had was a boat race. But this boat race had a twist: Seth and Horus would be racing boats of stone. Horus was a bit of a trickster, and built a boat that was actually wood, but covered with plaster to look like stone. Seth’s boat sank right away, of course, and all the gods laughed at him. Seth was angry at his failure and transformed himself into a huge hippopotamus and attacked his Horus’s boat. They fought, but just as Horus was about to kill Seth once and for all, the other gods intervened.  

In the end, all of these contests proved pointless. Instead, the gods decided on a more sensible course of action: to write a letter to Osiris who was God of the Dead, and ask his advice. Osiris said that Horus was a better candidate for king as he had not killed anyone (this seems like a pretty solid criterion for most job descriptions, to be honest).  Finally, Horus became King of Egypt.  

Going back to Seth and Horus’s boat race, boats were an incredibly important symbol in Egyptian mythology. The solar god Ra, was thought to ride on his magical boat through the sky providing light to the world, and travelling to the underworld at night. Egyptian pharaohs were also thought to travel through the underworld on a boat after their deaths—have a look at Queen Mutemwia’s funeral barge at the British Museum pictured below.  

Black sculpture of Queen Mutemwia’s funeral barge; British Museum Room 4
Queen Mutemwia’s funeral barge; British Museum Room 4 

Keep an eye out for depictions of Seth, Isis, Osiris and Horus in many of our British Museum themes, such as Fun + GamesLove Hunt, and of course the chilling Skull Scouting. Keep an eye out the same cast of characters while scouting out the Zodiac of Dendera and the Sarcophagus of Ramesses III at the Louvre in our Skull Scouting and Beauty and the Bestiary hunts there. 

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.

Marble statue of Pauline Borghese as Venus Victrix, at Galleria Borghese, Rome
Pauline Borghese as Venus Victrix, at Galleria Borghese, Rome, http://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 Prince Camillo Borghese, by Francois Gerard (1770-1837) location unknown
Portrait of Prince Camillo 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 with french flags flying outside
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.

Black and white sketch of Pauline Borghese’s Paris Palace, now the British Embassy
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).

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’s sex 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?

Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1490, An Old Man and his Grandson, Louvre
Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1490, An Old Man and his Grandson, Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

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.

Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Three Graces, 1483-86, Louvre
Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Three Graces, 1483-86, Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

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 Graces in 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, St Sebastian, 1495, Louvre
Pietro Perugino, St Sebastian, 1495, Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

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!

Introducing one of the most amazing Mesopotamian artefacts, The Lamassu. Meaning “protective spirit” in Akkadian, he is one of a pair who was usually found flanking the doorways to Assyrian palaces. Winged bulls or lions with human heads, they served as mythological guardians. One of the things I find so clever about them is why they have five legs; If you look at them from straight on, they’re standing at attention, still. If you look at them from the side, they’re walking. The British Museum also has six Lamassus, one of which has some graffiti of the board game, the Royal Game of Ur scratched between two of their legs… Guards who were clearly stationed at the gates, idling the time away.

side view of Assyrian winged bull lamassu sculpture 7th Century BC, Louvre Paris

But back to the Khorsabad room in the Mesopotamian section of the Louvre: These guys are somehow comforting, or perhaps what’s comforting is the space they’re in. It smells earthy, I suppose of the gypseous alabaster they’re made of. With the grey-but-bright Paris light shedding in, there’s something intimate about the well-proportioned L-shaped room lined with Sargon’s treasures. And then there’s size. Our friends here stand at nearly 4 and a half meters tall, making me feel. Well. Very human. They’re from the palace of Sargon II, who reigned from 721 – 705 BC; it was square in shape with 158 towers & had a 24-meter thick wall encompassing 3 km². Nothing so piddling as our French Khorsabad room at the Louvre. But sadly we don’t have much of Sargon’s treasure left.

side view of Assyrian winged bull lamassu sculpture 7th Century BC, Louvre Paris

In the 1840s and 50s the palace, named Dur Sharrukin, was excavated by the French consul general to Mosul (yes, of Iraq), Monsieur Botta (and yes, his name is in bold — perhaps an answer to a bonus question?). Heart-breakingly two shipping incidents caused much of the excavations to go missing: one through the boat sinking and the other to pirates. They must have been strong pirates as two 30-ton statues went missing.

I haven’t done much digging myself, but I do have to wonder why some Indiana Jones character hasn’t gone looking for the ruins at the bottom of the Tigris river, where the first ship sunk.

Anyway, this endearing Lamassu could appear in any number of THATLous. His strong, architecturally-necessary form makes him suitable for an Architecture + Structure hunt, and of course, the fact that he is neither animal nor man, but an imaginary compromise places him in the blurred line of Beauty + the Bestiary (fantasy animals, like unicorns) theme. Or, since two of their three components are animals, I bet they’re also in the Kid-Friendly Animals in Art theme (the purpose of which is to avoid crowds)? Lucky you’re reading this here, to get a leg up (or five!) on your THATLou adversaries!

woman stood between two guardian lamassu sculptures, Louvre Paris

And where do you suppose you’d find these gentle giants? In the Mesopotamian department (yellow on the map), not too far from the Near Eastern collection’s Ain Ghazal, the Oldest Piece at the Louvre or Ancient Iranian treasures like Darius the Great’s Frieze of Archers + Griffins who are just around the corner in the Sackler collection of the Sully Wing.

Till our next visit to the Louvre, this will be my penultimate highlight concerning last weekend’s visit to the Near Eastern antiquities wing.  It’s been tricky to choose what to profile since El Argentino and I had so many surprises and discovered so many delights.

In choosing this third finale I hoped to find a thread which holds the three completely different pieces, from completely different places together. First we had our rather morbid friend, Ain Ghazal with his silent watchful eyes. He’s from the Levant (which describes both a culture and a geographical area between Egypt and Turkey, Iraq and the Mediterranean), but Ain really stands out, because at 9000 years old he’s the Louvre’s oldest piece. That’s pretty cool.  Then we had our adorable Assyrian Lamassus, curiously smiling down at us as they protected Sargon’s palace. Endearing and gentle, the Lamassus put proportion back in the idea of palace, with their monumental size.

So with size and age for themes, I nominate Darius I’s winter palace at Susa.  Son of Cyrus, father of Xerxes, Darius I (522-486 BC) was the most successful of the Achaemenid kings. Under his rule the Persian Empire stretched from Greece to India. A melting pot of styles, Achaemenid art is defined by seemlessly combining many elements taken from different cultures. I guess one could think of it as the Benetton of Near Eastern Art. His palace at Susa (east of the Tigris River) celebrated all sorts of his victories, and not just through storytelling as his Greek contemporaries were painting on their pots, but through methods and materials as well.  Darius was big time and he wanted you to know it.  So big-time was he that this entry shall be two-fold, in my weak attempt to do his winter palace justice: art today, architecture to follow.

Wall frieze of a lion, Darius's Winter Palace, Susa Iran

King of the beasts, the lion figures an important role both royally and religiously.  A frieze of lions ran along the top of the wall in the first court Darius’s visitors entered. The provenance of the glazed siliceous bricks and its composition as a frieze is from older Mesopotamian traditions, found for instance in the 2nd millennium temple of Kara-indash in Uruk. The repetition of a symbolic animal was typical of Babylonian art, where its significance was more religious. Yet the clear knowledge of anatomy, and the attention to details such as his wavy mane was true to Achaemenid Persian art.  A little artistic UN, all in one palace. By 480 BC it was estimated that 50 million people lived in the Achaemenid Empire.

Sphinx in Darius the Great’s winter palace at Susa, Iran
Sphinx in Darius the Great’s winter palace at Susa, Iran

Apart from these turquoise lions Jacques de Morgan, the archeologist leading the excavations from 1908 – 1913, found bas relief friezes of griffins and sphinxes, archers (with duck heads at the top of their bows) and immortals — among plenty of colossal double-headed columns which we’ll linger on in another post.

A Persian Griffin painted wall sculpture in the Sully wing of the Louvre
a Persian Griffin in the Sully wing of the Louvre

What does that mean for you? Well, a lot of THATMuse points if you know where on Sully’s ground floor (ground floor in French is RDC, Rez-de-Chaussée) to find them in the “Antique Iran” section that’s yellow on your Louvre maps… Oh here, you’re good enough to be reading this THATLou homework, these precious creatures are in Room 12 and 13!

One of Darius's 'Immortals', coloured tiled sculpture, British Museum
One of Darius’s ‘Immortals’ in Room 52 of the British Museum

Apart from appearing in the Beauty + Bestiary (fantastical animals, such as unicorns, dragons and griffins, etc), Darius’s palace at Susa could certainly be pertinent to plenty of other THATLou themes – Kings + Leaders, Animals in Art, or even a possible Beauty + Bestiary… You never know!

You’ll even find Darius at the British Museum, which has some amazing friezes commissioned by Darius, including several lavishly dressed warriors carrying spears, possibly his ‘immortals’, a 10,000-strong élite fighting force that helped him to invade western Punjab, Scythia and Sindh.

Going out with a bang, I’m concluding our visit to Darius the Great’s Winter Palace at Susa (which in turn sadly wraps up the Louvre Near Eastern musings which started with Ain Ghazal, the oldest piece at the Louvre) with something big! Nearly matching the Louvre’s gentle Lamassus in height, here’s one COLOSSAL capital.

Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris

This COLOSSAL capital alone is 4 meters tall, 1/3rd the size of the column that it topped.  Altogether the columns  – 36 columns to be exact* – in Darius’s Apadana (Audience Hall) were over 20 meters tall (meaning about 70 feet ceilings, I think).  The hall was 109 meters squared.  Just look at the size of the beams nestled between the two kneeling bulls: they’re unfathomably large. To help put it in context, El Argentino said that the bull’s eye would be looking straight into our kitchen window – we live on the 4th and final floor of a typical Parisian building dating to 1810. The trek up the 4 flights each day, my toddler Storsh in hand, make me all the more sensitive to such lofty height.

Reconstructed face of Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris

The variations of colour in the capital’s stone is due to the fact that it was reconstructed from fragments of several columns by Marcel Dieulafoy, the archeologist leading the 1884-1886 excavation. To demonstrate the unification of the different parts of Darius’s Persian Empire, influences were taken from all over. The stone masons were Greek and Lydian, and the architects Persian. The double volutes with rosettes was taken from the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, yet the pair of bull protomes are purely Mesopotamian, representing cosmic equilibrium. And let’s not forget Egypt, a significant part of his 50-million-person strong Achaemenid Empire – that basket-like ensemble of palm fronds are a reminder that the Egyptians had been peed on by Darius. Again, just one capital is a Benetton of sorts, a little UN-melting pot of cultures as described in the last post, which mentions which exact room these treasures can be found in… Helpful no?

visitor looks us at Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris

On the globe-trotting front, apparently one of these fine bulled capitals has found itself far far away – from Paris or Iran…  El Argentino is from the leafy hood of Palermo, Buenos Aires.  Our favourite part of the 3 de Febrero park, also known as the Bosques de Palermo (the woods of Palermo), is the Rose Garden. Though we’ve been to feed the ducks and picnic in the fragrant green plenty of times, I hadn’t noticed that they have one of these double-kneeling bulls perched in place, above a fluted column. This one is apparently from Darius’s father, Cyrus. In 1972 one of the Pahlavi Shahs gave the 102-ton column to Buenos Aires, for nuclear good-will no doubt (the Argentines had advanced nuclear technology in the 60s and 70s).  Anyway, how this behemoth passed my notice says heaps about how open my eyes are!

La Columna Persa, Parque 3 de Febrero, Buenos Aires
La Columna Persa, Parque 3 de Febrero, Buenos Aires

To close this Near Eastern Antiquities musing, I just wanted to say a word on Susa, the town where Darius chose to make his administrative capital and Winter Palace. Also known as Shushan, or in Greek Susiane, Susa shares the “oldest” element that Ain Ghazal opened our Near Eastern visit with:  Susa is among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, starting in 4200 BC. There are also traces of a village there around 7000 BC. We think of Egyptian art as old, but the first traces of it were 2000 years later, in 5000 BC.

visitor looks us at Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris
man standing in foreground for scale

Apart from making a star appearance as Bestiary (fantastical animals, such as unicorns, dragons and griffins, etc), Darius’s palace at Susa could certainly appear in plenty of other THATLous –  such as Animals in Art or Kings + Leaders, what with Darius’s reach (his empire stretched from India to Greece) as mentioned in the last post you never know!

All photos were taken from Wikipedia and Google and are in the open domain.

* And yes, when things are in bold, often that means it’s going to answer a precious bonus question!

Painted study of a Crowned Crane, Pieter Boel (1622 – 1674), 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.

 Boel's August in “The Months” tapestry (aka The Royal Houses), Louvre Paris
Boel’s August in “The Months” tapestry (aka The Royal Houses), Louvre Paris

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).

Gobelins table mosaic with images of birds

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.

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.