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. 

Or, How Not to Treat your Siblings!

Just a heads up: some of the things in bold might be a handy hint for your next treasure hunt!  

Geb, the sky god and Nut, the earth goddess had four children: Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nepthys. Osiris was the eldest son, so he became king of Egypt. He married his sister Isis, who became his queen. His younger brother Seth, was jealous of him, as he was loved and respected by everyone. 

Sandstone Egyptian tablet showing Seth and a worshipper with traces of paint and hieroglyphs
Seth (left) and one of his worshippers

One day Seth transformed himself into a gigantic, frightening monster and killed Osiris. Then, Seth cut Osiris’s dead body into itty-bitty pieces and scattered it all across Egypt. Seth was now king of all Egypt, ruling alongside Nepthys his wife and sister.  

Statue of Goddess Isis protecting a figure of Osiris with wings extending from her arms on either side of him, British Museum collection.
Isis protecting a figure of Osiris with her wings.

Isis cried and cried over her lost husband. She had magical powers, and decided to try and bring her husband back to life, at least long enough that they could have a child. Her sister Nepthys (Seth’s wife) felt sorry for her and helped her roam all of Egypt, looking for the itty-bitty pieces of Osiris’s body (sort of like a really, really gross treasure hunt actually).  She managed to find everything, except his penis, which she was forced to reconstruct with magic.  

Once they’d reassembled *most* of his body, Isis used her magic to bring him back to life. Soon after, she got pregnant with a baby boy (more about him in another blog post!) and Osiris descended to the underworld, where he became the God of the Dead. Unsurprisingly, he pops up a lot in the Egyptian Book of the dead, which was basically a book of spells, allowing you to pass safely to the underworld.  

Papyrus from the Book of the Dead showing judgment of the heart before Osiris Isis Horus Thoth and Anubis

Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead at the British Museum—can you spot Osiris? It’s written on papyrus which is a reed that grows on the banks of the Nile river. 

This gory myth features again and again in Egyptian art, and also in our treasure hunts! 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. No doubt, when we expand to NYC’s Met, our fine friends here will reappear (Temple of Dendur, anyone? Which only costs 50K to rent out!). 

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!

In the past few posts I’ve banged on a fair bit about the truly grisly Cimitière des Innocents. First touching on numbers of dead , then covering the business of the death all the while trying to augur the fear & horror involved in a proper Halloween celebration.

Comtesse d’Auvergne, 15th Century, Louvre
Comtesse d’Auvergne, XV siècle France, Louvre

But where’s the dough, you’re probably asking? Our fine hunters need some reward for all the reading they’ve done (although whether you know it or not you’ve been given at least two answers in the past two posts – for both the Skull Scouting hunt as well as if you’re going on an All Things Gaul hunt — as the French are so good at being Masters of the Morbid!). As we’re closer to the final count-down I will cut to the chase and just tell you that our friend Death (as seen below) is on the ground floor of Richelieu in Cour Marly, room 13 (& no you’re not allowed to read this blog post whilst playing – but Room 13 makes sense, no?).

worms and entrails fall from stomach of Comtesse d’Auvergne sculpture.

It gets better: This fine female from Auvergne (above) is in the same room as our friend Death (below). She does not have butterflies in her stomach — she’s dead. So what’s eating her up?  Yes, worms are decomposing her corpse in the grisly affair of DEATH! Man, those French! So here’s a cut & paste of the actual treasure clue, as a dead ringer (a dead give-away? — how else can I try to incorporate death in here?!?).

La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre
La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre

DEATH ST INNOCENT (La Morte St Innocent)

Alabaster, H 1.20m x W .55m x D .27m – from Paris’s Cemetery of Innocents

16th Century French, sculpture (end of Middle Ages) — Cour Marly

The plaque at Death’s foot reads “There is not a single being alive, however cunning and strong in resistance, whom I will not slay with my dagger & give to the Worms as their Pittance!” Quick take a whopping fifty bonus points with your team pointing to worms in this room – and just look at what they’re doing! Talk about appropriate for this gruesomely ghoulish death hunt! So our friend Death was originally kept in the Cemetery des Innocents (CDI), which was found smack dab in the center of Paris – abutting the market place of Les Halles. The CDI started out as a perfectly orderly graveyard, with a space per individual. But as the city grew, the small swath of CDI (just 130 meters by 65) did not. When space ran out mass burials began to be conducted – up to 1500 dead could be buried in one pit before a new one was dug. Just think about the stench as you’re going marketing right next to this grisly pit of death. Horrible. No one had the sense till Louis XVI moved it from the center of town, and in 1786 our friend Death here was moved first to St Gervais then to Notre Dame, where he is unveiled with his ominous (now-missing) dagger only one day a year. Which was? You guessed it, La Toussaint(All Saints’ Day)!


POINTS: 60


Remember if there are words in bold they may answer future bonus questions — as these treasures can apply to various themes.

Fontaine des Innocents, by John James Chalon (1823)
Fontaine des Innocents, by John James Chalon (1823)

So yesterday we pondered the dead at the Cimitière des Innocents (CDI), once Paris’s largest and oldest graveyard smack dab in the middle of town (where the Renaissance Fontaine des Nymphs, aka Fontaine des Innocents** currently is, near the RER Les Halles station). Our cliffhanger left us off with figures; when space ran out at CDI, mass graves of 1500 cadavers per pit were created. Left open till they were filled (the air must’ve been tangibly disgusting!), they were then closed off and a new one of equal size was dug. With the horror of numbers checked off, what about the business of death?

Plan de Turgot (1730)
Plan de Turgot (1730)

Income from each burial – mass or otherwise – went to St Eustache (the large church to the north of current-day Les Halles) after CDI became part of its parish property in 1303 (it was later the property of St-Germain-des-Auverrois, the church just across the road from the Louvre’s Cour Carré). The Bishopric of Paris owned much of the lands and tax rights over central Paris, which caused them to open the marketplace next to the cemetery, so to better monitor the trading and assure that they got their share from the trading. The cemetery was opened to merchants in an attempt to reclaim a part of their monopoly over Paris trade.

St Eustache church with Les Halles in foreground. Taken from WikiCommons, photo by Alfie Lanni (Flickr)
St Eustache church with Les Halles in foreground. Taken from WikiCommons, photo by Alfie Lanni (Flickr)

The living and the dead co-existed to a point where a whole genre of medieval art – the “Dance Macabre” – was created on the back wall of the CDI. From an art historical point of view this makes CDI supremely important, as the 15th century Dance of Death was the first and finest known example. Unfortunately the wall was razed in order to expand the abutting road, but there are several Holbein woodcuts as well as French and English prints of it, as well as descriptions.

One of 17 wood engravings of la Danse macabre du cloître des Saints Innocents à Paris
One of 17 wood engravings of la Danse macabre du cloître des Saints Innocents à Paris. Published in 1485 by two Parisian editors, Guyot Marchant and Verard, they distributed them across Europe. The only surviving example is in the Grenoble Library.

Since they were making hand over fist, the Church pointedly ignored sanitary issues repeatedly raised by the Crown. What overflowed as quickly as the church coffers was the GROUND. Skeletons of decomposed dead went to charniers (wall closets lining graveyards, housing bones of the dead), but the cadaver’s fatty residues remained in the earth, leaving greasy mounds that couldn’t process the dead at the rate it was being asked to.  Yet the only modification the church would make was to raise its funerary charges!

The court of Louis XV issued an investigation in 1763 of the neighboring Les Halles commerce. Inspectors recorded local stories of meat that rotted before one’s eyes, a perfumerie unable to sell its wares due to the putrid air, tapestry merchants whose rugs changed color if exposed too long and wine merchants whose barrels yielded only vinegar. Several edicts by various Kings to move the parish cemeteries out of the city were resisted till the situation came to a head in the spring of 1780 after a prolonged period of rain.

On 30 May a cellar wall bordering CDI gave way under the weight of the excessive burials and humidity and spilled a mess of decomposed corpses, thus infecting the mud. Talk about a gush of gore! No horror film could top this. The building was evacuated but not even the thickest masonry could keep the stench of rotting flesh at bay, which finally prompted Louis XVI to exile all parish graveyards outside the city walls (you wonder why Montparnasse, Montmartre and Pere Lachaise are in the outer arrondissements – there’s your answer).

tree lined avenue of mausoleums in Père Lachaise cemetery Paris
Père Lachaise, photo taken from WikiCommons

By 1786 bones of 6 million bodies were exhumed from cemeteries throughout the city and moved to the catacombs (former mines) out of town, at Denfert Rochereau (in today’s 14th Arrt). Just as a grisly conclusion – Many bodies hadn’t fully decomposed and had turned to margaric acid (fat). This fat was collected and turned into candles and soap. Guess that’ll make you think twice before washing your face with soap!

Paris Catacombs “Stop, this is the empire of death”
Paris Catacombs “Stop, this is the empire of death” photo taken from MichaelJohnGrist.com **

Fontaine des Innocents (1547-1550) was built by architect Pierre Lescot (there’s a street with his name in the Les Halles area). François 1er, and later his son Henri II had Lescot transform the old Louvre (originally a fortress under Philippe Auguste) into a palace. The Cour Carré that we see — The Sully Wing’s courtyard – is thanks to Lescot’s designs. Jean Goujon was the sculptor for both the Fontaine des Innocents as well as the Cour Carré. Both also collaborated on the roof of the church across the road, St Germain l’Auxerrois.

La Morte St Innocent will conclude our 3-part Trilogy of Death.

The grisly Death Hunt isn’t far from us.  Our Black-Clad Hunters will be tasked to find all sorts of skulls, from Death overlooking 17th C Dutch Vanitas scenes, Egyptian Mummies, Roman Sarcophagi, and there’s even a silver ‘skull clock’, as seen below. To merge the two in a single object makes sense as both time (and the fact that with each passing day, all of our time is running out) and skulls are typical Memento Mori motifs. These scary skull-clocks are a great discovery in the Objet d’Art section of the Louvre – on the 1st floor, just off IM Pei’s enormous escalator unifying 3 levels of Richelieu (oh boy, I think that might have been a give-away!). Protestant clock-making centers like Blois made a lot of these skull-clocks, a reminder that a handful of Skull Scouting treasures also overlap with the All Things Gaul hunt.

18th century Memento Mori Clock inside a silver skull, Paris, Louvre
18th century Memento Mori Clock, Paris, Louvre

So which piece of treasure is the king of the hunt, the Master of the Morbid? They’re all so gloriously ghoulish it’s hard to choose which to give-away. So as a process of elimination, which piece is inextricably tied to the history of Paris?

La Morte St Innocent fits this bill beautifully, both for Skull Scouting as well as “All Things Gaul” as he is quintessentially French. La Morte is the lynchpin of Parisian Death – the epitome of just how macabre Medieval Paris got. Apart from Death’s appearance and adjoining plaque (which reads “There is not a single being alive, however cunning and strong in resistance, whom I will not slay with my dagger & give to the Worms as their Pittance!”) his birthplace is key to setting the tone of central Medieval Paris.

La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre
La Morte St Innocents, 16th C French, Alabaster, Louvre

Before examining Death itself, which deserves a post unto itself and will be the third of this three-part series let’s have a look at where he’s from: Cimitière des Innocents which was also the birthplace of La Danse Macabre.

Dance of Death (woodcut) Hans Holbein the Younger, 1491 (German printed edition, folio CCLXI recto from Hartman)
Dance of Death (woodcut) Hans Holbein the Younger, 1491 (German printed edition, folio CCLXI recto from Hartman)

Named for the Massacre of Innocents (St Innocents was the same name of an adjoining church, once facing rue St Denis), Cimitière des Innocents (CDI) had been housing the dead since Gallo-Roman days. Originally outside the city walls, as the city expanded it ended up smack dab in the center of town (where current-day place Joachim-du-Bellay is). It was where rue St Denis and rue Berger meet, and abutted Paris’s famed central Market, Les Halles. In the 12th century it was still a perfectly orderly graveyard, with an individual space allotted per body. By the 13th century it was the graveyard for Paris’s parishes without cemeteries as well as a dumping ground for the dead of the nearby hospital, Hôtel Dieu (which, if facing Notre Dame, is directly to your left – to escape the throngs of ND goggling tourists you can always dip into Hôtel Dieu’s peaceful plant-filled courtyard).  But back to Medieval France – With so many incoming dead CDI was starting to ooze. Soon it would grow to a festering sore, Paris’s pussing pustule emitting ghastly gasses.

old black and white map of paris with red circle showing location of Cimitière des Innocents
image taken from Cadrans solaires disparus  (michel.lalos.free.fr)

How could it not? While Paris grew, the CDI plot of 135 meters x 65 meters did not. Moreover the number of deaths due to famines, wars (100-Years War, the 30-Years War), let alone the Plague were enough to send heads spinning. During several bouts of the plague in the 14th Century an estimated 800 people died a day in Paris, the Plague of 1418 poured nearly 50,000 dead into CDI over a five-week period, in 1466 another 40,000 perished in Paris. With the swelling of such numbers, mass graves were created. They’d leave a pit open till 1500 cadavers filled each crevice, then close it off for the worms to do their decomposing jobs, filling another 1500-body pit just inches over.

Plan de Turgot, de 1730
Plan de Turgot, de 1730

Imagine the stench of your Saturday morning marketing – how could the Crown allow such (un-)sanitary conditions to co-exist? That’s your Hallowe’en cliff-hanger for the day. I’ll continue this gory CDI glory tomorrow, and shall get us back to the Master of the Morbid! Thus, hopefully, auguring the spirit of Halloween (smiley-face, exclamation mark)!

Things in bold tend to refer to bonus questions…

Yesterday El Argentino and I went to the Louvre to nose about an area we’re both shamefully ignorant of – the near eastern antiquities. I probably couldn’t come up with one of Alexander the Great’s campaigns, and the area between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers (Mesopotamia, Sumer, Babylon, etc) is buried down deep in my memory. The last time (and first time) I really gave the dawn of civilisation a thought was probably in the 6th grade when we had to study the invention of the wheel, Gilgamesh and irrigation. This last one quite an abstract concept for pollution spouting city kids.

But those early folk, from Cyprians to the Levant in Palestine and Jordan, have provided me with some wonderful THATMuse fodder – the Bestiary (fantasy animals, such as unicorns and griffins) hunt that I’m working on now, especially. And El Argentino, a buff of all things Roman and Greek (be it a military campaign, tragedy, philosopher or amphora pot, he’s your man) feels like he needs to round out his education for when the kids start asking questions.

Over the next week I’ll feature a few of the Near Eastern treasures that we came across. And who knows, perhaps one of them just might pop up in one of the themed THATMuse Louvre treasure hunts!

Ain Ghazal. neolithic sculpture. At 9000 years old, Ain is the earliest work that the Louvre

Meet Ain Ghazal. At 9000 years old, Ain is the earliest work that the Louvre has in its possession. And actually, Ain is only with the Louvre for 30 years. The Jordanians have generously lent him to the Louvre for 30 years (although I thought it was funny that some Louvre curator arrogantly mentioned that ‘this loan would be renewed by tacit agreement’).  32 of these cute little fellows were found in two separate pits, after a 600 meter road was built across the archaeological dig.

From looking them up on Wikipedia, apparently some of these Neolithic people buried their dead under the floorboards in their homes (later pulling the skulls out), but most of their dead were just thrown in garbage pits where domestic waste was trashed… Throwing grampa in the trash, hmm… Rather detracts from the allure to these ‘cute little fellows’, don’t you think?

The Louvre Greek and Roman Antiquities, from louvre
The Louvre Greek and Roman Antiquities, from louvre.fr

Ok, enough horsing around here, we’re going to cut strait to the chase and give you a sample, a teaser, a piece of the hunt! Which THATLou, you ask? Well, the below morsel is particularly great because it could fit into any number of near-future hunts.

Meet the Cross-Purpose Greek Pot, a world-famous Dinos by the Gorgon Painter…

There are two THATLous that this Dinos would be perfect for

– as the previous Gorgon post discussed, the very word the Greeks gave these ghoulish creatures means Horrible or Terrible. Terribly appropriate for Beauty + the Bestiary THATLou. Bestiary has been touched on here and there in past blog posts with Darius the Great’s wonderful Frieze of Griffins, and those gentle protecting Lamassus).

– And where would you find a Dinos other than at a symposium (FEAST) that the Greeks lingered over endlessly (appropriate for Foodies in France who may just opt to see the Louvre from the perspective of Food + Wine)? Of course a Dinos fits in there perfectly, to ground the floating debauched bacchuses from flying about, perhaps a bit too much wine needs some water!

Anyway, enough chatter from me. Here’s your hint, take it and run for the THATLou prize!

Gorgon Painter Greek pot at louvre
Gorgon Painter Greek pot at louvre, taken from Eschatology.com

ATTIC BLACK-FIGURE DINOS, by the GORGON PAINTER

Cerveteri (from Athens, Greece), Circa 580 BC

Clay, H 93cm

A Dinos was used to mix water and wine – and stood on a tall stand so the servants didn’t have to stoop during the long banquets that Dinoses were made for (The Greeks drank a lot of wine, but always diluted). This early Attic Dinos is of particular importance because it gave the Gorgon Painter his name – referring to the scene on one side of the pot with Perseus being chased by the Goggle-Eyed Gorgons, after he murdered their sister Medusa, shown collapsing after Perseus lobbed off her head: Death taking hold of her before our very eyes. Remember Medusa had turned all those who dared look in her eyes to stone. Perseus was clever enough (with Athena’s help) to approach her using the reflection of his shield like a rear-view mirror, thus avoiding his demise. The Gorgon Painter is one of the earliest masters of the Black Figure technique and a pioneer of the Attic tradition of figurative decoration on pottery. There is a convergence of influences on this Dinos – among the series of bands of friezes with alternating plant motifs and animals, including bestiary such as sphinxes and mermaids there are also male figures, a reference to the Oriental tradition of the Master of Animals.

POINTS: XXX (depends on the hunt)

Denon, lower ground floor, room 1 (in the “Pre-Classical Greek” section next to the Islamic collection)

Attic Black-Figured Dinos, by the Gorgon Painter
Attic Black-Figured Dinos, by the Gorgon Painter, Louvre.fr

This is the only vase by the Gorgon Painter – who was prolific – to depict a complex narrative, but also the first Attic vase to do so at all… Don’t nod off — this is interesting enough stuff folks, to merit some bonus points!

For a background on Athenian red and black-figure vase painting the Met has a thorough summary here. As for their shapes, Wikipedia has a wonderful collection of photographs with their names – which if you click on the names will of course lead you to their purpose. Click here for that visit.


Remember if things are in bold it may just mean they’ll help you out with bonus questions embedded in your treasure hunt… In other words, worth taking note of!

Caravaggio’s Medusa (1598, Uffizi, Firenze)
Caravaggio’s Medusa (1598, Uffizi, Firenze)

Tomorrow night is the first of a two-part THATLou series hosting an international law firm. Having lawyers, accustomed to scrutinizing small print, go a-hunting excites me no end, especially when they’ll be after imaginary creatures like bestiary (for balance they’re also after beauty). Will they catch this hint? Is that one too obvious? What about this bonus question — too involved? I’ve had loads of fun considering it all. And as a free-be to these fine solicitors, I’m posting the most involved bonus question here on the night before. Ironically, given their trade, they probably won’t have time to read beforehand, so I guess it’s good they’re clever enough to think on their feet to write a limerick in honor of one element of either of the below tales, both attached to the below sample treasure (NB this is expanded text, no piece of treasure has more than 10 or 12 lines, as you don’t have enough time to digest more whilst out on the prowl):

Géricault’s Raft of Medusa (1818-1819) Louvre
Géricault’s Raft of Medusa (1818-1819) Louvre

THE RAFT OF MEDUSA

Théodore GÉRICAULT (Rouen, 1791 – Paris, 1824)

19th Century French, H 4.91 x W 7.16m (in other words “Grand Format”)

The ‘Hope of Rescue’ is how Géricault chose to paint this painting, which stands as an icon of Romanticism. The Medusawas the name of a French Royal Navy frigate that set sail in 1816 to colonize Senegal. With over 150 soldiers on board, when the ship wreck took place in the Atlantic, they had to build rafts due to a shortage of lifeboats (talk about health and safety!). Only 10 people survived the 13-day odyssey, and the stories of cannibalism and brutality which ensued caught the fascination of Géricault, as well as contemporary journalists and the general public alike. This French number is famous enough to be studied in any introductory Art History class (please note the composition of two pyramids), but it’s the news story behind it that captures the interest of the general public.

The frigate was named for Medusa, the frightening Greek mythological creature with poisonous snakes for hair (talk about Bestiary!). To name a frigate Medusa in and of itself is a strange choice. Poseidon, God of the Sea, had been madly in love with the Gorgon sister Medusa, but when she spurned his love, he turned both her and her two sisters into monsters with snake hair. Poseidon also placed her in total isolation, by cursing her with the conversation-stopper-quality of being turned to stone if you met her gaze!

Aided by Athena and Hermes, the mortal Perseus went to the end of the world (where Poseidon had exiled her) to challenge Medusa, who’d been making trouble. He cleverly used the reflection of his  shield to avert her gazeand protect himself. When he got close enough to behead her, a volcano of blood sprouted, and from each drop of blood sprang more horrible creatures – Pegasus (a winged horse) and Chrysaor (a winged giant boar) – who were believed to have been Medusa’s children with Poseidon. Bestiary spawn bestiary, of course!

Perseus with Medusa’s head, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze
Perseus with Medusa’s head, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

So here’s the give away: take an element of this fantastic story – be it 19th Century French frigate or Greek mythology – and spin it into a limerick, for muchos puntos. Now how’s that for impetus for thinking of the quickest rhyme for frigate? Perhaps mitigate? Go to it, Lawyers!


Caravaggio’s 1598 painting of Medusa (at top) is among the most famous images of her in art (rightly so!), and just down the street from where she lives at the Galleria degli Uffizi is this statue of Perseus, with poor Medusa’s brains dangling from her beheaded neck (his perfect frame is standing on her body). My mother always said that what I called dangling brains was in fact her hair, but I say pshah! What child doesn’t like gore – and that gore doesn’t look like snakes, does it? The story of Medusa is also covered in this Greek Dinos — a Greek pot measuring a meter in height and filled to the brim with diluted wine … My those Greeks liked to drink! Both of these pieces of treasure often appear in the same hunt and cross reference each other so to reinforce the story — perhaps highlighting what instrument allowed Perseus to get close enough to slice Medusa’s head off!


This Gericault Raft of Medusa is certainly a juicy number. Being such an iconic piece of French Romanticism (and Louvre “Greatest Hit”) I dare say it also appears in the Public Hunts “All Things Gaul” hunt held every Bastille Day (works only by Frenchmen) and in the Halloween Death hunt.

Here are lovely write ups of the first Halloween Hunt, one in Aussie in France the other in Colleen’s Paris. The former write up includes the following limerick (unfortunately I’m not at liberty to post any of the clever limericks the lawyers wrote due to client confidentiality)


Poseidon the god of the sea
Rarely took time for a pee, but
He pulled down his trunks
Screamed “you are all skunks”
And did it before all who could see

Noted elsewhere in the blog, strictly speaking the term “Bestiary” covers Medieval European imaginary creatures such as Unicorns, Griffins, Dragons, etc. For the purposes of you seeing a broader expanse of the Louvre, however, the Beauty + Bestiary THATLou theme stretches the definition of Bestiary to Egyptian Sphinxes, Greek Centaurs and as you see here, the likes of half-human Gorgons.