THATMuse

Sir Hans Sloane

bust of hans sloane british museum founder

This lovely gentleman right here is Sir Hans Sloane, whose collection is the basis of the British Museum. A physician and collector, Sloane amassed a huge array of scientific and historic artifacts — an impressive 71,000 books, manuscripts, natural specimens and “things relating to the customs of ancient times” which became the foundation of the museum.  Sloane started off his collecting spree by gathering natural specimens, many of which he got on an adventure in 1687 to Jamaica. During his time there, he amassed over 800 plants and other live specimens. He didn’t stop there though– Sloane became a collector of collections! He purchased collections by people such as William Charlton and James Petiver. Once word got around that Sloane enjoyed collecting these specimens and objects, you can bet that every birthday and Christmas he was gifted with more pieces to add to his collection.

Though the British Museum is known today primarily for its antiquities, it wasn’t until 1772 when Sir William Hamilton’s collection of Greek vases was bought by the museum that they began to accrue much of the classical antiquities collections. Now, the British Museum holds over 8 million objects – which all started from Sir Hans Sloane’s generous donation.

Having covered the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom, we’re now turning our attention to the New Kingdom, Egypt’s most prosperous and powerful period. The New Kingdom, from 16th century BC to 11th century BC, covered the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties. The latter part is referred to as the Ramesside Period, due to eleven pharaohs named Ramesses.

Granite statue of pharaoh Ramesses II in British Museum, From Egypt around 1300 BC
Ramesses II from the British Museum Collection

The Napoleon of Egypt, Thutmose III, consolidated and expanded the Egyptian empire to great success, leaving a surplus of power and wealth to his successors. Interestingly, his Co-Regent was Hatshepsut (left), the second female pharaoh of Egypt. Although they were technically co-regents, Thutmose was only 2 years old when the pair ascended to the throne, leaving virtually all of the power in Hatshepsut’s hand for 22 years, during which she enjoyed a highly successful rule, establishing trade routes and overseeing major building projects.

The Pharaoh Amenhotep IV followed this period. He changed his name to Akhenaten in order to honor the god Aten, in what could be interpreted as the first instance of monotheism in history. This change wasn’t very well received, and he was subsequently written out of Egyptian history! That said, although art flourished to an unprecedented level during his reign.  

The 19th Dynasty is more famous for its great military than anything. Ramesses II, called the Great, was caught in the first ever recorded military ambush. He remained unfazed and won the battle! Thus his moniker, Ramesses the Great. He fathered a TON of kids, which is why his sons’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings is the largest funerary complex in Egypt. His statue (above) is one of many that you can see in the British Museum.

Bust of Hapshepsut from the Met In New York
Hatshepsut at the Met in New York City

The 20th Dynasty would see the last ‘great’ pharaoh of the New Kingdom, Ramesses III. He defeated the Sea Peoples in two great land and sea battles, and settled them in Southern Canaan as his subjects. He also had to fight invaders from Libya, and these wars drained Egypt’s treasury and led to a decline in the empire. The first known labor strike in history occurred during his reign, when tomb-builders and artisans did not receive their rations. After his death, the pharaoh’s power continued to decline, hurried on by droughts, famine, and corruption throughout the land. The last of the Kingdoms was coming to its end, and so are our Ancient Egypt posts, sadly.

Ramsesses II in the British Museum The Pharaoh Amenhotep IV followed this period. He changed his name to Akhenaten in order to honor the god Aten, in what could be interpreted as the first instance of monotheism in history. This change wasn’t very well received, and he was subsequently written out of Egyptian history! That said, art flourished to an unprecedented level during his reign.   The 19th Dynasty is more famous for its great military than anything. Ramesses II, called the Great, was caught in the first ever recorded military ambush. He remained unfazed and won the battle! Thus his moniker, Ramesses the Great. He fathered a ton of kids, which is why his sons’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings is the largest funerary complex in Egypt.

Image result for valley of the kings
The Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt

Hey there! This is the first of a series of blog posts about the different kingdoms of ancient Egypt, by yours truly, Cheyenne, student intern at THATMuse. We’ll start with the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the first of the Kingdom periods.

Pyramid of Djoser, in the Saqqara necropolis near Memphis. 27th Century BC
Pyramid of Djoser, in the Saqqara necropolis near Memphis. Built by Imhotep in the 27th Century BC

First, it’s important to realize that the periods commonly recognized as the Kingdoms were first distinguished by 18th century historians, and these distinctions would not have been used by the Ancient Egyptians themselves. Specifically, the ‘Kingdoms’ refer to high points in the lower Nile Valley civilization. Some historians disagree on when exactly these periods began and ended, but there are some generally acknowledged dates for each of them. What we call the Old Kingdom of Egypt is commonly recognized as occurring from 2686 to 2181 BC, or from the Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty.

During the Old Kingdom, the kings of Egypt (yes King! They weren’t called by the name of Pharaoh until the New Kingdom) were considered living gods with almost unlimited power throughout their physical kingdom. The first king of the Third Dynasty was Djoser, who moved the capital of Egypt to Memphis. His architect, Imhotep, is credited with developing a new architectural form, the Step Pyramid, which was to be used over and over throughout Egypt’s history. You can see a picture of his famous pyramid to the right.  

Djoser was followed by a succession of kings, most of whom carried on his tradition of building large and grand pyramids, which is why the Old Kingdom is sometimes referred to as ‘the Age of Pyramids.’ In fact, during the Fourth Dynasty, the Great Pyramid of Giza was built, and the Sphinx in Giza (below) is also thought to have been built during this time, although there is significant disagreement about exactly when, and who it was built by.  

The Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Giza in front of a bright blue sky
The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid at Giza

The Fifth and Sixth Dynasty saw a drastic weakening of the king’s power. Powerful nomarchs, which were similar to regional governors, gained more and more power, lessening the king’s by default. Civil wars after a succession crisis likely contributed to the downfall of the Old Kingdom, compounding by famine and a horrible drought in the 22nd century BC. The Nile didn’t flood normally for several years during a 50 year periods, causing extreme strife and unrest in Egypt. This period of turmoil is known as the First Intermediate Period, and the kingdom does not begin to recover until about 2055, the start of the Middle Kingdom, the subject of our next post.

side view of the Standard of Ur, shell and limestone and lapis lazuli mosaic on wooden frame. Ancient Sumeria 2600BC
The Standard of Ur, 2600BC

Continuing off our last post about Queen Puabi’s grave in the Royal Tombs of Ur, Mesopotamia is known as the “Cradle of Civilisation” because of things like their invention of the wheel. What would life be like right now if we didn’t have the wheel? In some of our Kid-Friendly THATBrits we dole out some extra THATMuse points (bonus points embedded in text so to be sure hunters stay alert to our precious text!) by asking them to scribble some things we could not do without the wheel, just to be sure they pause to see its significance.

Archeologist Sir Leonard Woolley made a tremendous discovery in what was the city of Ur (in Mesopotamia’s Sumer – today in southern Iraq). He excavated 1800 graves, 16 of which had so much treasure that he called them Royal Tombs.

Leonard Woolley holding uncovered Sumerian harp at city of Ur, in southern Iraq, 1920s
Leonard Woolley and one of his amazing finds

In display case 17 we have some of these treasures. The “Standard of Ur” is a hollow,trapezoidal-shaped mystery box (Woolley never figured out what it was for). But its decoration is of great interest. Mosaic scenes, little precious stones laid to make a recognizable pattern, or in this case to tell a story, made from shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli, set in bitumen give us the skinny on some objects within the Royal Tomb of Ur (or for us more conservative travelers, the British Museum room). On one side of the Standard is a Sumerian army, with chariots (the earliest known representation of the wheeled vehicles!) and horses rolling over their enemies (quite literally!) and infantry charging their enemy. What tickles me is that these little guys are all bald and in skirts. They do look awfully busy, though. The stories are divided into three rows, with the King presiding at top. We can recognize him easily, as he’s not only bigger than the others, his skirt is special — made of fleece.  You can see both sides on the image below.

Both sides of the Standard of Ur, sowing both city and battle scenes.
The Standard of Ur

On the other side the story’s all about peace and prosperity. Good times with a procession of men bringing animals, fish and other goods. At the top the king banquets among his friends, entertained by a singer and a man with a lyre. Don’t scoot off too quickly, though! That lyre has a bull’s head at the end of it, and brilliantly, the BM has placed the real lyre, also with bull’s head, in a nearby display case. Leonard Woolley excavated The Great Death Pit with an ingenious method of pouring hot wax over his finds and lifting them out to later reconstruct them when necessary. This was especially useful for the Royal Game of Ur, not too far away (and a prime “Fun & Games THATBrit” piece). But there’s another treasure that makes its way onto the story board of this Standard of Ur. If you take a look at the horses in the Sumerian war scene they all have a double loop on their backs. That was apparently to keep the horse’s reins in order, and an example of a real rein-loop is in this room, over in the display case with Queen Puabi, whom we’ve visited with in our last blog post.

When you’re on a hunt you’re going to be racking up these extra THATMuse points, what with all of this help from reading these posts! Within the hunt, the Standard only tells you to go find some objects within the mosaic, but thanks to doing some sleuthing prior to meeting au Musée, you know what you’re looking for!

Archeologist Sir Leonard Woolley made a tremendous discovery in 1922-32 when he uncovered the Royal Tombs in the Mesopotamian city of Ur (today’s Southern Iraq). This fantastic find is referred to as “the Great Death Pit”. As well it should! His excavation team unearthed 1800 graves, 16 of which had such treasures that Woolley titled them “royal tombs”, all dating from 2800-2370 BC. Below the simple graves of the common people lay the elite of Ur. Although commoners also made it to that lower level, as some of this Sumerian royalty were accompanied in the afterlife with their attendants!

Among the richest tombs was that of Queen Puabi (we know her name from a fine cylinder seal of lapis lazuli found in display case 13, above that adorable donkey on the double rein-loop). She lay on a wooden bier, a gold cup near her hand. She not only had 25 attendants in her midst, all laid out in orderly rows and with cups near their hands as well, in her adjacent chamber there were another 65 attendants (talk about getting help in the afterlife!). Some were musicians, as instruments such as a wonderful bull-headed harp, were found buried with their owners. The burial process here is a bit of a mystery, and Woolley had several hypotheses which evolved as he discovered more tombs over the course of the excavation.

Crushed skull and remains of gold headdress in British Museum
Queen Puabi’s intricate headdress and crushed skull

We don’t know the cause of Queen Puabi’s death, but do know that her skull was crushed, possibly from the weight of the soil over the thousands of years that passed before the Royal Tomb of Ur was discovered. She, like other fine ladies of Ur, was buried with an elaborate headdress that was crushed. (The picture above shows what the crushed skull and headdress look like today.) Leonard Woolley was ingenious at extracting these treasures, by way of pouring hot wax (THATMuse Bonus?) over them before lifting them out of the Great Death Pit, so to reconstruct them later (incidentally, Leonard’s wife, Katherine, reconstructed Queen Puabi’s headdress to its original grandeur with gold leaf and ribbons, sprinkling through treasured lapis lazuli pendants.)  The image below is an example of this beautiful headdress. 

gold headdress of leaves flowers and rings on a black model head, reconstruction of Quenn Puabi's burial at Ur, Mesopotamia 2600 BC
A reconstruction of the beautiful headdress

But let’s back up a bit, and ponder those attendants… When you think of Human Sacrifice you think of the Aztecs or Mayans, no? Well how can you explain all of her attendants? They can’t have ALL died voluntarily, just because their precious Queen died… Yet all the bodies were laid out in an orderly fashion, evidently peaceful. Originally Woolley thought they had been killed to reflect the King’s (or in this case, Queen’s) power. Yet they all had cups by their hands, just like Queen Puabi. Could this be a poison they voluntarily drank in loyalty Woolley wondered. Or perhaps (more likely to my imagination, although I’m not very subservient) they were sedatives and the real cause was sealing off the chamber to suffocate them. A few of the skulls on the other hand received blunt force trauma, implying a less than servile attitude to killing themselves for their Queen!

However you see it, the story of the Royal Tombs of Ur is pretty grisly – just right for a Skull Scouting THATBrit, or of course a Lady Hunt or Kings & Leaders hunt, wouldn’t you say?

The Aztecs in the British Museum

Turquoise double headed serpent with white shell teeth and red shell mouth and nose. Aztec, 15th century AD, British Museum
Aztec turquoise double headed serpent in the British Museum

The Aztecs had an extensive empire in Mexico, ruling from the Island metropolis of Tenochtitlan, in Lake Texcoco. They forged an imperial dynasty based on military prowess and a network of long-distance trade and tribute routes that stretched from the Caribbean to the Pacific.  They treasured the precious stone, turquoise, which among other green stones symbolized life-giving water and the sources of fertility. The mineral was scarce, and reserved for ritual objects and ceremonial regalia worn by priests and rulers. Aztec trading emissaries went as far as the South-West of North America (think Texas, New Mexico and Arizona) where there were mines of turquoise. However, only about 55 turquoise mosaics are known to have survived. Taking the scenic route to the BM’s room 27, here there are 9 of their finest examples. The BM bought them in Continental Europe – it’s thought that they may have made their way to Europe via Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes, who the Aztecs would have presented with such treasures upon his arrival to the coast of Mexico in 1519 AD.

Human skull decorated with turquoise and onyx with iron agate eyes and leather straps for wering. Aztec, 16th Century AD, British Museum
A real human skull decorated with onyx and turquoise.

Examples range from one of the BM’s highlight, a double headed snake. To a frightening skull, who would have dangled around the waist of a priest while he was making sacrifices (think cutting the heart out of some poor schmoe!). Then there are turquoise mosaics, such as on the handle of the sacrificial knife, in case the skull didn’t drive home the gruesomenature of their sacrifices, this knife was actually used in obtaining the live, blood-pumping hearts from their sacrificial victims!

A high priest would have needed their hands free (to hold the knife, presumably!), so the priest would have worn the skull dangling around his waist while performing a human sacrifice which was made in the belief that blood offerings kept the sun on its course. Now how’s that for grisly & gross?

Remember, hunters, if a sentence is bold it’s likely to be helpful on bonus questions for while you’re hunting!

Livia Drusilla, standing marble sculpture as Ops, with wheat sheaf and cornucopia, 1st C BC, Louvre

Livia Drusilla, first Empress of Rome, was indisputably the most powerful woman in the Julio-Claudian Roman Empire. All Julio-Claudian emperors were her direct descendants, despite having a childless marriage to the 1st Emperor of Rome, Augustus (formerly Octavian Augustus, back when there was a triumvirate and Rome was a Republic). This marriage lasted 50 years and by all accounts was a partnership of two clever minds. Livia (58 BC – 29 AD) saw to it that her son Augustus’s step-son, inherited the throne. This, despite the fact that Augustus intended five others to inherit the throne (all of whom happened to die, some under rather suspicious conditions).

Basanite bust of Empress Livia (58 BC – 29 AD), Louvre

Because this bust is basanite (a volcanic rock), it’s believed to have been sculpted just after the Battle of Actium (2 September 31 BC), when Octavian Augustus seized Cleopatra’s kingdom (the loss of this naval battle caused Mark Anthony to commit suicide). This would have made Livia 27 years old, already an able leader just as cunning as her Egyptian counterpart, Queen Cleopatra.

With senators on both sides of her family, Livia was not only the crème of the Roman aristocratic crop, she also had financial independence from Emperor Augustus (and from her former husband, the father of her two sons) through being granted the ‘marks of status’ in 35 AD, which was rarely granted to women. Soon thereafter she was also granted the sancrosancitas, which gave her the same rights Augustus had.

Tacitus described Livia as malevolent and called her a “feminine bully” and Robert Graves had a ball depicting her shrewd ambition in I, Claudius as the epitome of a scheming matriarch poisoning anyone who crossed her, and anyone who got in the path of her son Tiberius inheriting the throne (though Graves did a great service to widening our BBC knowledge of Roman History, he might have been slightly fictitious). But no one questioned the fact of either her cunning intelligence or her absolute power. Second only to her husband. The Julio-Claudian family tree can be slightly complicated with brothers and sisters marrying (Caligula, for one), but all of the Emperors stemmed from Livia. Tiberius (14-37 AD) was her son, Caligula (37-41 AD) her grandson, Claudius (41 – 54 AD) her grandson, Nero (54-68 AD) her great-grandson.

With so many anecdotes under her belt, Livia is a perfect candidate for plenty of THATLou Themes, from Kings + Leaders to Ladies at the Louvre or seen as Ops holding wheat she could even be suitable for the Thanksgiving Food + Wine hunt. Wheat was free in Rome, which is perhaps why their bread is so delicious … 2000 years of practice with the forno certainly shows off! As for her Cornucopia, abounding with fruit, there’s another larger one found two rooms over in this Denon ground floor (Rez-de-Chausse, in French).

And if you’re ever hunting at the British Museum, keep an eye out for several elegant busts of our favorite empress there in the Roman & Greek antiquities section! Keep an eye out for a bust of Livia dressed as Ceres (the Roman goddess of the harvest) as she might just make another reappearance in our THATBrit Babes & Love Hunt.



Things in bold are sometimes references to bonus questions…

Emperor TIBERIUS, 2nd Emperor of Rome (14 – 37 AD)

Emperor Tiberius, 6.8″ statue found in Capri, now in the Louvre
Emperor Tiberius, this 6.8″ statues was found in Capri (where he’d retired from Rome)

Stepson of Augustus (first Emperor of Rome), Tiberius was an impressive military man, with several significant battles under his belt. He wasn’t, however, very well suited to civilian life in Rome, where his mother, Livia, insisted he stay toward the end of Augustus’s life (to ensure that he inherit the throne). To further secure this inheritance, Livia also had Augustus (never fond of his awkward stepson) force Tiberius to divorce his wife, whom he loved deeply, in order to marry Augustus’s adulterous – and fun – daughter, Julia. The marriage was a fiasco, however it served Livia’s purpose perfectly. Pliny the Elder named Tiberius the “Gloomiest of Men”.

Second emperor to the Julio-Claudian Roman Empire, Tiberius was a sick, corrupt, perverse man, and very fond of his equally sick, corrupt and perverse nephew, Caligula, who would inherit Tiberius’s throne. From Seneca to Suetonius, Caligula was a depraved, insane tyrant. The latter accused Caligula of incest with his sisters, Agrippina the Younger, Drusilla and Livilla and say he prostituted them to other men. Famously he also is said to have made his horse, Incitatus a consul and appointed him a priest.

bust of Emperor Gaius Caligula, Louvre Paris
Emperor Gaius Caligula, a sick puppy who reigned 37-41 AD. Louvre.fr

The Roman Empire, established just a few Emperors before, was going to hell, until the stammering, stuttering cripple, Claudius inherited the throne (the Praetorian guards named Claudius Emperor in 41 AD after Caligula’s assassination, as he was the last male adult of the Julio Claudian left). He proved to be an able leader, focusing on canals, aqueducts, bridges, balancing power back toward the Senate (after Tiberius and Caligula had purged much of Rome of a voice), and winning many provinces under his reign (Thrace, Pamphylia and beginning the conquest of Britain to name a few). Sadly for the Roman Empire, Claudius was married to another Sour Grape and was followed by nephew Nero (reigned 54 – 68 AD), who was yet another sick puppy. The last of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty.

 Emperor Claudius (reigned 41–54 AD), part of the Borghese Collection at the Louvre
Emperor Claudius (reigned 41–54 AD), part of the Borghese Collection at the Louvre

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 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
.

Last time we wound our way from considering the Prado and Spain in the general, to zeroing in on a contemporary replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s  Mona Lisa. In our last post we shamelessly lingered on poor Leonardo’s sex life (with the weak excuse of saying “hey, the Prado La Gioconda may have been by this pupil / servant / lover, Andrea Salai, so we better delve into some sodomy charges, right?”).  In so doing we also trashed Leonardo to a small extent to say that THATLou prefers plenty of Leonardo’s contemporaries. In other words, we’ve really been all over the place, from Madrid to Paris, and through Leonardo’s boudoir. Now we aim to turn a slightly more positive note, one which isn’t quite so NY Post Page Six, or Hello!Magazine trashy. And we can also shake this ‘we‘ing. What, do we think we’re royal or something, with all this smut?

Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1490, An Old Man and his Grandson, Louvre
Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1490, An Old Man and his Grandson, Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

Let’s start with touching ever so briefly on some examples of masterpieces by Leonardo’s contemporaries. da Vinci studied in Verrocchio’s Florentine studio alongside Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticcelli, and one of my all time favourites, Domenico Ghirlandaio. I won’t examine any of these three painters in depth, just want to drop you off with some of their paintings herewith. And then our next post, concerning Andrea Salai, will be the conclusion to this round-about Prado Mona Lisa series. It’s timely to consider Salai, as his paintings may just become a spot more valuable if conservationists decide that the Prado’s La Gioconda was by his hand and not by Francesco Melzi.

My favourite painting at the Louvre by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 – 1494) is constantly being lent out. I guess this is a tribute to how good it is, but I find it very annoying indeed when I find the flimsy little paper hand-scribbled by some curator apologising for the fact that it’s gone missing for another few months. It’s a great painting. Despite his grotesque nose, the Old Man’s look is so quiet and calming as he considers his grandson. You can nearly see him thinking.

Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Three Graces, 1483-86, Louvre
Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Three Graces, 1483-86, Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

Another Leonardo contemporary who I prefer is Sandro Botticelli (1445 – 1510). Though I didn’t include his Louvre Venus and Three Graces when I was considering various Three Graces in July (including the recently-discovered Three Graces by Cranach ‘s – which is just unsurpassable), I’ll take this complete non-sequitur as a chance to include it herewith. Couldn’t you picture this Venus and Three Graces in at least one THATLou? Perhaps a Ladies at the Louvre hunt, or better still the Love Hunt which is due to take place for couples and lovey-doves the evening of Friday 14 December?

Pietro Perugino, St Sebastian, 1495, Louvre
Pietro Perugino, St Sebastian, 1495, Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

Pietro Perugino (1446 – 1523). He’s a tricky one to choose a fave at the Louvre, because there are so many good ones. There’s always something tactile for me with Perugino. The paint is so smooth and the colors so uniform that he makes me want to stroke the canvas. Anyway, if I have to choose, I’ll go with his St Sebastian (which as a total aside, I was interested with how many St Sebastians we came across at both the Thyssen Bornemiszia, as well as the Prado. Do the Spanish have a thing for him, perhaps?).

After today’s segue-way of some top-tier Renaissance painters, the next post will take a step down (or back?) and worm its way back to the likely painter of the Prado’s version of La Gioconda – and will take a look at Andrea Salai’s paintings. That Little Devil!

The Prado’s Gioconda

 La Gioconda contemporary copy, 1503 – 1516, Museo del Prado
La Gioconda contemporary copy, 1503 – 1516, Museo del Prado, taken from Wikipedia

The other day I touched on Spain’s Span Across Europe in the general. It’s true that Spain’s reach was just so broad that it’s hard to know what to focus on at the Prado (the royal collection reflecting the crown’s omnipresence). However, what’s better to linger on than a hermetically sealed connection between the Prado and the Louvre? And what better represents the Louvre than Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? It’s a painting I generally avoid – in my treasure hunts, or in person at the museum. Too much hype surrounds her cryptic eyes, too much money spent on magnets with her “enigmatic” smile – not to mention the flocks of publicists who’ve promoted a ‘famous author’, as St Sulpice refers to Dan Brown, and his tours to the Mona Lisa. (and yes I do love St Sulpice for thinking it below them to even name this famous author, resentful of the many tourists who march right past their Delacroix frescoes or Pigalle Baptismal font to find the P/S in the stained glass + Meridian line mentioned in the Da Vinci Code).

But it feels like a knee-jerk reaction to Lisa’s fame to avoid her entirely. So while trawling the internet to soak up all-things-Prado I was truly floored and excited to read about last February’s discovery of a contemporary copy of the Mona Lisa, found at the Prado.

La Joconde’s, or Mona Lisa's, eyes at the Louvre
La Joconde’s eyes at the Louvre, Wikipedia

The picture is more than just a studio copy— apparently it changed as Leonardo developed his original composition. Infra-red reflectography images of the Prado version allowed conservators to see beneath the surface of the paint, to the under-drawing. Apparently the two versions were painted next to one another and painted au même temps! Which means the copy must have been by an apprentice in his studio.

 La Gioconda’s Eyes in the Prado’s version
La Gioconda’s Eyes in the Prado’s version, taken from wikipedia

There was a dull black background that left a deadening effect on the Prado Mona Lisa (who’s generally believed to have been Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the Florentine cloth merchant Francesco del Giocondo – thus the French and Spanish name for her La Joconde/Gioconda, respectively). Conservationists aren’t clear on why the black over-paint was there, but believe it was added in the 18th century.

Photographers crowding The Prado's Gioconda
The Prado’s Gioconda created quite the stir when it was unveiled last March

In 1992 Art Historian José María Ruiz Manero published a paper called “Italian Painting in 16th Century Spain” where he surmises that the painter was Flemish and that it was probably painted in Northern France. Because the Prado version’s wood was assumed to be oak (rarely used in Italy at the time) Northern Europe was an entirely plausible guess. However, last year the panel was found to be walnut, which was used in Italy — as was poplar, what da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is painted on.

What I don’t understand is why all of the newspapers refer to it as a copy, as in this Guardian article or this Time Magazine piece… If it was painted simultaneously and developed along side Leonardo’s, why isn’t it simply thought of as another painting of the same subject, by a lesser painter?

Even more interesting than this is who painted this Prado version of the Mona Lisa. Though it hasn’t been confirmed (the discovery was only unveiled at a National Gallery (London) conference of conservators, most people seem to believe it was by Andrea Salai, an assistant to and perhaps Leonardo’s lover. More on that for our next visit!