Image Credit:

The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous painting in the world, one of the most recognised and copied.

It currently hangs in the Louvre, where it is believed that 80% of the 10.2 million visitors go specifically to view the masterpiece. Brewminate suggest it was painted sometime between 1503 and 1519, and it is Leonardo Da Vinci’s seminal work that set a standard for artists that have come since.

The perspective might not seem unique today, but it set a precedent that many portrait artists began to adopt. The sitter’s position mostly turns toward the viewer, which broke convention in Italian art at the time. Now, it is the most commonly used portrait profile, which only adds to the paintings allure and influence.

The identity of the subject is widely debated, with one theory being that it is a self-portrait, but with Da Vinci disguising himself as a woman. Another popular train of thought is that it is Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo. Sigmund Freud believed that the subject was in fact the artist’s mother, Caterina.

After emerging from his studio in 1519, the painting passed to King Francis I of France, in whose court Da Vinci spent the latter years of his life. For centuries, it remained in French palaces, on display only for kings and queens, but was claimed by the people during the French Revolution between 1787 and 1799. After a short stint on Napoleon’s bedroom wall, it found its way into the Louvre at the turn of the 19th century, where it has remained ever since.

Or rather, where it has almost remained ever since. In 1911, the painting was stolen from the gallery causing a media sensation. People even visited the gallery to see the space where the great masterpiece had once hung – such was the furore. The museum’s director of paintings resigned and some famous names were linked with the theft. The poet French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was arrested, as was Pablo Picasso. Gala Bingo explain how the famous surrealist was strongly suspected of stealing the Mona Lisa, but both were false leads which failed to result in the painting being returned.

Indeed, it was two years later that a Florence art dealer reported a man had tried to sell him the painting, leading to its discovery in a trunk belonging to Vincenzo Peruggia. He was arrested and imprisoned and the Mona Lisa went on a brief tour of Italy before returning home to France, where she has remained ever since.

During World War II, she went on another tour, this time of the French countryside. Having been singled out as the most-endangered piece of art in the Louvre, the painting was spirited away and hidden in various locations to prevent destruction or capture. In 1945 she adorned the walls of the Louvre once more, but has toured New York, Washington, Tokyo and Moscow in more recent times.

The painting has been analysed using modern techniques in recent years, revealing a sketch underneath which was likely used by Da Vinci to create the painting. Others believe there are two works of art under the Mona Lisa, both of which were unfinished.

The allure and attraction of the painting continues to thrill and excite today, and it is well worth a visit if you do intend to add the Louvre to your next Paris itinerary.

Paris in the Movies: Ten Films Set in the City of Lights

As a former Parisian stuck in the North of England, I’m doing everything I can to bring Paris to me. From reading books set in Paris to trying to embody the Parisian lifestyle at home. But sometimes you need to actually see Paris in order to transport yourself. Here are my top five movies set in Paris (and where to watch them online).

Psst! Several movies set in Paris were featured in our recent post on the best French movies of all time. So we’re sticking with English language films here.

1)     Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris is generally considered one of the director’s greatest films in recent years. It stars Owen Wilson as Gil, a successful yet unfulfilled Hollywood screenwriter, on holiday in Paris with his materialistic and selfish fiancée. Every night at midnight, Gil travels back in time and cavorts with the ex-pat writers and artists of the 1920. Clearly, it’s a plot which would have been simply ridiculous in the hands of most other directors. Here, it works surprisingly well and is miraculously done with very little cheesiness.

Available on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime Video

2)     Taken

There have been so many second-rate knock offs of Taken since it was released in 2008 that it’s easy to forget how good the original is. The film stars Liam Neeson as an ex-CIA agent turned suburban dad. For most of the film, he’s on an action-filled rampage through the suburbs of Paris, exercising his “very particular set of skills” to look for his daughter, who has been abducted by sex traffickers. Look – no one is denying it’s a cheesy action film. But as cheesy action films go, it’s one of the best (and I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the best English-language movies set in Paris too!).

Available on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime Video

3)     An American Werewolf in Paris

An American Werewolf in Paris is a truly silly film. It’s the sequel to the (just as silly) 1981 comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London, released 16 years earlier. And, apart from the setting, it follows largely the same plot. However, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of silliness – particularly right now. The Paris movie tells the story of Andy, an American tourist visiting Paris with two friends. Given the title, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that at least one of them is transformed into a werewolf before the credits roll. Both films are basically gore-fests, so don’t watch if you’re squeamish. But they’re also both enjoyable in that good-bad movie way.

Available on YouTube, Google Play, and included with an Amazon Prime Video subscription

4)     Les Misérables

There’s not much to say about the epic musical historical drama Les Miserables that hasn’t already been said. I will say, though, that even if you’re not a fan of musicals generally, you may just find this movie – set in Paris and its surroundings at the time of the French revolution – enjoyable nonetheless. The show-stopping musical numbers are what drew the crowds when the film opened in 2012. But the period costume and setting, dramatic plot (based on Victor Hugo’s novel, widely considered to be one of the greatest novels of the 19th century), and talented ensemble cast all played their part in ensuring the movie’s success.

Available on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime Video

5)     An American in Paris

The Hollywood classic, An American in Paris stars Gene Kelly as Jerry, an exuberant, struggling expat painter trying to make a life and career in Paris. Naturally, he falls in love with the young (and spoken-for) French ingenue, Lise, played by Leslie Caron. What follows is a silly but fun romp of singing, dancing, and frolicking. Modern critics tend to say (perhaps fairly) that the film doesn’t stand up to Kelly’s next musical, Singin’ In the Rain, which was released the following year. But hey – there are much worse ways to spend a couple of hours watching Gene Kelly dance through the streets of Paris.

Available on Youtube and Google Play

Your favourite movies set in Paris?

Did we miss anything? Let us know your favourite movies set in Paris, or shots of Paris in the movies in the comments! And if you’re hungry for more movie content, check out our posts on the best French films, best films about art, and best travel movies, here on the THATMuse blog.

Both Paris and London are cities with a huge number of recognisable, famous landmarks. Show most people a photo of Tower Bridge or the Eiffel Tower, and they’re likely to know what they’re looking at.

Both cities also have their share of landmarks that have been lost to time. For example, the huge Tuileries Palace in Paris was burned down during the Paris Commune of 1871.

In this post though, we’ll discover five London and Paris landmarks which were almost destroyed, but lived to tell the tale. With a bit of luck, when the current crisis is over and we can wander the streets of Paris and London once more, we’ll appreciate what we have.

Read More

Did you see Stephanie Blaser’s Impressionism-inspired feast when we posted it a few weeks ago? She shared recipes for fish in foil, accompanied by a side of summer vegetables, roasted in the oven, and both inspired by Impressionist paintings.

Delicious! But we can’t help thinking that it left us just a little hungry for dessert…

Well, long-time friend of THATMuse, Élodie has us covered with this recipe for madeleines, inspired by Francois Boucher’s painting, Family Taking Breakfast. Yum!

Chocolate and Coffee Madeleines, inspired by François Boucher’s Family Taking Breakfast

The Painting

François Boucher’s Family Taking Breakfast, 1739: A peaceful breakfast scene in an affluent household in the 18th century.

In this manifesto of bourgeois life, François Boucher shows life in the time of King Louis XV: the attire with lace and silk, the Rocaille style décor… and the clear taste for the exotic.  

Do you see that little figure on the shelf? It’s a magot, a small grotesque figure of Japanese or Chinese style, which were popular at the time.  You might have heard of Les Deux Magots, a famous café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, which is named for two of the same type of figurine which live there.

Other hints at this taste for the East are the vase on the console on the left, and the fine porcelain, probably from China, on the red lacquer table.

As for the contents of that china, there have been endless talks about the drink that is being served in this painting. Is it hot chocolate? Or coffee? The hot serving pot, at the exact center of the painting, could be used for either drink. Neither the hot pot or the cups indicate what drink they were intended for, so art historians will have to continue to fight on this one!

Perhaps it was coffee: after all, King Louis XV was a keen coffee drinker, who even had coffee trees planted at Trianon. Both coffee and chocolate were imported from far away, and were therefore expensive and trendy. Tableware like the serving pots and cups we see in this painting was created for these new, exciting products.

But there’s something else unusual about this painting, which we don’t really notice nowadays. At the time it was painted, showing such an image of domestic intimacy and including children was very modern. It’s interesting that mothers – not nannies – are looking lovingly at the children, and that they even have toys made for children (the little horse, the doll).

As for my favourite part of the painting: I love the little detail on the child on the bottom right. She is wearing a bourrelet: a padded headband intended to protect the head from bumps and falls!

The Recipe

Bakes 24 mini madeleine cakes


  • 80g butter (1/3  cup or  ¾ stick)
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 120g all-purpose flour (1 cup)
  • 4g baking powder (1/3 tablespoon)
  • 50g chocolate chips (1/3 cup)
  • 12 tbsp instant coffee (could be replaced by 3 tablespoons of coffee extract, or for a different flavour, vanilla extract)


  1. Gently melt the butter in a saucepan.
  2. Add the eggs, sugar and salt to a bowl and briskly stir to bring the batter to a smooth, almost foamy consistency.
  3. Add flour and baking powder, and the melted butter, and stir briskly again. Add chocolate and coffee (save a few chips and 2 spoons of coffee for presentation). Stir and refrigerate for an hour.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 230°C (450°F). Take the batter out of the fridge, give it a stir (if it’s too hard, add a tablespoon of milk).
  5. Grease the inside of the madeleine molds with butter and flour. Turn molds upside down to get rid of any excess flour.
  6. Fill the molds, not completely to allow rising. Add leftover chocolate chips and coffee powder on top for decoration.
  7. Cook for 10 minutes in the oven.
  8. Take out of the mold immediately and let cool on a cooling rack
  9. Enjoy!
I took my own family porcelain out for the photo, and placed it in front of my wallpaper which represents Paris in the 1730s, exactly when the painting was created. And of course I chose the Louvre detail for the backdrop, a wink to the place where you can now see the painting!

Élodie Berta is a travel trade pro and licensed guide in all of France. As head of the MICE division of marketing for the Paris Tourist Board, and knows the Louvre and Paris like the back of her hand. We’ve been lucky enough to have Élodie as a friend of THATMuse for many years, since Élodie attended her first THATMuse (then THATLou) hunt at the Louvre in 2012, when we launched the Skull Scouting theme. Élodie tweets about all things Paris at @Paris_by_Elodie.

Lockdown getting you down? Join me for a brief tour through the history of French cinema, as we share some of the best French movies of all time. Of course, there are far too many excellent French films to list in one short blog post. But I’ve put together a selection of my favourites.

All of the French films listed here are available to watch online for not much than the price of a café au lait, and for your viewing convenience, we’ve included links to where you can watch them.

I’ve also divided my selection into three rough categories: the best Classic French movies, the best of French New Wave Cinema, and the best French films of the 2000s.

Read More

For as long as there has been VR technology, there have been half-excited, half-scaremongering think pieces proclaiming that a new age of tourism has begun. Physical tourism is out, and “virtual tourism” is in. Well, we haven’t quite reached the stage where a vacation mean a trip to the living room. We haven’t given up on visiting museums in favour of touring them with only a VR headset.

But, since we’re all more or less marooned at home at the moment, it is useful to know that museums have, apparently, been preparing for the apocalypse all along. From basic functions allowing you to explore museum collections online using their websites to fully-fledged virtual museum tours, there is a way to see all five of our museums online, from the comfort of your own home.

Read more

If you scrolled through social media over the weekend, you can’t have missed that last Sunday was Mother’s Day. Or at least, over in the US (and most other countries) it was (here in the UK we celebrate it in March, lest my fellow Brits start panicking on behalf of their neglected mums). In honour of mothers everywhere, we’re sharing some of our favourite mothers in art history. Though all of these ladies can be found at the Louvre, none of them are actually French by birth. But they’re all mothers (good or bad), and are important to the history of France in one way or another.

Read More

Ever heard of the terrible 5th century Plague of Athens? Over 2400 years later we’re living though another dreadful health crisis. How did the Greeks handle theirs? And is coronavirus comparable to the many illnesses that have hit the world so far? Historians and art-historians like us love to say that the past always teaches us something. Some stories, like that of the Plague of Athens, are timeless, and we can learn from them even today.

Read More

Feeling down that you likely won’t get to go to Paris any time soon? Me too. I spent six years in Paris, and it breaks my heart that I can’t pop over to wander the streets of my favourite city, snacking on pastries, stopping to read by the Seine, and – of course – popping into my favourite museums. Wherever you are though, there are things you can do to bring a little bit of the Parisian lifestyle to you. Here are five ways you can live like a Parisian at home.

Read More

If you had a trip to Paris planned in the next few months, you’re probably feeling pretty crushed right now. Our hearts go out to our Parisian friends, who are currently on lockdown. For the rest of us, Paris feels very far away. There’s nothing quite like a stroll along the Seine, a picnic in the shade of the Eiffel Tower, or a museum treasure hunting romp through the Louvre (we think so anyway). But here’s the next best thing: our favourite books about Paris to read while you can’t get there.

Read More
Italian Flag

This post is also available in Italian!

In ancient Greek society people carefully followed the social rules of good behaviour. Women had to be good mothers. Kids and youths went to school, to the gym and were trained to be brave warriors. The elder ones inspired the new generations with their wise advice. And everyone prayed to the gods during the religious festivities. There was a time though, when almost everything was allowed and when social rules of good behaviour could be forgotten: the symposium. Museums are filled with vases showing symposiasts having fun and playing, precisely because the Greeks, like the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, the Chinese and the Anglo-Saxons, often buried their dead with games (or scenes of games), in order to allow them to have fun during their afterlife.

Read More

Just a heads up: things in bold might be answers to bonus questions on your Fun & Games hunt!
The First ever Version in Italian will be on Friday April 3rd at 5.30 pm.  
You can also read this blog in Italian here!

From sculptures to pottery, from paintings to temples, mythology is a broad topic in ancient Greek art and architecture. The Parthenon architecture, one of the most famous ancient complexes of all times, is a striking example of how the ancient Greeks took inspiration from their classical mythology to make sense of the real world.  

Greek Art and Mythology: one of the earliest representations of the Trojan Horse, 750-650 BC 
Read More