THATMuse

The Daidoumenos of Vaison is a Roman marble statue of an ancient Greek athlete. Found at Vaison, a Roman town in Southern France, this beautiful piece is at the British Museum (because the Louvre refused to buy it for its ‘unreasonable price’!). The statue is a Roman copy of a Greek original in bronze. Just think for a second about how much the Romans learnt from the Greeks… After conquering their lands, they brought back home all their most beautiful artworks and took inspiration from them. Clearly, they couldn’t forget the Daidoumenos, a sculpture by one of the most famous artists of Classical Greece, Polykleitos.

Daidoumenos, Roman copy of a Greek statue
The Daidoumenos, Roman Copy of an Ancient Greek Athelet. British Museum

1. The Representation of Perfection in Greek and Roman Sculpture

The statue portrays an Olympic winner lifting his arms to knot a ribbon around his head. This Daidoumenos (which literally means ‘ribbon wearer’), had just received a ribbon for winning an athletic competition. Of course, the athlete is still naked! And his muscles are contracted as would be normal after a physical contest. A wonderful occasion for Polykleitos! The excellent sculptor could use the nudity and the athletic body of the athlete to improve his ability to portray perfection and beauty. The original statue was made of bronze, a material that more closely represented the tanned and oiled skin of the victor.

Apollo, Roman Copy of a Greek original statue of Apollo
Polykleitos’ experiments on the representation of the human body. Roman copy, Louvre

2. The Idealisation of the Human Figure

But who is this athlete? and what can his portrait tell us of him? Not much… in the 5th century BC Greek sculptors did not aim at real portraiture: statues didn’t need to resemble the physical characteristics of their owners. Instead, artists aimed at the idealisation of the human figure. While a real ancient Greek athlete actually received the Daidoumenos as a gift, the statue represented him as a generic and beautiful victor, whose perfection could inspire all viewers coming across it.

Doryphoros, Roman Copy of a Greek Original
Roman Copy of a Greek original by Polykleitos, depicting a ‘Spear-bearer’. Minneapolis Institute of Art

3. Beauty: the ultimate value of Goodness

Being athletic, beautiful and going to the palaestra (gym), wasn’t less important than going to school or learning about Homer. And Statues of Olympic winners deserved everyone’s attention: the values of Beauty and Goodness were strictly associated. Unfortunately, we can’t know what the athlete behind the image looked like. However, there is something that this statue can tell us about him! he won 3 Olympic games, which is why he received a statue. One-time winners received, other than fame and glory, ‘only’ a ribbon and some oil.

Ancient Greek Athletes at the Gym, 5th century vase
Ancient Greek Athletes Training at the Gym on a 5th cent Vase. British Museum

4. Artistic Achievements of 5th Century Greece

For sure Greek artists of the 5th century achieved unprecedented results, as one can also see from the contemporary Sculptural Program of the Parthenon. But 5th century vase painting is no less impressive! If you like Classical Art and want to learn more about it, try our treasure hunts at the British Museum and at the Louvre! If you’re feeling competitive and want to get a leg up on the other treasure hunters, don’t forget to check our other British Museum blog posts giving away bonus points.

Just a heads up: some of the things in bold might be answers to bonus questions on your Fun & Games Treasure Hunt!

This Blog Post is also available in Italian!

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. 

THATKid Tuesday is a monthly dose of Art History for kids, which will usually be posted on the first Tuesday of the month. In this series we’ll be blogging about different terms from the THATKid glossary we’ve created to help kids understand some of the art history terms that pop up in our hunts.

ATTIC BLACK-FIGURE DINOS, by the GORGON PAINTER Cerveteri (from Athens, Greece), Circa 580 BC

Continuous Narrative is when one painting, or piece of art, tells different parts of a story all at once. This means that the same figures are often shown over and over again in the same piece. This Greek Gorgon Pot, part of the Beauty & the Bestiary hunt at the Louvre, is an example of Continuous Narrative. The Greek pot above shows Perseus killing the monstrous Gorgon named Medusa. After Perseus has killed Medusa the pot also shows him being chased by Medusa’s Gorgon sisters. Kind of like a pre-classical movie or Snapchat story!

Fra ANgelico's coronation of the virgin, with life of st dominic predella
Fra Angelico also has an example of Continuous Narrative, telling us the story of St Dominic’s life in the predella.
Lion killed by arrows, Assyrian Lion Hunt frieze, British Museum
Lion Hunt, British Museum, Assyrian Art, 668-631 BC

If you go on our THATMuse hunt at the British Museum you’ll see yet another example of continuous narrative involving someone being chased, although this time it’s the people chasing the ‘beasts’ and not the other way around. The Assyrian Lion Hunt from Mesopotamia shows different stages of a lion hunt, including the fate of this unfortunate lion on the left! Although other parts of the story might make you feel a bit less sorry for the lions and a little more scared of them – look at the muscles in that lion’s arm, look at those claws!

Ashurbanipal chokes a lion with his bare hand and stabs it with a sword. Assyrian Frieze British Museum 600's BC
Lion Hunt, British Museum, Assyrian Art, 668-631 BC

Any questions about Continuous Narrative? Leave us a comment with any questions.

The idea for THATKid Tuesday stemmed from the Kid Pack’s glossary. The Kid Pack has supplemental exercises for after your Louvre hunt, from a Michelangelo Connect-the-Dots and a Mona Lisa sticker-puzzle to a Botticelli Spot-the-Difference. Good for train rides or long French dinners, kids can also pick up on some terms like composition, perspective and the lot. As THATMuse has grown to include the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert and Musée d’Orsay, THATKid Tuesday’s blog version has grown to include other examples.

Tune in the first Tuesday of the month if you’d like another art history dose of THATKid.

The Three Graces

Marble statue of three graces, Roman copy of Greek 2nd Century BC Statue
Roman copy of Greek 2nd Century BC Statue
Marble, H 1.19m (3ft, 10in) x W 85 cm (33 in)

The Graces, according to Seneca, stand for the 3-fold aspect of generosity the giving, receiving and returning of gifts of benefits. Three daughters of Zeus, some identified them as Beauty, Charm and Joy. Many myths had them presiding over banquets and gatherings, primarily to entertain and delight Zeus’s guests.  These are a Roman copy from the Imperial era (approximately 2nd Century AD), after a Hellenistic original from the 2nd Century BC. Nicolas Cordier (1565 – 1612) restored them in large part in 1609 for Cardinal Borghese (Did you catch that? It’s a THATLou hint… that this marvelous trio is a part of the Borghese collection). Napoleon acquired a considerable part of the Borghese collection in 1807 from his impoverished brother-in-law, Prince Camillo Borghese. 344 antiquities in total made their way from Italy to France. Yet another example of how a French monarch (don’t forget Francois Premier pulling over the Italian renaissance) reaped the benefits of Italian artistic talent — and Italian financial incapacity.

And remember during the hunt NO looking at the internet – so you may want to remember this Room 17, Ground Floor, Sully Wing address! And while I’m at giving Bonus Question hints away, who do you think is prettier, these Three Graces or the scandalous Paulina Borghese, Napoleon’s sister and Camillo’s wife?

All “treasure” per clue-manual have that up above in bold – the title, period, country of the piece, and when an artist is known, his/her name
.

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!

The Prado’s Gioconda

 La Gioconda contemporary copy, 1503 – 1516, Museo del Prado
La Gioconda contemporary copy, 1503 – 1516, Museo del Prado, taken from Wikipedia

The other day I touched on Spain’s Span Across Europe in the general. It’s true that Spain’s reach was just so broad that it’s hard to know what to focus on at the Prado (the royal collection reflecting the crown’s omnipresence). However, what’s better to linger on than a hermetically sealed connection between the Prado and the Louvre? And what better represents the Louvre than Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? It’s a painting I generally avoid – in my treasure hunts, or in person at the museum. Too much hype surrounds her cryptic eyes, too much money spent on magnets with her “enigmatic” smile – not to mention the flocks of publicists who’ve promoted a ‘famous author’, as St Sulpice refers to Dan Brown, and his tours to the Mona Lisa. (and yes I do love St Sulpice for thinking it below them to even name this famous author, resentful of the many tourists who march right past their Delacroix frescoes or Pigalle Baptismal font to find the P/S in the stained glass + Meridian line mentioned in the Da Vinci Code).

But it feels like a knee-jerk reaction to Lisa’s fame to avoid her entirely. So while trawling the internet to soak up all-things-Prado I was truly floored and excited to read about last February’s discovery of a contemporary copy of the Mona Lisa, found at the Prado.

La Joconde’s, or Mona Lisa's, eyes at the Louvre
La Joconde’s eyes at the Louvre, Wikipedia

The picture is more than just a studio copy— apparently it changed as Leonardo developed his original composition. Infra-red reflectography images of the Prado version allowed conservators to see beneath the surface of the paint, to the under-drawing. Apparently the two versions were painted next to one another and painted au même temps! Which means the copy must have been by an apprentice in his studio.

 La Gioconda’s Eyes in the Prado’s version
La Gioconda’s Eyes in the Prado’s version, taken from wikipedia

There was a dull black background that left a deadening effect on the Prado Mona Lisa (who’s generally believed to have been Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the Florentine cloth merchant Francesco del Giocondo – thus the French and Spanish name for her La Joconde/Gioconda, respectively). Conservationists aren’t clear on why the black over-paint was there, but believe it was added in the 18th century.

Photographers crowding The Prado's Gioconda
The Prado’s Gioconda created quite the stir when it was unveiled last March

In 1992 Art Historian José María Ruiz Manero published a paper called “Italian Painting in 16th Century Spain” where he surmises that the painter was Flemish and that it was probably painted in Northern France. Because the Prado version’s wood was assumed to be oak (rarely used in Italy at the time) Northern Europe was an entirely plausible guess. However, last year the panel was found to be walnut, which was used in Italy — as was poplar, what da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is painted on.

What I don’t understand is why all of the newspapers refer to it as a copy, as in this Guardian article or this Time Magazine piece… If it was painted simultaneously and developed along side Leonardo’s, why isn’t it simply thought of as another painting of the same subject, by a lesser painter?

Even more interesting than this is who painted this Prado version of the Mona Lisa. Though it hasn’t been confirmed (the discovery was only unveiled at a National Gallery (London) conference of conservators, most people seem to believe it was by Andrea Salai, an assistant to and perhaps Leonardo’s lover. More on that for our next visit!


Diego Velazquez, 1634 Medici Gardens in Rome, at the Prado
Diego Velazquez, 1634 Medici Gardens in Rome, at the Prado, taken from Wikipedia

The Prado, like the Louvre, takes a bit of context. It is a Royal Collection, and the royalty in Spain was; Well, full of stories, to say the least. The Spanish had an enormous empire, but two provinces of supreme artistic value were Naples and the Lowlands (they had the Spanish Netherlands from 1579 – 1713 – roughly corresponding to Belgium and Luxembourg).

In 1700 the mentally infirm Hapsburg King Charles II of Spain named Louis XIV’s second grandson, Philip (Duc d’Anjou), as his heir. At 16, Philip V (formerly le Duc d’Anjou) was the first of the Bourbon kings of Spain. Needless to say this forged a Spanish-French alliance to the highest degree… which of course off-set a balance of power in Europe, which in turn brought on yet another war. This one aptly called the War of Spanish Succession (1700 – 1715). I will leave a proper background to this for another time, but if you’d like just the lightest touch of context I recommend http://www.spanishsuccession.nl/ (please note the NL in this URL!). Before moving on, however, I’ll include a painting of Charles II to give you a sense of just how mentally infirm he looked, poor inbred man that he was. He looks as contorted, deranged and plain-old-scary as the Appalachians in the film Deliverance.

 Last Hapsubrg King Charles II painted in 1673 by Juan Carreno de Miranda, Museo del Prado
Last Hapsubrg King Charles II (an argument against inbreeding!), painted in 1673 by Juan Carreno de Miranda, Museo del Prado

Suffice it to say the 17th century saw an artistic surge in the Lowlands with Pieter-Paul Rubens (knighted by Philip IV), Anthony Van Dyck and a myriad of wonderful still life painters such as de Heem (as touched on in the post, Food in Art!), all of whom had either a sojourn to Spain or were directly affected by the Spanish crown.

The inimitable Spanish presence in Naples and Sicily (later called the Kingdom of Two Sicilies) had a profound impact on both the Spanish and Neapolitan Baroque. To name just a few big hitters the magnificent Baroque painter Jusepé de Ribera flourished in Naples (though proud of his Hispanic roots, apparently he signed some of his paintings Jusepé the Spaniard”, suitably acquiring the nickname Lo Spagnoletto), Neopolitan painter Luca Giordano was a court painter in Spain for ten years under Charles II (after having studied in Ribera’s studio), Velazquez was sent by Philip IV to Italy, which is considered a turning point in his style.

Ribera's Ticio, 1632. At the Museo del Prado
Caravaggio’s influence on Ribera is evident with such sharp contrast in this 1632 painting, Ticio. At the Museo del Prado, taken from Wikipedia

All of this is really just a laundry list of countries that were miniscule on the scale of Spain’s global dominance (think of a small continent across the pond called South America, let alone the discovery of another small space north of those Peruvian gold mines). But both the Netherlands and Italy were hotbeds of the Baroque, and their inseparable connection and influence on and by Spain has been the subject matter of the lives and careers of many art historians.

In great anticipation of beholding each of these masters at the Prado in person, I’ve had a ball brushing up on some background reading. And in terms of my belly and our little trio alighting a plane fast as a gazelle?  I’m already packed a day in advance – a rare occurrence!

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!