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.
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.
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.
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!
Our friend Alex applies to anyone thinking of a Kings + Leaders THATLou, of course, as per this adorable photo of our 8 year old Australian Rock Star, Drew, who found him with a punch to the air!
So here’s the clue:
Bust of ALEXANDER THE GREAT (also known as Inopos)
100 BC, Delos Cycladic Islands (Greece)
Parian Marble, .99 cm
Alexander the Great, or rather his 2nd C BC fragment here, is in one of the Parthenon Rooms quite close to the Louvre Icon Venus de Milo (as a “greatest hit” I bet you’ll find her photo on your map!). Before even delving into why we’ve included Alex in the Arts + Science Hunt, go on over and take 25 bonus points for a photo of your team with Venus de Milo. And take a moment to actually look at her, if you can manage the jostle of the crowds!
Initially thought to represent the Cycladic river-god, Inopos (thus the nickname), this bust of Alexander was found on the island of Delos. It is dated to about 100 BC due to the idealized face (which is similar to that of Venus– in their trepanned hair, similar brow-lines, deep-set eyes and slightly heavy oval faces). Alexander is hard to summarize, there are so many great anecdotes about him. He was both cruel (levelling Thebes, to make as an example to all of Greece) and clever (student of Aristotle, Alex learned about geography, zoology, politics and medicine from the age of 13). Alexander brought scientists with him on his military campaigns and sent plant and animal specimens back to his former mentor.
Though he was a “do-er” (having conquered an empire as far-reaching as India before he died, aged 33), Alex also understood the importance of observation. For instance, His father, Philip of Macedonia bought an exceptionally expensive horse, Bucephalus, who he couldn’t tame. Alexander observed that the horse was frightened of his own shadow, so he bet his father that he could mount him, and indeed he did simply by turning him into the sun. Alex was also able to think outside the box, important to solving problems. An oracle had decreed that whoever untied the Gordian knot (which was very intricate without a starting point as it’d been made of cornel bark and had hardened over time) would conquer all of Asia. Frustrated by the knot Alexander simply sliced it in half proclaiming “I have ‘loosed’ it!”. The Gordian knot has since become synonymous with an intractable problem that requires an unconventional solution.
Alexander is included here, however, because of his considerable patronage to new inventions and scientific research. He understood the importance of time for research and study, and that they needed funding, Scientific patronage cannot be overlooked – and who better to represent this than the founder of Alexandria, the new science capital. (which, after his death, was run by Ptolemy (Alex’s former personal bodyguard) and founded the famous Alexandrian Library, for which a significant part of Egypt’s state budget must have been devoted for the support of science; visitors and staff received free accommodation and a government salary with obligation simply to participate in debate amongst colleagues. How’s that for putting priority on the pursuit of Science?
Science-Académie (known as Science-Ac’) was established in 2006 with just a few hundred students. Today this Paris-Montagne Association now stands at 2000 students, enlivening the interest of high school students and pre-BAC kids in Science. Science-Ac was born from the l’Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS is the French equivalent of MIT, for you American readers), and has generational dons or tutors per each level, PhD candidates doing lab work alongside high-schoolers. Their proximity in age no doubt bolsters the inspiration for the students to further their scientific studies.
Here are two adorable opinions on how to conduct a THATLou strategy on You Tube, as described by Drew (8, photographed above) and his sister Zoe (12), hailing from Australia and out on European trip for 4 months.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace has appeared in many THATLous, from Angels + Wings to of course Beauty + the Beast(iary). A variation of the write up attached to her (below in italics) generally has some sneaky bonus question inserted. As she’s an Icon of the Louvre, her photo is on the map — easy to find making her only 10 game points*. Sometimes the bonus questions request hunters to pose in their photos with their hands as she once had them, cupping her lips as she calls out Victory! With her hand on display nearby within the Daru Staircase (some of her fingers were found in a drawer at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna), it would take hunters a bit of time to actually read the Louvre’s information sheets about her in order to win these craftily embedded bonus points (Or maybe you’ve already read this very post, saving you time on your hunt!). Other bonus questions get involved in her whereabouts, Samothrace being in the Northern Aegean sea, north of Pergamon (an important ancient Greek colony in Turkey that at times became a ping pong ball between the Persians and Greeks).
The Winged Goddess of Victory / Nike of Samothrace (Nike = Victory in Greek) stands proudly on the prow of a ship, soaring above the Daru Stairwell. She is one of those Hellenistic treasures we all have to study in Art History 101, a piece as noteworthy to the Louvre as the Mona Lisa or Venus de Milo. She was found in Samothrace where a sanctuary was consecrated to the Cabeiri (gods of fertility) whose help was invoked to protect seafarers and to grant victory in war. Honouring these gods, they offered this nearly nude Nike made of Parian Marble in a religious act. It has also been suggested that she was dedicated to Rhodes, in commemoration of a specific naval victory. No one is certain of her provenance, however, the partial inscription of the word Rhodes implies the whereabouts of whatever battle she was presiding over.
That said the Archeological Museum of Samothrace contests this Rhodian provenance, maintaining to this day that she was erected by the Macedonian general Demetrius I (aka Poliorcetes) after his naval victory at Cyprus between 295-289 BC. Samothrace was an important sanctuary for Macedonian kings, furthermore her spiral figure also appeared on contemporary Macedonian coins.
Wherever this beauty is from, she was discovered dislodged by the French Counsul (read: amateur archaeologist) Charles Champoiseau (I’m convinced that all British, French and German 19th century Consuls, Consul Generals and Diplomats were required to be ‘amateur archaeologist’ — on the prowl in foreign lands to see just what they could ravage their visiting countries of. Diplomacy was a side business they fit in when they happened to be in town for a cocktail and shower). M Chamoiseau swiftly excavated her, sending both Nike and the prow on which she stands to the halls of the Louvre in 1863.
By 1884 she was holding sway over the grand Daru Staircase and has been there ever since…. Sauf! During WWII. She was removed on 2 September 1939 — to be sheltered in the safety of Château de Valençay (along with other Louvre Icons, Michelangelo’s Dying Slavesand the Venus de Milo), in case Paris saw war. Every time I mount these stairs among the throngs of tourists I think of these evacuating railway tracks (as seen below) and how incredibly lucky the treasures of the Louvre and Paris were not to have bombed during WWII — but also how horribly ironic is was that Nike’s original purpose was to be the first in battle against the Titans, protecting Zeus, and yet here she was hiding out in a Château cowering against the Germans. Anyway, WWII is subject on France I probably shouldn’t get into.
The 7th century BC Greek poet, Hesiod has it that Nike was the daughter of Styx (Hatred) and Pallas (God of War Craft); Part of a powerful clan, Nike was sister to Zelos (Rivalry), and Kratos (Strength) and Bia (Force). When Zeus was preparing to battle the Titans, Styx and her brood pledged their allegiance to him. Zeus made Nike his charioteer and proclaimed that the four children should remain by his side always (who’d be stupid enough to turn down the children of Hatred, when it comes to fighting a war?). Though Nike was a popular theme for Greek sculpture, her story doesn’t really continue past Zeus’s battle against the Titans.
As for her wonderfully sexy form, with typical Hellenistic material no thicker than cling-wrap, her movement forward is powerful. For a thorough examination of this I recommend this page from the Met’s website for a context and timeline on the Hellenistic age. As per the first photo’s caption, she was meant to be viewed from the right, so the detail of her left side is relatively course.
The proper pronunciation of Nike is Nee-Kay — Just Say It!
(Photo credited to Nicolas de Boyer, published in 1995 by Lynn H. Nichols The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Teasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War.New York: Vintage Books)
* You’ll see when we meet for the THATLou briefing, 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 on pieces like the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, or our own Nike of Samothrace.
When things are in bold, usually that’s a hint that they refer to bonus questions…
My mind has turned to Power & Money at the Louvre as I start to build the Entrepreneur’s THATLou. Sadly it’s rather soon. I say sadly, because there are just so many great anecdotes nestled in the halls of the Louvre. It will be a tough process of elimination more than anything. Should I focus on a region or country? A period of time, perhaps?
For this theme, could I give myself a real challenge and exclude all French monarchs? The Louvre does have 35,000 works from which to scrounge. And it’s not like France is lacking in colourful figures with tight fists on power: Mme de Pompadour, Mme de Sevigné and Diane de Poitiers are a few who come to mind – None actual Queens. And ruthlessly ambitious ministers abound – we’ve got the clever economist Jean-Baptiste Colbert, of Colbertism (read, protectionism), the fearsome warrior, Anne de Montmorency (first constable to François I), and the clergymen-turned-politicians Cardinal Richelieu and Talleyrand. But it does seem a crime to leave out the rest of the western cannon just for France.
What about Alexander the Great, and his equally important father Philip of Macedon? The Louvre just had an exhibition devoted solely to him. He had the nerve to attack the Persian Empire, pushing as far as the Indus River. Speaking of the Persian Empire, we mustn’t over look Darius the Great, nor his father or son, Cyrus and Xerxes, respectively. His greatness and matching palace has merited more than one THATLou post.
Then what about the Iliad? The Trojan War is rich in power. Achilles, with his distinctly human faults, personifies power. Perhaps because of that very first scene with him in the Iliad, with Thetis, his goddess mother consoling the big whiney cry baby, trying to coax him into returning to war). There are so many scenes from his life to choose from, so many pots to choose from… the detail below is from an attic black-figured neck amphora from 520 – 510BC. A scene of Ajax carrying a dead Achilles, with Hermes on his left, Athena on his right.
Moving on from Greece, one automatically thinks of Rome, no? Finding living fiction, the Julio-Claudian dynasty is of course oozing in power — and very, very RICH in soap-opera, with scheming murders, adultery and just plain juice. Yes, I think our next few posts may linger on the Roman Empire.