THATMuse

I went to the American Library to hear Pamela Druckerman speak on her recently published book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.  The WSJ’s review headline was “French Parents are Superior”, causing a flurry of publicity that officially replaces Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as the latest all-the-rage parenting book in the States. Druckerman, a former WSJ journalist (thus perhaps the publicity-catching review — to position her book as polemic certainly helps sales!), has been raising her 6-year old and a set of 3-year old twins in Paris.

I have no intention of reading her book. STORSH, my one year old, would reap no benefit from my profound resentment at wasting my time on a parenting book; I’ve found them to give parents far too much credit. However, because a good friend in NY sent me the WSJ link and then in the course of two days I heard a plethora of references to Druckerman, my curiosity was peaked. I was relieved that at points her talk was more publicity-prone, with twinges of a sociological argument, more than any of the parenting pontification that I expected. Throughout it she kept referring to what research proved, even saying at one point that it was “aligned with science”. Is raising kids scientific? Her whole premise is that the French set strict boundaries for their children, but that within the parameters the kids can do whatever the hell they want. Is this scientific?

And is there really a ‘right way’ or a ‘wrong way’ to raise kids? Surely you don’t want some snot-nosed little brat with candy in their lap watching television in dirty pajamas in the middle of the day, but that’s basic common sense. We don’t have to consult experts or books to know that. But on a more mature, interesting level – because though I adore STORSH his age bracket isn’t the most scintillating – one instills in their child what one values. My wishes for him are simple: I’d like to see him develop into a well-mannered, well-read and widely travelled little guy who’s self-sufficient and engaged in society, whichever society he chooses to make home. But to reach this, all we as parents can do is lead by example. We’re simply guideposts.  As Druckerman told us anecdotes of how horribly the NY press treated her last week my mind wandered… If I want him habitually engaged in society, then we’ll have to be GOTV (get out the vote) volunteers during election time or pitch in at a community garden (although the only one I know of in Paris is a tiny patch at Marché des Enfants Rouges, so I guess we’ll have to make soup at St Eustache for the homeless). I was roused from my musings for the Q&A session.

The library crowd tends to be well educated and older. Last night’s reading, attended by probably a bit over a hundred people, had its share of 30 year old mothers mixed into the usual white-headed audience. The questions were slightly pissy, slightly aggressive and her tone was at times defensive, others dismissive as she cut people off. One of the questions pointed out that her talk was all about the public’s reaction to her book, opposed to about the book itself. This comment got a lot of nodding heads. Another question was by a mother of 3 (who’d been here for years) who asked if she didn’t think it was dangerous to idealise the French method to raising children. Druckerman dodged this, even when it was reiterated verbatim.  I don’t think there was one person in the crowd who had read the book (certainly everyone who had questions said they hadn’t), and none of left knowing more about why French parents were deemed wiser.

However, with more questions more of her experience researching the book came through, which at one point was amusing. Since most well-educated French women go back to work pretty soon after having a baby, and aren’t put under pressure to breast feed for long stretches, they tend to send their babies to the crèche, the state-run daycare — sometimes as early as 2.5 months. Druckerman said her American friends were horrified she let anything state run near her child, that it was like being told she sent her kids packaged up to the Post Office. I had similar reactions when I told friends in New York that STORSH was in the crèche at 9 months, but I think it’s a marvelous system. It socializes him. Plus he only gets Spanish from his father, el Argentino, and English from me, so it gives him a jumpstart to be around French. Druckerman pointed out, too, that the crèche provided her kids with 4 course meals of food she wouldn’t have even considered offering. When she told one of the French mothers about this American allergy to all things State, the mother said, “but I like La Poste.”

I like La Poste, too. Their soundtrack is nearly as catchy as SNCF’s. As for bringing up Bébé – be it in the States or France – there’s one thing I do know:  there’s nothing scientific about it.

This is the third of a three-part series about the Grand Palais. (First the second part see here, and the first part see here.) Written and photographed by Daisy de Plume.

FROM BEES TO FOOD (and back to design)

The most recent addition to the Grand Palais is its fashionista restaurant, the Mini Palais. Opened in the fall of 2010, it has clean minimalist lines, and like its larger counterpart (the unsurpassable Nave of the Grand Palais), is fully flooded in light despite the grey of Paris winter skies. The outstanding setting is between the Nave and the Colonnade — between the Palace’s metal structure and its stone façade. Warmer seasons afford a fittingly magnificent setting on the balcony, with views of the Alexandre III Bridge.

Upon entering the restaurant, one passes massive bronze doors of the Alexandre III Rotunda. They don’t fail to impress, nor do the delicately restored mosaics lining the floor. Redesigned by architects Gilles & Boissier, their aim was to resemble an artist’s workshop, whilst revealing the mammoth metal structures painted in the Grand Palais’s trademark mignonette green.

Eric Frechon, the restaurant’s consultant chef who holds three Michelin stars, has come up with an innovative menu including Clafoutis aux Cepes de Correze, Escargots dans leur Tomate cerise gratins au beurre d’Amande and Pluma de Cochon au Tandoori, Confit d’Oignon, Pommes Paille. Open from noon to midnight (2 AM on weekends), the Mini-Palais continues to cause a stir across Paris.

Reservations (01 42 56 42 42) are strongly suggested, unless you’re stopping in for a scrumptious dessert between lunch and dinner. Entrance: Avenue Winston-Churchill, Pont Alexandre-III 75008 (entrance via the Alexandre III Rotunda). Metro: Champs-Elysees Clemenceau / valet parking service is also provided. 

As promised in the first of this 3-part series, here is a list of WOW Factor Facts:

  • The Grand Palais was built in just 3 years, from 1897 to 1900
  • Workforce on the construction site in 1900 at its peak: 1,500
  • The flag flown over the building measures 4 x 6 m
  • Facade perimeter: 1 km
  • Total metal weight for the entire Grand Palais: 8,500 metric tons
  • Weight of steel in the Nave: 6,000 metric tons
  • Weight of the “mignonette green” paint inside the Nave: 60 metric tons
  • Total stone weight: 200,000 metric tons
  • Working area: 72,000 m2
  • Nave floor space: 13 500 m2
  • Nave length: 200 m
  • Height: 45 m under the dome

What’s a-Buzz About the Grand Palais?

This is the second of a three-part series about the Grand Palais (for the first post, see here), a loose tip of the hat to Walter Benjamin. All photos in this series are taken by Daisy de Plume.

The Grand Palais is divided into three distinct areas: The Nave (which has currently been taken over by French artist Daniel Buren – the show’s running till 21 June 2012), the Galeries Nationales (“Animal Beauty” is the exhibition including works from Breughel to Jeff Koons, da Vinci to Matisse. This show is running till 16 July 2012 – 11 euro admission) and the Palais de la Découverte (Science Museum – Hair and Science is their current exhibition, till 26 August 2012 – 7 euro admission). A separate gallery, known as the “Southeast Gallery” has the first Helmut Newton retrospective in France since he died in 2004.

All of these tenants – and their exhibits – deserve articles unto themselves, of course. However, I haven’t exhausted the Grand Palais tenant list yet, which is what I aim to cover herewith. Some GP occupants don’t fit into the sparkling cultural cosmos of Paris in quite the same way.

For instance, who’s above and below? As is commonly the case in France, we have some unlikely bedmates. In the basement the police HQ of the 8th Arrondissement has what must be a sprawling spread. And then if we toddle all the way up to the roof (oh, say 45 meters / 147 feet up) the most unlikely guests pay the most delicious rent: Two queen bees have their hives up there, in the pure air above the Champs-Elysees. I run treasure hunts at the Louvre for an occupation, but I have to say these bees are far more interesting that the short-term renters like Breughel and Matisse, Koons and Newton.

In May 2009 a local beekeeper, Nicolas Géant, set up shop on both the roofs of the Grand Palais and Garnier’s Opera House, adding to a surprising Parisian reputation as an urban jungle. Floral honey, which is made from pollen and nectar taken from a 3-km perimeter – read the Champs-Elysees’ many small flowers, lime trees, chestnuts and lavendars, the tree-lined Seine, perhaps a jaunt over to Invalide – is aptly labeled “Grand Palais Honey”.

Since then, beehives have been set up on the roof of the ultra-modern Opera Bastille and in the Luxembourg Gardens, among other Parisian landmarks. “In Paris, each beehive produces a minimum of 50 to 60 kilograms (110 to 130 pounds) of honey per harvest, and the death rate of the colonies is 3 to 5 percent,” said Henri Clement, president of the National Union of French Beekeepers, “But in the countryside (where flowers have more pesticides), one beehive only gives you 10 to 20 kilograms (about 20 to 40 pounds) of honey, and the death rate is 30 to 40 percent. It is a sign of alarm.


I’ve posted other of these snaps on Pinterest (my name there, surprisingly, is THATLou).

This is the first part of a three-part series about the Grand Palais, in a loose tribute to Walter Benjamin.

With an iron, steel and glass barrel-vaulted roof running almost 240 meters (755 feet) long, Paris’s Grand Palais was the last of the large transparent structures inspired by London’s Crystal Palace. Necessary for large gatherings of people before the age of electricity fully took off, every major city seemed to have a Crystal Palace, caused of course by a Universal Exhibition to boost city coffers. New York built its Crystal Palace in 1853 where Bryant Park now sits (ironically the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue is the former site of the city’s reservoir – not enough water to put out the Crystal Palace’s 1856 fire, I guess). Hailed as a masterpiece, NY’s Crystal Palace had a dome 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter (and hosted the largest crocodile ever caught). 50 years of engineering strides allowed for a dome twice that size capping the Grand Palais (70 meters in diameter). To give a more tangible comparison of this spatially vast behemoth, Vanderbilt Hall’s ceiling in NY’s Grand Central Station is a dwarfing 40 feet (12 meters); The Grand Palais’s ceiling height is more than 100 feet taller – soaring up to 45 meters (147 feet). I’ll leave a laundry list of colossal figures in the 3rd part of this 3-part series, but suffice it to say: finally Swift’s adjective ‘Brobdingnag’ is applicable!

The main space was originally connected to the other parts of the palace along an east-west axis by a grand staircase in a style combining Classical and Art Nouveau, but the interior layout has since been somewhat modified. The architectural competition was fierce and controversial, and ultimately resulted in the contract being awarded to a group of four architects, Henri Deglane, Albert LouvetAlbert Thomas and Charles Girault, each with a separate area of responsibility. The builders tried to compensate for a drop in the water table and a shift to the ground by supporting posts down to firmer soil. These measures, however, were only partially successful.  Additional problems due to the construction of the building itself revealed themselves over the past century. Differential rates of expansion and contraction between cast iron and steel members, for example, allowed for water to enter, leading to corrosion and further weakening. When finally one of the glass ceiling panels fell in 1993, the main space had to be closed for restoration work (just a small sign, I guess). Renovation work continued for 14 years, finally the Grand Palais was reopened in 2007.

I’ve posted other of these snaps on Pinterest (my name there, surprisingly, is THATLou).

Annunciation 1440, Rogier van der Weyden
Annunciation 1440, Rogier van der Weyden (1399 – 1464), at the Louvre

Yesterday’s Christmas Countdown reviewed the symbolic elements that usually appear in The Annunciation, accompanied by some really 2nd-rate versions of the common subject found at the Louvre. As promised, today we’re getting the good stuff. In general my favourite periods of painting tend to be either Italian or Spanish Baroque. That said there are some things for which the early Netherlandish just can’t be beat — among them, symbolism and minuscule rich detail. So with that, I’ll leave you with three peerless Annunciations in Paris, NY and DC. Each detail in all three paintings have merited full PhD doctorate thesises. I will choose just one point and leave you with a short paragraph:

Rogier van der Weyden’s Annunciation at the Louvre (above):

Look at the small glass vase on the mantle above the fireplace, on the upper left hand side. The way it catches the light is brilliant, as is the shadow it casts on the grey corner. But it also means something – which is part of what makes this period so incredibly tight, that nothing can be left for ‘random’. The very shape of that carafe is another reference to conception and birth. Drawn from the ‘scientific’ world, alchemists of the time used them to mix so-called male and female elements and called them “bridal chambers”.  When elements joined to form a third substance it was called a ‘child of the union’. These “bridal chamber” flasks** appear in numerous paintings of the time from Hans Memling to Hieronymous Bosch, from van Eyck to our very own van der Weyden’s Annunciation.

The Merode Triptych (1427-1432) – Robert Campin, at the Met’s Cloisters (NY)
The Merode Triptych (1427-1432) – Robert Campin, at the Met’s Cloisters (NY)

The Mérode Triptych tells the story of the Annunciation, with the donors kneeling in the courtyard to the left and Joseph, a carpenter and Mary’s betrothed, is building a mousetrap on the right. The mousetrap symbolizes Christ’s trapping and defeat of the devil, a metaphor used thrice by St Augustine. More traps are found outside the window which Art Historian Erwin Panofsky (NYU, Princeton and Harvard) purported again symbolized that Jesus was used as a bait to capture Satan. Mice aside – can you see how the shutters are attached to the celling in Joseph’s studio? Such detail is a true delight and well worth taking the A train to the very top of Manhattan to see the Met’s medieval collection.

Annunciation 1434-1436, Jan van Eyck, Nat’l Gallery in Washington DC
Annunciation 1434-1436, Jan van Eyck, Nat’l Gallery in Washington DC

Though you may not be able to make this out, unless it’s projected on a large art history screen or in person perhaps, you can see that there are little words coming out of Gabriel and Mary’s mouths. In Latin, Gabriel says, “Hail, full of Grace…” and Mary demurs “Behold the Handmaiden of the Lord…”. If you can get past the somehow funny nature of the  cartoon-captions coming out of their mouths, you have to acknowledge that it’s pretty damned cool that van Eyck had Mary’s “Ecce Ancilla Dni” written upside down so that it would face God, since that is who she was addressing.

For a far more academic (and fascinating) piece on symbolism within Hans Memling’s Annunciation with Angelic Attendants by Shiraly Neilsen Blum, published by the Metropolitan Museum or Art in 1992, click on the link. This 16 page excerpt covers all three paintings as well as other Annunciations and their symbolism.

Sandro Botticelli's Madonna del Magnificat
Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna del Magnificat 1481, at the Uffizi, taken from Wikipedia

The Madonna Enthroned with baby Jesus in her lap and various saints in attendance is by far the most common religious subject in art history. To take a break from the Louvre’s Christmas paintings, and to veer from the divine Early Netherlandish Annunciations, for Christmas we’re turning out attention to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence with three Madonna and Child treasures.

Pietro Perugino's Enthroned Madonna and Christ
Pietro Perugino’s Enthroned Madonna and Christ , 1493, at the Uffizi, taken from Wikipedia

Back when we were considering Leonardo’s Contemporaries we touched on three fellow students all of whom flourished in their own style and by their own means. Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Leonardo da Vinci were all four students at one point or another in Andrea del Verrocchio’s 15th Century Florentine studio.

Domenico Ghirlandaio's Madonna + Child
Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Madonna + Child enthroned with Saints, 1483, at the Uffizi, taken from Wikipedia

Just a quick thought on each of the three: That first Botticelli Madonna del Magnificat is actually the Piero de’ Medici family, pudgy Jesus’s hand on a pomegranate symbolising the Resurrection. Perugino, always a smooth operator, painted the same scene with a silky, serene stroke: Mary and Christ flanked by Saint John the Baptist (in hirsute) and St Sebastian (a fave subject of Perugino).  And essays (and probably books, too) have been written about Oriental Carpets in Renaissance painting, with that last Ghirlandaio being included in all of them, no doubt.

Without much more ado I shall let the paintings speak for themselves, and leave you without more text than to say:

Happy Christmas!

THE American Expat Painter

Yes, I guess that title and caps-lock implies just how very much I like John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). He’s probably my favorite American painter*, expat or otherwise.

A Street in Venice, 1880
A Street in Venice, 1880, Clark Art Institute, Mass

I’m happy to say a second THATd’Or is imminently descending upon the coffered halls of the Musée d’Orsay! Kristina Tencic, the AFMO’s Communications Liaison, and I are co-hosting another treasure hunt. This time it’s private and for an exclusive group of expat Americans who’ve been in France for a long time. Who at the Musée d’Orsay could represent such a group better than John Singer Sargent?

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882, MFA, Boston

And so it is with this in mind that I shall let my fingers flutter and see our subject cross the channel and the pond (although to be fair, John Singer Sargent (JSS) didn’t make it to the States till he was 20 years old, when he established citizenship). Both his parents were American, his father was a Dr in Philadelphia; 2 years prior to John’s birth his older sister died. This caused his mother, Mary Singer, to breakdown, and as a result his parents set sail for Europe, never returning. JSS was born in Florence, though he was raised with seasonal visits across Europe. If you’re born and raised “abroad” are you an expat – or is it simply “abroad” for your parents? For that matter, if you grow up on the road are you an expat?

Wyndam Sisters
Wyndam Sisters, 1899, Met, NYC

Putting questions of Sargent’s identity aside, he was without a doubt a great painter whose portraits created an enduring image of society of the Edwardian age, often focusing on ladies in their brocaded satin gowns. Though he studied in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts and under the fashionable society portraitist Carolus-Duran, the heavy spell of JSS’s idol, Velazquez, is apparent in most of his works. The haunting interior of The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882, at Boston’s MFA) has distilled light and delicately adjusted forms which pays tribute to Velazquez’s Las Meninas. Northern masters to influence Sargent were Frans Hals, with his quick stroke and light touch, and of course Anthony Van Dyck with his rich textures and fabrics.

El Jaleo, 1882, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Boston

Sargent’s best known work, and certainly his own favorite was the portrait of Madame X, the famous Parisian beauty. A fellow American expat, Madame Pierre Gautreau was a Louisiana Belle married to a Parisian banker. Sargent did a gazillion studies of her, spending a good amount of time at her country house in Brittany trying to get his studies right. A nervous and, I get the idea, self-important woman, Madame Gautreau never sat for long, but Sargent was the only portraitist of many who’d been granted the permission to paint her – no doubt due in part to being a compatriot – and he was dead-bent on capturing her marvelously.

Madame X, 1884 The Met
Madame X, 1884, The Met, NYC

When he finally did capture her, Sargent entered Madame X‘s soignée portrait in the Salon of 1884 and much to his despair was totally panned. Critics dismissed it as near pornography, complaining of the revealing décolleté black dress, all that skin and her provocative pose. One of the straps of her dress in the first version was off her shoulder! Scandalous! Discouraged by his Parisian failure he fled to London, welcomed by his good friend Henry James. London became his permanent home, but Sargent had many a client in the States, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and perhaps most importantly Isabella Stewart Gardner (who was one of his most loyal and forceful patrons).

Lingering on a light summary of Sargent’s life has been fun, but what to say of THATd’Or? Why have you been reading this? You must want some reward, other than the pleasant visit of seeing his quick and talented stroke, no? Well here’s the give-away: a second prize will go to the team who writes the best limerick which includes elements of the story of John Singer Sargent’s Carmencita, which our hunters will be seeking out at the Musée d’Orsay on Thursday night.

Carmencita, 1890
Carmencita, 1890, Musée d’Orsay

* Although Rembrandt Peale (1778 – 1860) is pretty damned good as well!

This Annunciation is by Carlo Braccesco, a Renaissance painter from Liguria active from 1478 to 1501. Doesn’t it look like Mary’s dodging a pigeon?

Annunciation - Carlo Braccesco
Annunciation – Carlo Braccesco, 16th C, Denon, 1st fl Grande Galerie Salle 5

The Annunciation is one of the most popular subjects in religious art. The story comes from Luke — Archangel Gabriel comes to the Virgin Mary out of the nowhere  (almost invariably he enters her bedchamber from a courtyard, although soon I’ll write about a great Annunciation at the National Gallery in DC by Jan van Eyck which has Gabriel visiting her in a church/temple) to announce to her that despite having lost out on not getting any she’s going to have to go through the fun of being preggers for 9 months. Then she’ll give birth to the son of God, which he suggests (strongly, sometimes) she name Jesus, which means “Saviour”.Logically the Annunciation takes place nine months prior to Christmas on 25 March (and according to Wikipedia the English celebrate it, which I find interesting as I think of the English as largely Protestant, so they technically shouldn’t believe in saints and miracles, but perhaps they’re just Protestants for the sake of Henry VIII replacing his wives?).

Anyway, in art the Annunciation generally has a few of the following symbolic elements: The Lilly (the Virgin’s purity**), a ray of laser-like light from a window (indicates God’s imminent incarnation), a blown out candle (symbolic of God’s divinity, about to be extinguished, a further reference to the Incarnation – the moment when God became man), a dove (flying towards Mary’s ear — which is where conception took place. No laughing, please), flowers in a vase (the “Golden Legend” took place in Nazareth, which means Flower, but also points out to when it took place, the springtime). And for some reason usually Mary’s reading when Gabriel interrupts/surprises/visits her.

I will save my favourite Louvre Annunciation for tomorrow — for now I’ll leave you with some Louvre second-rate ones (when compared to my beloved Annunciation by Rogier van der Weyden).

Bernardo Daddi
Annunciation – Bernardo Daddi, 1335 Florence

Sometimes Mary and Gabriel are on the same footing, and it’s just an idle conversation you may see between neighbours in their respective backyards, through an open gate or over a fence.

Annunciation – Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) St Maria Novella d’Arezzo
Annunciation – Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) St Maria Novella d’Arezzo

Or you can see the Virgin as Vasari did, as a Yogi levitating. We have Vasari to thank for having Art History, insofar as his The Lives was the first book about his contemporary Renaissance painters. He was great in many ways (including giving us the smut! As THATMuse passed along when pondering Leonardo’s Lover), but actually painting was not one of Vasari’s strong-suits. He should have kept to writing as this Annunciation reflects.

Annunciation – Giulio Cesare Procaccini, 1620, Milano
Annunciation – Giulio Cesare Procaccini, 1620, Milano

Or then you have Procaccini’s Annunciation where it looks like Gabriel’s about to snap his wrist across Mary’s face

“You WILL call him Jesus”

“Cummmon, Man! I want to name him Graydon!”


Tomorrow you’ll get the good stuff – the Annunciation from some Northerners. Just a quick PS, though, Gabriel bringing Mary the lilies started appearing in Florentine Annunciations in the 14th century. The fleurs-de-lis (flower of lilies) was the heraldic symbol of Florence. Rivaling Siena, whose painters had their own school of thought on the matter, had Gabriel bring the Virgin an olive branch, which symbolised their own fine city. Gotta love the propaganda!

As promised in the last post regarding The Art Newspaper (with a slight interruption discussing the distracting former director of the Met, Philippe de Montebello), below are the top 15 of a list of 100 museums that comprise the world’s most visited museums list for 2011.

So if the Louvre has nearly 9 million visitors a year that comes to approximately 30,000 visitors a day (it’s closed on Tuesdays and bank holidays). According to a Carol Vogel profile in the NY Times on Henri Loyrette the Louvre’s attendance was up 67% during Loyrette’s tenure (which started in 2001, after 18 years as the head of the Musée d’Orsay) until 2009 when the profile was published.

In this article Loyrette’s quoted as saying that 80% of the attendees only go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. This point alone is good cause to have started THATLou, don’t you think? To try to get the people off the beaten track… That poor marble floor should be as deep as the English trenches with approximately 7.2 million people tromping along, blinders on, with eyes only for the Mona Lisa. The Louvre has signs all over the place with tattered photocopies of da Vinci’s painting, I guess for those who don’t even know what it’s called?

Last spring I met one of the heads of the American Friends of the Louvre (AFL) who used to work at the Louvre. She told me that one morning when entering the museum at about 9.30 AM from the Porte des Lions  entrance (along the Seine, at the western end of Denon) there were already people leaving the museum! Which, given the size of the endless Italian Galeries (which Denon houses), means they didn’t even really bother to look at their checked-off-been-there-done-that Mona Lisa! No matter how swiftly they were walking — it takes a good while to get from the main entrance to the Porte des Lions exit at the farthest southwest sortie (as seen below).

Porte des Lions – SouthWestern wing of the Louvre, photographed by Jennifer Greco


Porte des Lions – SouthWestern wing of the Louvre, photographed by Jennifer Greco and published in http://www.ChezLoulou.blogspot.com

Anyway, back to our generalised stats… If you’re interested in the top-rated exhibitions of 2011, please see this hyperlink to The Art Newspaper’s April issue. It’s quite interesting, but be warned if you’re reading this on a phone it’s a heavy PDF. As for the promised top 15 museum attendence records for 2011, they’re listed below. At one point I may expand on this list and start to mark physical sizes of some museums. I believe the largest museum physically is the Hermitage, then probably the Louvre with its 65,000m². But these are just me guessing. I’ll also hopefully hone in on some museum expansions, for instance of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rafael Moneo and his tasteful addition to the Museo del Prado in 2007.

RankMuseumCityCountryVisitor count 
1Musée du LouvreParisFrance8,880,000 
2Metropolitan Museum of ArtNew YorkUnited States6,004,254 
3British MuseumLondonUnited Kingdom5,848,534 
4National GalleryLondonUnited Kingdom5,253,216 
5Tate ModernLondonUnited Kingdom4,802,287 
6National Gallery of ArtWashingtonUnited States4,392,252 
7National Palace MuseumTaipeiTaiwan3,849,577 
8Centre PompidouParisFrance3,613,076 
9National Museum of KoreaSeoulSouth Korea3,239,549 
10Musée d’OrsayParisFrance3,154,000 
11Museo del PradoMadridSpain2,911,767 
12State Hermitage MuseumSaint PetersburgRussia2,879,686 
13Museum of Modern ArtNew YorkUnited States2,814,746 
14Victoria & Albert MuseumLondonUnited Kingdom2,789,400 
15Museo Reina SofíaMadridSpain2,705,529 

And for all those crazy-stats-addicts among you, here’s another: Apparently there are more than 2000 people who work at the Louvre. The size of a small town! A special thanks to Jennifer Greco for her incredible eye, crafty camera-work and lovely blog, Chez Loulou, where she posted these photos with a generous THATMuse plug.

So who painted this now famous Prado-owned La Gioconda? Fueled with personalities and possibly sordid details, it’s a fun question to examine.

da Vinci’s Helicopter drawing, taken from Wikipedia

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) is too large a topic to address for one post. But I’m happy to draw a rough sketch. Though I much prefer the paintings of many of his contemporaries (Ghirlandaio, Perugino and Botticelli all preferable marks, who also apprenticed in Verrocchio’s studio with da Vinci), it can’t be overlooked that the man was a genius. He conceptualized a helicopter in the 16th century, that’s just cool. And Pope Leo X commissioned him to make a mechanical lion that moved forward and whose chest opened to reveal lilies – this as a gift for Leonardo’s last patron, the King of France, François Ier. Leonardo was the bastard son of an aristocratic Notary father and peasant mother, and grew up in Vinci (thus his last name), near Florence. (and is buried in the Chateau d’Amboise, thanks to François Ier)

But this story isn’t about Leonardo – exactly. It’s about whoever it was who stood next to Leonardo and painted the Prado’s La Giaconda as he, Leo, was painting the Louvre’s most famous icon, the Mona Lisa. But to fill in some da Vinci background — as well as to keep your interest because it is, after all, juicy – I feel it necessary to mention that Leonardo’s name was sullied through court records in 1476; At 24 years old, he and three other young men were charged with sodomy with a well-known male prostitute. Lucky for da Vinci, one of the three companions was Lionardo de Tornabuoni — a relative of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who no doubt weighed in his influence on the court to drop the charges. So as of 24 years aged, Leonardo’s sexuality and the sexuality (and sometimes lack thereof) in his art were subjects of interest.

Andrea Salai, one of Leonardo’s two favorite pupils, is believed to be the model for Leonardo’s St John the Baptist (now at the Louvre). This eroticism as well as Leonardo’s Bacchus (another of Salai) give rise to scuttle that they were lovers. Other more erotic drawings reinforce the rumor which has been bouncing around since Giorgio Vasari (the mid-16th Century art historian and author of The Lives – a man who first put down the word ‘Renaissance’ as a description of the era) described Salai of being “a graceful and beautiful youth with curly hair, in which Leonardo greatly delighted”. Salai’s nickname “Little Satan” was indicative of his deportment: He started out as a servant / apprentice in Leonardo’s employ at the age of 10 and within the first year was caught five times thieving, lying and cheating. But Leonardo was indulgent — to the point, 30 odd years later, of leaving Salai half of his vineyards as well as some of his paintings. This Last Will and Testament raises an interesting point, to be returned to.

Leonardo’s St John the Baptist, 1513-1516, at the Louvre, taken from Wikipedia

Another of Leonardo’s life-long pupil / companions was Francesco Melzi, who was the son of a nobleman and “apprenticed” under Leonardo till the latter’s death in Amboise. In fact Melzi was so close it was he who informed Leonardo’s family of his death (one does wonder if Salai would have known how to write, though it’s clear he was capable with the brush).

Head conservator at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, Bruno Mottin, believes that the most likely painter of the Prado La Gioconda was one of these two students, Leonardo’s favourite pupils. If the Prado replica is eventually attributed to Melzi, it suggests a late date for the original, because Melzi joined Leonardo in 1506.

On the other hand if it’s the hand of Salai, then it’s unlikely that Salai ever inherited the original, as was previously assumed. This would mean the Louvre would have to re-examine the world’s most famous painting’s early history! A tremendous upset for the behemoth of museums – since they don’t even want to have it cleaned for fear of anything going awry (despite her looking twice her age due to the cracks in the painting – just look at the difference between the Prado’s version versus the Louvre’s in the last post).

There are a handful of articles pointing to the Prado’s La Gioconda as being at the hand of Andrea Salai, but nothing’s confirmed. One does have to appreciate this re-discovery was only made a bit over 6 months ago. As the life of either of these paintings is over 500 years I think we can cut the conservationists a bit of slack.

Next post shall wrap this story up with in two subjects – show some dazzling paintings by Leonardo’s contemporaries (listed above) and at least touch on Andrea Salai, whose real name was Gian Giacomo Caprotti, as a third-rate painter (opposed to lingering only on Salai’s salacious existence). Although ‘third-rate’ — who knows, this Prado discovery may just change history’s opinion of Leonardo’s reputed lover!

Sleeping Hermaphroditus. Greek marble, Roman copy from 2nd century BC after a Hellenistic original of the 2nd century BC, restored in 1619 by David Larique — with mattress by Gianlorenzo Bernini, http://www.wikipedia.org

It’s really not so easy to follow a post concerning Pauline la Pute (or as she was known in history Pauline Borghese, Napoleon’s sister & Prince Camillo Borghese’s wife). I love the drafty old halls of the Louvre. Why else would I be toiling so at trying to expand the museum for THATLou participants and readers? But I know that an article on the history of the Borghese Collection isn’t that sexy. And though the Borghese Collection’s Three Graces, a perfect candidate for this Sunday’s Ladies at the Louvre hunt (hint hint, nudge nudge…), is a sexy piece of sculpture… They’re, well. Virtuous — so not quite so much fun as our scandalous friend Pauline.

St Teresa in Ecstasy, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647 in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria

So instead of trying to top the juice, I thought I’d go for the anatomically interesting:  The Sleeping Hermaphrodite! There’s an excellent church in Rome (well there are a few, if your all time favourite period of art is Baroque Roman architecture, which is the case for me. This is the lucky result of having glorious gilded swirls, dramatic moving marble, fat flabby volutes, convex and concave facades all crammed down my throat from a young age by my avid mother) called Santa Maria della Vittoria. It’s by Carlo Maderno (teacher to rivals Bernini and Borromini). Sta Ma della VIttoria is famous on a mass scale because of Bernini’s most excellent and much-studied sculpture in the Cornaro Chapel called The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa* (oh the jokes my predominately Protestant and Jewish art history classes would make in HS over the “Ecstasy” the horny saint went through — but that’s for another entry, or another blog. On being juvenile in Rome and New York, sometime. One day. For now though, I’ll try to rein in my enthusiasm and save you from more parenthetical tangents).

Carlo Maderno’s Santa Maria della Vittoria (1605-1620), Rome, photo from http://www.wikipedia.org

In any event, in 1608 when the foundations of the church were being dug they found this 2nd Century AD Sleeping Hermaphrodite in the ground (it’s near Diocletian’s Baths), a Roman copy of a 2nd C BC Hellenistic sculpture. Cardinal Scipione Borghese**, nephew of Pope Paul V, caught word of this find and descended on the construction site immediately, saying “Hey, I’ll be taking that lovely SheMan thank you very much (ah the joy of being a Pope’s “nephew” in 17th-century Rome)” and brought it directly up the Pincian Hill back to his Villa Borghese where he created a room just for his new prized possession, the Sleeping Hermaphrodite. (Incidentally he also paid for the facade of Sta Ma della Vittoria twenty odd years later). Then in 1619 he set Gian Lorenzo Bernini (architect of St Peter’s Baldacchino, as well as of the Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona) to the task of sculpting the marble mattress to cushion his Sleeping Hermaphrodite.

ront of the Borghese Collection’s Sleeping Hermaphrodite – http://www.Utexas.edu

In Greek mythology they didn’t really give hermaphrodites a lot of importance until the Hellenistic period. The idea of these poor beings with mixed up male-female chromosomes came to the Greeks from the East by way of Cyprus. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1974 edition) says the legend of the Hellenistic period made Hermaphroditus a beautiful youth, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. The nymph of the fountain of Salmacis in Caria became enamored of him and entreated the gods that she might be forever united with him. The result was the formation of a being half man, half woman. It was typical of Hellenistic sculpture in so far as it had a theatrical element of surprise to it and was meant to be seen from two different angles.

front of the Borghese sleeping hermaphrodite, wikicommons

There are sleeping hermaphrodites scattered about, but the Louvre’s is the most famous. The Galeria Borghese in Rome has a lesser one, the Uffizi has another Roman copy. Both the Prado in Madrid and Met in NY have life-sized bronze sleeping hermaphrodites, the former ordered by Philip IV. The composition clearly influenced Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus at the National Gallery in London. And we won’t even go into the poets (Swinburne to name one) who devoted ode after ode to the subject.

All of this is good and well, but the big question you are probably asking yourselves — Does the Sleeping Hermaphrodite deserve a space in the Ladies at the Louvre THATLou?


* Whilst discussing the female orgasm, psychologist Jacques Lacan said that “you only have to go and look at Bernini’s statue in Rome to understand immediately that she’s coming, there is no doubt about it.” (“Encore,” Sem. XX: 70-71). This tidbit is a tip of my hat to my sister in law, a psychologist in Buenos Aires who introduced me to Lacan.

** Cardinal Bishop Scipione Borghese was not only Bernini’s patron, but Caravaggio’s as well. If you like the Baroque, you like Scipione.

When you think of the Wild Things of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are you might as well think of Gorgons. As any American who grew up since it was published in 1963 will remember Max was sent to bed without his supper because he roared his terrible roar and gnashed his terrible teeth and screamed his terrible scream too wildly. A forest grows in his room and he’s transported by sea to where the Wild Things live, but Max cows them easily, and becomes the King of All Wild Things by staring them down, unblinking as he holds their yellow eyes steady. Perhaps because Sendak had a soft side, or perhaps because children’s book publishers wouldn’t have permitted it, but Max doesn’t behead The Wild Things as Perseus did their predecessor, nor does he make the Wild Things as terrifying as Gorgons. He couldn’t have.

The very word Gorgon means Dreadful or Terrible in Greek.  They were popular in Greek mythology – if you looked them in the eye you’d turn to stone. Perseus famously outsmarted the most famous of the Gorgons, Medusa, by looking at her in the reflection of his shield, and then beheading her serpent-haired head. Sadly for her, Medusa was not immortal as her two Gorgon sisters Stheno and Euryale were.  They were said to be the daughters of the sea God Phorcys and his sister-wife Ceto (a sea monster).

Red-figured cup by Douris, 480-470 BC, Cerveteri, Etruria now in the Vatican Museum. The python is regurgitating Jason (gross, eh?!?), the Golden Fleece hangs from a branch while Athena looks on with her aegis bearing the Gorgon and helmet with winged lioness, http://www.wikipedia.com

Often they were depicted as having fangs and skin of a serpent, and hair made of poisonous snakes.  Sometimes they had wings of gold, brazen claws, tusks of a boar.  Lionesses and sphinxes are often associated with them, and generally they were used in architecture to protect the building – for instance temples protecting the oldest of oracles (the oldest stone pediment in Greece, dated from 600 BC, is from the Temple of Artemis at Corfu and what is in the primary location, smack dab in the middle of the pediment? A Dreadful Gorgon of course).

Disk Fibula Gorgoneion Bronze with repoussé decoration, Boeotian production under Corinthian influence, second half of the 6th century BC. From Asia Minor, at the Louvre http://www.wikipedia.com

So why do I linger on Gorgons? Perhaps because, apart from protecting temples and installed protectively in architecture, Gorgons frequently appear in Greek pottery….  Greek Pots could very well figure in a good Food and Wine THATMuse. Likewise Gorgons would be prime suspects for a Bestiary THATLou, which remains unscheduled as such but is bound to pop up sooner or later. For instance this Gorgon Pot found in the Sully wing would be a great cross-purpose pot for both the Food + Wine THATLou as well as a Bestiary hunt, no?

Gorgon Painter Dinos, taken from Google Images

What makes it so special is that it is one of the first pots to have a continuous narration (where one piece of art depicts the story at different stages) of Perseus’s story, where he’s running from Medusa’s Gorgon sisters (as seen below). The pot scene is so famous that history named the painter the Gorgon Painter, though he of course did many other pots in the 6th century BC.

Gorgon Painter Dinos, 580 BC, taken from Wikipedia

More on all these topics – Gorgons, Food+ Wine THATLou, Bestiary, Greek Pots – soon. For now I’ll leave you with a hyperlink to Maurice Sendak’s obituary in the NY Times from this past May.