THATMuse
Marble statue of Cupid from British Museum collection

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.

Painting of Cupid riding a fish like creature that looks nothing like a real dolphin
A classic dolphin…

Meeting Psyche

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.

Giuseppe Maria Crespi painting of Psyche discovering cupid's true form, from Uffizi gallery in Florence
A tale as old as time…

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!

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss neoclassical marble sculpture by Antonio Canova in the Louvre Museum
Find this beautiful piece on a Louvre THATMuse hunt


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!

The Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche (1517) by Raphael ceiling fresco lively party scene

Love Hunt: The Ain Sakhri Lovers

Today for our third Love Hunt blog we have a very special object. The oldest and most mysterious object on our Love Hunt: The Ain Sakhri Lovers. Possibly the oldest porn in the world! 
 

The Ain Sakhri Lovers from the British Museum Collection. Small sandstone sculpture of two figures intertwined.

This statue is the oldest known representation in the world of two people making love. Discovered in the Ain Sakhri caves near Bethlehem, it dates back around 11,000 years. At this time, humans were only just learning how to move from hunter-gathering to farming. The Natufian people of the Middle East who made this sculpture we’re some of the first to begin to domesticate sheep and goats, alongside their hunting dogs for catching deer.  


Now animal husbandry and breeding means you’ve worked out what men are for in the job of creating new life. So this phallic looking little figure could have been a ritual object, related to a fertility god or goddess. Maybe a divine talisman aimed at helping their fledgling civilization be fruitful and multiply? Or it could just be someone carving themselves a little saucy bit of fun! 
 

Studying the human form

views of the Ain Sakhri lovers sculpture from all four sides, top and bottom

It shows two figures sat facing and with their legs wrapped around each other, one on top of the other. It is impossible to work out the figures’ genders though. We have no idea if it shows a man and woman in the act of reproduction or two men celebrating all things Priapic. Because whatever way you look at the statue, it seems to have been designed to look phallic in some way. Artist Marc Quinn wrote about this piece for the BBC’s Around the World in 100 Objects programme and noted that from every direction you can read the overall image as some kind of reproductive organ. I will leave it up to your imaginations to see what you can see! 

Thetis and Peleus – Wedding of the Ages 

Welcome to our second Love Hunt blog (see the first here). Read up on the sauciest stories from antiquity and get yourselves some bonus points!

Welcome to the tale of the grandest wedding of the Greek world. Maybe not the loveliest wedding but definitely the most eventful. Full of drama, scandal and family feuds, like all good weddings! 

Painting of Thetis and Peleus's wedding feast by Joachim Wtewael. A busy scene of celebration and debauchery.
Love an outdoor wedding

Thetis was a Sea Nymph admired by Zeus and Poseidon (Remember this for bonus points!) until they discover a prophesy. Her son will be greater than his father. So they decide to marry her off to a mortal, to avoid any danger. They did kill their dad after all!

Thetis changing into a lioness as she is attacked by Peleus, Attic red-figured kylix by Douris, c. 490 BC from Vulci, Etruria - Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.
Clingy boyfriends are the worst. Turn into a lion.

They choose to marry her off to Peleus, a mortal king, to that great son will be mortal and no threat to the Gods. Peleus tracks Thetis down and tries to shake him off by transforming into a lioness, serpent, fire and water but he’s a clingy guy and won’t give up easily. Eventually Thetis surrenders and agrees to the wedding. 


Zeus throws a huge feast to celebrate, and all the gods are invited. All except one. Eris, the Godess of Discord is not invited. Don’t we all have that one family member who always causes trouble everywhere they go? But of course, rather than stay away, Eris does what she does best and causes havoc. She crashes the wedding and throws a gift out ‘to the fairest’ goddess at the party. Hera, queen of the gods, Athena, Goddess of wisdom and war and Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and beauty all believe themselves the fairest of them all, so Zeus makes a mortal prince, Paris, pick which goddess is the most beautiful.
Sound like a good idea? Having the best man publicly announce the hottest bridesmaid? 

Paris offers a golden apple to Venus, angering Minerva and Juno. Painting by Peter Paul Reubens from British National Gallery
They’re all beautiful Paris, this is a bad idea.

What follows is everyone is so furious at the outcome, the Trojan war begins and all hell breaks loose. Pretty good drama for just one wedding. Maybe the moral is better to invite a little discord than have a lot turn up uninvited? 

The Sophilos Dinos, Black-figured red attic bowl and stand, signed by Sophilos as painter. Showing scenes leading up to the Trojan War.

Regardless, Thetis doesn’t have to stick with clingy Peleus once the war starts. She has her amazing son, Achilles, hero of the Trojan war! You can discover all about Thetis, Achilles and the Trojan war at the British Museum until 8th March 2020 in their Troy exhibition, containing one of our favourite treasures from our Fun and Games and Love Hunts, the Sopholos Dinos! 

Find out more about the most dramatic couples in history and myth, like the Ain Sakhri Lovers, and Cupid and Psyche.

Part of the reason the Julio-Claudian family is tricky to follow is because of all of the interconnected (read: incest!) relationships. Roman Empress Valeria Messalina, known as just Messalina (12 – 48 AD), was the third wife to Emperor Claudius; a cripple with a stutter. 10 years his junior, she was cousin to her husband Claudius, as well as cousin to his predecessor, Emperor Caligula, as well as paternal cousin to Emperor Nero (to follow Claudius, and to be his step-son — as well as… you guessed it, cousin!). Lastly (to be listed, as the connections go on and on!) she was the great-grand-niece of First Emperor Augustus. All of them (Messalina, Claudius, Caligula and Nero) were descendants of Livia, 1st Empress of Rome. Incest aside, she was what one would consider a powerful woman – as well as being a lady of, let’s say ‘compromising morals’, and a conspiring lady at that (for which she would eventually be beheaded)

Marble statue of Messalina holding baby Brittanicus, Louvre
Messalina and Brittanicus at the Louvre, taken from Flickr, Dipity

Robert Graves depicts Emperor Claudius as adoring Messalina for her beauty and youth. Whether this is true or not, we don’t know, but she did bare him two children directly after they were married in 38 AD, Claudia Octavia (who would be the future empress when she married her stepbrother, Emperor Nero) and Brittanicus, who Messalina vied to be the emperor (but she wasn’t so clever as Livia getting her own son, Tiberius, to the throne).  But before Robert Graves, who was writing in the 1930s, we have Roman sources to turn to for the juicy stuff.

bust of Nero (equestrian statue fragment) at the Louvre,
Nero (equestrian statue fragment) at the Louvre, Taken from Louvre.fr

Both Tacitus and Suetonius portrayed Messalina as lustful, insulting, disgraceful, cruel, avaricious, etc. They attributed this to her inbreeding. Pliny the Elder tells of Messalina’s 24-hour sex competition with a prostitute in Book X of his Natural History. And guess who won? Messalina, having bedded 25 more partners than the whore Scylla (you may want to take note of this tidbit in case it appears as a bonus point in one of the hunts).

Juvenal was shockingly graphic in his critical description of her brothel, when he described her in Satire VI. He said the minute Claudius was snoring Messalina would put on a blonde wig and go to work at her brothel for the pleasure of it (for PG status I can’t requote Juvenal’s graphic bits), nor can I post the 1527 engraving that Augostino Carracci did for the famous Renaissance erotic book, I Modi (“The Ways”), which depicts various sexual positions. The engraving depicts her in her brothel, entitled Messalina Lisisca, after Juvenal’s poem.

After she convinced her lover, Roman Senator Gaius Silius, to leave his wife Messalina and Gaius plotted to assassinate Claudius and have Gaius adopt Brittanicus (Messalina’s son by Claudius and the presumed future emperor). Claudius caught word of this, and had them both executed for treason. Messalina was offered a knife to commit suicide honourably, but as she was too cowardly for that, she was beheaded on the spot (in the Gardens of Lucullus, which are now a part of the Villa Borghese in Rome, right above the Spanish Steps).

Fountain in front of spanish steps, lit at night, eading to villa borghese

With such a juicy story under her belt, there are many references to her in popular culture – from Charlotte Bronte (in Jane Eyre, Mr Rochester refers to his first wife as an Indian Messalina) to Gabriel Garcia Marquez (in Love in the Time of Cholera, a dog with many pups bears her name). In Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and the Margarita, Messalina is a guest at Satan’s ball.

Bust of Claudius at the Louvre
Cuckolded Claudius took necessary measures with his beloved wife; photo taken at the Louvre, from histoire-fr.com

Flexible morals aside, the lady was venally powerful. That is, until she lost her head! Messalina fits perfectly for a Kings + Leaders THATLou, or of course a Ladies at the Louvre THATLou… Perhaps even the Love Hunt might include her – in the carnal sense… Is this hint obvious enough???

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!


Aphrodite marble statue, known as Venus de Milo, Melos, 100BC, Louvre museum paris

Aphrodite, known as VENUS DE MILO

Marble, H 2.02 meters

Island of Melos (Cyclades, Greece), 100 BC Statue

You can’t tell me you’re surprised we’re opening up the Love Hunt with the Goddess of Love, can you? A hands-down top ten Louvre Icon, just look on your map for her snap…

The identity of the “Venus de Milo” is unknown, as her arms were never found, nor were any attributes. Because of her sensuality and semi-nudity, she’s often considered to be Venus (goddess of love), however, she could have very well been Amphitrite (Poseidon / Neptune’s wife originally, but sadly this goddess of the sea diminished in importance at different junctures of Olympian history). Amphitrite was worshipped on the Island of Melos (Milo), where this Louvre icon was found.

She originally wore jewellery (bracelet, earrings and a headband) of which only the fixation holes remain. Traits which were typical of the 5th C BC, such as the harmony of her face, her aloofness and impassivity, lead some Art Historians to believe she was a 100 BC replica. Likewise, her hairstyle and the delicate modelling of the flesh evoke the works of the 4th C sculptor Praxiteles. But there’s plenty that places her in the Hellenistic period (between 3rd – 1st C BC), such as the spiral composition of her body, the fact that she’s 3D, her small breasts, elongated body and most importantly the thin veneer of material draped from her hips and not quite covering the top of her butt crack. It’s not the cling wrap material of Nike of Samothrace.

Closeup on fixture holes on arm of venus de milo for attaching original jewellery
Venus’s fixture holes photo taken from from Where is Ariadne? Blog

Whoever this mystery lady is, she’s gorgeous and her ‘top-ten attraction’ at the Louvre status is entirely understandable. If you’re sharp you’ll have earned another thirty points by telling us where Venus de Milo hid during WWII, as discussed in Just Do It … And another fifteen points each for 2 other treasures that hid with her — Not shabby on the bonus question front, eh?

As for the WWII Bonus answer: all of the following treasure was kept in hiding at the Château de Valençay: the lovely Venus, Michelangelo’s Dying Slaves, the Mona Lisa and Nike of Samothrace. Every time I go up the Daru Staircase I think of the photo of Nike being evacuated from the Louvre’s Daru Staircase in 1939, as seen in the Nike blog post.

* 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, as you see above.

When things are in bold, usually that’s a hint that they refer to bonus questions…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucas Cranach´s Three Graces, 1531

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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