THATMuse

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?

Introducing one of the most amazing Mesopotamian artefacts, The Lamassu. Meaning “protective spirit” in Akkadian, he is one of a pair who was usually found flanking the doorways to Assyrian palaces. Winged bulls or lions with human heads, they served as mythological guardians. One of the things I find so clever about them is why they have five legs; If you look at them from straight on, they’re standing at attention, still. If you look at them from the side, they’re walking. The British Museum also has six Lamassus, one of which has some graffiti of the board game, the Royal Game of Ur scratched between two of their legs… Guards who were clearly stationed at the gates, idling the time away.

side view of Assyrian winged bull lamassu sculpture 7th Century BC, Louvre Paris

But back to the Khorsabad room in the Mesopotamian section of the Louvre: These guys are somehow comforting, or perhaps what’s comforting is the space they’re in. It smells earthy, I suppose of the gypseous alabaster they’re made of. With the grey-but-bright Paris light shedding in, there’s something intimate about the well-proportioned L-shaped room lined with Sargon’s treasures. And then there’s size. Our friends here stand at nearly 4 and a half meters tall, making me feel. Well. Very human. They’re from the palace of Sargon II, who reigned from 721 – 705 BC; it was square in shape with 158 towers & had a 24-meter thick wall encompassing 3 km². Nothing so piddling as our French Khorsabad room at the Louvre. But sadly we don’t have much of Sargon’s treasure left.

side view of Assyrian winged bull lamassu sculpture 7th Century BC, Louvre Paris

In the 1840s and 50s the palace, named Dur Sharrukin, was excavated by the French consul general to Mosul (yes, of Iraq), Monsieur Botta (and yes, his name is in bold — perhaps an answer to a bonus question?). Heart-breakingly two shipping incidents caused much of the excavations to go missing: one through the boat sinking and the other to pirates. They must have been strong pirates as two 30-ton statues went missing.

I haven’t done much digging myself, but I do have to wonder why some Indiana Jones character hasn’t gone looking for the ruins at the bottom of the Tigris river, where the first ship sunk.

Anyway, this endearing Lamassu could appear in any number of THATLous. His strong, architecturally-necessary form makes him suitable for an Architecture + Structure hunt, and of course, the fact that he is neither animal nor man, but an imaginary compromise places him in the blurred line of Beauty + the Bestiary (fantasy animals, like unicorns) theme. Or, since two of their three components are animals, I bet they’re also in the Kid-Friendly Animals in Art theme (the purpose of which is to avoid crowds)? Lucky you’re reading this here, to get a leg up (or five!) on your THATLou adversaries!

woman stood between two guardian lamassu sculptures, Louvre Paris

And where do you suppose you’d find these gentle giants? In the Mesopotamian department (yellow on the map), not too far from the Near Eastern collection’s Ain Ghazal, the Oldest Piece at the Louvre or Ancient Iranian treasures like Darius the Great’s Frieze of Archers + Griffins who are just around the corner in the Sackler collection of the Sully Wing.

Till our next visit to the Louvre, this will be my penultimate highlight concerning last weekend’s visit to the Near Eastern antiquities wing.  It’s been tricky to choose what to profile since El Argentino and I had so many surprises and discovered so many delights.

In choosing this third finale I hoped to find a thread which holds the three completely different pieces, from completely different places together. First we had our rather morbid friend, Ain Ghazal with his silent watchful eyes. He’s from the Levant (which describes both a culture and a geographical area between Egypt and Turkey, Iraq and the Mediterranean), but Ain really stands out, because at 9000 years old he’s the Louvre’s oldest piece. That’s pretty cool.  Then we had our adorable Assyrian Lamassus, curiously smiling down at us as they protected Sargon’s palace. Endearing and gentle, the Lamassus put proportion back in the idea of palace, with their monumental size.

So with size and age for themes, I nominate Darius I’s winter palace at Susa.  Son of Cyrus, father of Xerxes, Darius I (522-486 BC) was the most successful of the Achaemenid kings. Under his rule the Persian Empire stretched from Greece to India. A melting pot of styles, Achaemenid art is defined by seemlessly combining many elements taken from different cultures. I guess one could think of it as the Benetton of Near Eastern Art. His palace at Susa (east of the Tigris River) celebrated all sorts of his victories, and not just through storytelling as his Greek contemporaries were painting on their pots, but through methods and materials as well.  Darius was big time and he wanted you to know it.  So big-time was he that this entry shall be two-fold, in my weak attempt to do his winter palace justice: art today, architecture to follow.

Wall frieze of a lion, Darius's Winter Palace, Susa Iran

King of the beasts, the lion figures an important role both royally and religiously.  A frieze of lions ran along the top of the wall in the first court Darius’s visitors entered. The provenance of the glazed siliceous bricks and its composition as a frieze is from older Mesopotamian traditions, found for instance in the 2nd millennium temple of Kara-indash in Uruk. The repetition of a symbolic animal was typical of Babylonian art, where its significance was more religious. Yet the clear knowledge of anatomy, and the attention to details such as his wavy mane was true to Achaemenid Persian art.  A little artistic UN, all in one palace. By 480 BC it was estimated that 50 million people lived in the Achaemenid Empire.

Sphinx in Darius the Great’s winter palace at Susa, Iran
Sphinx in Darius the Great’s winter palace at Susa, Iran

Apart from these turquoise lions Jacques de Morgan, the archeologist leading the excavations from 1908 – 1913, found bas relief friezes of griffins and sphinxes, archers (with duck heads at the top of their bows) and immortals — among plenty of colossal double-headed columns which we’ll linger on in another post.

A Persian Griffin painted wall sculpture in the Sully wing of the Louvre
a Persian Griffin in the Sully wing of the Louvre

What does that mean for you? Well, a lot of THATMuse points if you know where on Sully’s ground floor (ground floor in French is RDC, Rez-de-Chaussée) to find them in the “Antique Iran” section that’s yellow on your Louvre maps… Oh here, you’re good enough to be reading this THATLou homework, these precious creatures are in Room 12 and 13!

One of Darius's 'Immortals', coloured tiled sculpture, British Museum
One of Darius’s ‘Immortals’ in Room 52 of the British Museum

Apart from appearing in the Beauty + Bestiary (fantastical animals, such as unicorns, dragons and griffins, etc), Darius’s palace at Susa could certainly be pertinent to plenty of other THATLou themes – Kings + Leaders, Animals in Art, or even a possible Beauty + Bestiary… You never know!

You’ll even find Darius at the British Museum, which has some amazing friezes commissioned by Darius, including several lavishly dressed warriors carrying spears, possibly his ‘immortals’, a 10,000-strong élite fighting force that helped him to invade western Punjab, Scythia and Sindh.

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!

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…

Going out with a bang, I’m concluding our visit to Darius the Great’s Winter Palace at Susa (which in turn sadly wraps up the Louvre Near Eastern musings which started with Ain Ghazal, the oldest piece at the Louvre) with something big! Nearly matching the Louvre’s gentle Lamassus in height, here’s one COLOSSAL capital.

Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris

This COLOSSAL capital alone is 4 meters tall, 1/3rd the size of the column that it topped.  Altogether the columns  – 36 columns to be exact* – in Darius’s Apadana (Audience Hall) were over 20 meters tall (meaning about 70 feet ceilings, I think).  The hall was 109 meters squared.  Just look at the size of the beams nestled between the two kneeling bulls: they’re unfathomably large. To help put it in context, El Argentino said that the bull’s eye would be looking straight into our kitchen window – we live on the 4th and final floor of a typical Parisian building dating to 1810. The trek up the 4 flights each day, my toddler Storsh in hand, make me all the more sensitive to such lofty height.

Reconstructed face of Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris

The variations of colour in the capital’s stone is due to the fact that it was reconstructed from fragments of several columns by Marcel Dieulafoy, the archeologist leading the 1884-1886 excavation. To demonstrate the unification of the different parts of Darius’s Persian Empire, influences were taken from all over. The stone masons were Greek and Lydian, and the architects Persian. The double volutes with rosettes was taken from the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, yet the pair of bull protomes are purely Mesopotamian, representing cosmic equilibrium. And let’s not forget Egypt, a significant part of his 50-million-person strong Achaemenid Empire – that basket-like ensemble of palm fronds are a reminder that the Egyptians had been peed on by Darius. Again, just one capital is a Benetton of sorts, a little UN-melting pot of cultures as described in the last post, which mentions which exact room these treasures can be found in… Helpful no?

visitor looks us at Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris

On the globe-trotting front, apparently one of these fine bulled capitals has found itself far far away – from Paris or Iran…  El Argentino is from the leafy hood of Palermo, Buenos Aires.  Our favourite part of the 3 de Febrero park, also known as the Bosques de Palermo (the woods of Palermo), is the Rose Garden. Though we’ve been to feed the ducks and picnic in the fragrant green plenty of times, I hadn’t noticed that they have one of these double-kneeling bulls perched in place, above a fluted column. This one is apparently from Darius’s father, Cyrus. In 1972 one of the Pahlavi Shahs gave the 102-ton column to Buenos Aires, for nuclear good-will no doubt (the Argentines had advanced nuclear technology in the 60s and 70s).  Anyway, how this behemoth passed my notice says heaps about how open my eyes are!

La Columna Persa, Parque 3 de Febrero, Buenos Aires
La Columna Persa, Parque 3 de Febrero, Buenos Aires

To close this Near Eastern Antiquities musing, I just wanted to say a word on Susa, the town where Darius chose to make his administrative capital and Winter Palace. Also known as Shushan, or in Greek Susiane, Susa shares the “oldest” element that Ain Ghazal opened our Near Eastern visit with:  Susa is among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, starting in 4200 BC. There are also traces of a village there around 7000 BC. We think of Egyptian art as old, but the first traces of it were 2000 years later, in 5000 BC.

visitor looks us at Bull Headed stone capital from Darius' Winter Palace, Susa, Iran 6th Century BC. In the Louvre Paris
man standing in foreground for scale

Apart from making a star appearance as Bestiary (fantastical animals, such as unicorns, dragons and griffins, etc), Darius’s palace at Susa could certainly appear in plenty of other THATLous –  such as Animals in Art or Kings + Leaders, what with Darius’s reach (his empire stretched from India to Greece) as mentioned in the last post you never know!

All photos were taken from Wikipedia and Google and are in the open domain.

* And yes, when things are in bold, often that means it’s going to answer a precious bonus question!

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…

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!