THATMuse
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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.

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

Ingredients

  • 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)

Directions

  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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 
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Avviso veloce: alcune delle informazioni in grassetto potrebbero essere risposte a domande bonus nella tua caccia Divertimento e Giochi, la cui Prima Verisione in Italiano, sarà Venerdì 3 Aprile alle 17.30.  

Da sculture e vasi, ad affreschi e templi, la mitologia popola quasi l’intera produzione artistica greca. Il Partenone, uno dei più famosi complessi architettonici di tutti i tempi, rappresenta un lampante esempio di come i Greci si lasciassero ispirare dai propri racconti mitologici per dare un senso al mondo che li circondava. 

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This is either the last or the penultimate post in the Louvre Photo Series. It’s been a pleasure to ponder what images to use for the imminent THATLou website. 

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When to book your Louvre Tickets

Before you can begin treasure hunting through the Louvre’s amazing collection, you first have to get inside! The museum has a charge to enter and it is much easier, and much faster to book online in advance, to save you waiting in long boring queues.

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Looking for a special gift for a special person? Have friends or family going to London or Paris at Easter, this summer or who may live there? Why not offer up a museum treasure hunt, making explorers of them for some maverick museum fun!

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By Halle Trang

It might come as no surprise to you that museums are very popular locations to film in. Some of the greatest museum halls in London and Paris act as great backdrops for action scenes, and the actual art pieces provide amazing visual appeal in music videos. We scoured the internet to find movie clips and music videos that were filmed in the very museums we host treasure hunts in. Keep reading below to find out which movies were filmed in the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, British Museum, Natural History Museum, and the V&A!

JEAN-LUC GODARD’S BANDE A PART (1964)

Louvre, 40-second movie clip

This short clip comes from Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande á Part, which shows three naughty New Wave teens in the 60s, running through the venerable halls of the Louvre. How different the museum looked back then! Do you recognise the rooms they’re racing through or the Daru stairs they’re tumbling down? Can you imagine the stairs being as empty today?

THE CARTERS’S “APES**T” (2018)

Louvre, 6-minute music video

This is a 6-minute music video by Beyonce and Jay-Z in the Louvre taken place in the Denon & Sully wings at night. Please note there are many expletives in this song, so you may want to view before sharing it with your children. I show it to my kids every time we visit, quizzing them on naming the painters, dates, periods and titles of the works that appear (from Venus de Milo to Gericault’s Raft of Medusa and the Great Sphinx of Tanis), but completely understand if you want to edit this due to the swear words.

MARTIN SCORSESE’S HUGO (2011)

Musee d’Orsay, 1-minute movie clip of opening scene

Although it was once a train station, the Musee d’Orsay has now been transformed into the wonderful museum that it is. It is most commonly known for its clocks, which were repurposed and are now used as windows that overlook the beautiful city of Paris. This opening scene in Hugo shows the main character climbing to the top and looking out at the Parisian streets through the clock face.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S BLACKMAIL (1929)

British Museum, 3-minute movie clip

We can instantly recognise the tall columns of the British Museum’s main entrance in this movie clip, which shows a chase scene through the museum and what was once the British Library. This was one of Hitchcock’s first films to have a chase scene near a famous landmark, foreshadowing other greats like North by Northwest. Imagine if we had access to the domed roof like the actors did!

PAUL KING’S PADDINGTON (2014)

Natural History Museum, 4-minute behind-the-scenes video

Taxidermist and antagonist Millicent Clyde, played by Nicole Kidman, only has one goal in mind: capture Paddington the bear for his rare hide. This clip gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look into the making of the film. Many of the Kidman scenes take place in the museum’s animal exhibitions, but can you spot any other famous attractions? (Think dinosaurs!)

ALEX KURTZMAN’S THE MUMMY (2017)

Natural History Museum, 1-minute behind-the-scenes video

Once again, a movie is filmed displaying the grand staircase in the central hall of the Natural History Museum. In this short 1-minute clip, Tom Cruise’s character is seen running across this area as shards of glass and dust fly towards him. Do you think the museum looks exactly the same as in the 2014 film Paddington?

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS’S “HEY BOY HEY GIRL” (2008)

Natural History Museum, 3-minute music video

Our third find in the Natural History Museum comes not from a film, but a music video! The Chemical Brothers, a British big beat duo, came out with this song in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the music video for it was published on Youtube. In this music video, a young schoolgirl roams around the museum on her own and stares in fascination at the various skeletons and fossils around her.

DAVID KOEPP’S MORTDECAI (2015)

Victoria and Albert Museum, 2-minute movie trailer

The National Art Library’s reading rooms found in the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London are popular filming areas due to their grandeur and great lighting. In this movie trailer, you can see Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) and Inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) discussing a missing painting in those exact reading rooms from 0:25-0:37.

Can you think of more films or music videos that take place in any other museums across London or Paris? Let us know in the comments below!