Louvre Photo Series cont’d

C - pyramid from passage

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

C- 5 - spiral stairs from above, centered, unfortunately

As I touched on in the last post, photographic tastes which I’d long ago forgotten awoke, such as automatically turning to black and white, steering clear of portraiture (unless people are tiny, indecipherable specs in the distance, I’m not really interested in them), looking at shadows, architecture and reflexions, and above all — what the Louvre provides in spades – is a love of geometric shapes. Don’t really have much more to say than that.

C 4 - escalator demi'lune

In fact a complaint I’ve had from many regarding this blog is that the posts are just too long. When I’m writing about content, which is the majority of this blog – although you wouldn’t know it from these recent website / THATd’Or round-ups! – it’s true that they are a bit wordy. But were anyone who took art history seriously to read this (apart from my mother) they’d say that this blog is too superficial (she saves my feelings by not saying anything). So since you can’t please everyone, I’m just going to do a photo-dump today, and leave you with some images which may or may not appear on this imminent website that Jenny Beaumont’s doing a phenomenal (and immense) job on.

C - lock, RAW edited in picasa

Once the site is launched, hopefully it won’t be too long before I actually return to a bit of content myself, and take a look at the content of the Louvre — and other museums for that matter. Otherwise I may just lose myself in talking about nothing. We wouldn’t want that!

© Daisy de Plume

You can see more images of the Louvre here.

3 Kings Day THATLou!

Bernardino Luini's Adoration of the Magi, 1520-25, Louvre

Bernardino Luini’s Adoration of the Magi, 1520-25, au Louvre (from Wikipedia)

Today is the eve of Epiphany, 6 January! A day of merrymaking, the 12th Day of Christmas has more than 12 drummers drumming (which apparently refers to the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle’s creed, within the Christmas carol)… It has Three Kings visiting baby Christ in Bethlehem; Melchior, Gaspar (sometimes known as Caspar) and Balthazar were the Magi or Three Wise Men representing Europe, Arabia and Africa. They arrived on horse, camel and elephant and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, respectively. Balthazar is one of my favourite names – in fact I used to be a regular at a Keith McNally resto in NY by the same name just as an excuse to enunciate it.

Different cultures give Three Kings Day different rituals. Argentina (and most other Spanish-speaking countries) on the eve of El Día de los Reyes has children polish their shoes and leave them outside their door filled with grass or hay, a bowl of water next to them. The morning of 6 Jan, the shoes are filled with gifts and the bowl’s empty (the camels having eaten the hay and drunk the water). Why shoes, I’m not sure (but why Christmas stockings for us? Must look it up). The French, true to their tummies, have a frangipane-filled Galettes des Rois (almond-paste filled cake that has a little figurine known as la fève (originally a broad bean, or fève). Whoever gets the slice of cake with the fève is king for the day. The president at the Elysée Palace has a Galette des Rois that’s more than a meter in diameter, but it’s without a fève, because it wouldn’t be very fitting to find a King in the presidential palace of the Republic, now would it? In the States Three Kings Day is when you’re supposed to exchange your gifts (though we’ve moved this forward to the Hallmark date of 25 Dec) and is also the day you take down your Christmas tree and decorations.

But we’re getting side tracked here – what is the single most important thing that’s happening in France for the 2013 Three Kings Day? No it’s not that meter-wide, feve-less gâteau at the Elysée, pshah! It’s the Kings + Leaders THATLou, of course! And what is this post devoted to, but one of the treasures that our hunters will be chasing after. Lucky are those that are reading these words, because otherwise they wouldn’t know that Bernardino Luini (1480/82 – 1532)’s fine Adoration of the Magi fresco (seen above) can be found in the Duchatel Room (seen below):

Duchatel Room, Denon, 1st Floor, Room 2 (taken from the Atlas database)

Duchatel Room, Denon, 1st Floor, Room 2 (taken from the Louvre Atlas database)

Not a lot is known about Luini, other than that he moved to Milano in 1500 from his small town near Lago Maggiore and that in Milano he was heavily influenced by Leonardo, with whom he worked. One of his signatures is graceful female figures with elongated eyes, which Vladimir Nabokov called “Luiniesque” in La Venezia (1924).

The Duchatel Room (found on the 1st floor of the Denon Wing, off of the Italian Gallery), has been the subject of a handful of interesting articles (This 1915 article seems to be the most comprehensive). The collection was left to the Louvre together, and included the Fra Angelico crucifixion (seen in the photo) as well as two Ingres.

The hunters will get a bit more about the Luini Adoration of the Magi tomorrow (a painting which would also be suitable for a Structure + Space THATLou, so organised is the architecture in the quiet scene). Though not half so well known as Georges de La Tour’s Adoration of the Shepherds, I think it’s twice as attractive!

Announcing Christ(mas)

Annunciation 1440, Rogier van der Weyden (1399 - 1464) Louvre

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.

Annunciation - Robert Campin, Cloisters (Met Museum), 1427–1432

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 celing 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 - Jan van Eyck's Nat'l Gallery, 1434-6

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.

THATLou Christmas Count Down

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, 16th C, Denon, 1st fl Grande Galerie Salle 5

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).

Annunciation - Bernardo Daddi, 1335 Florence, Denon, 1st Fl Salon Carre Room 3

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 Ma 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 THATLou 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, Denon 1st Fl Room 13

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!

And sadly we don’t have a Christmas Treasure Hunt going on, but are you signed up for the 3 Kings Day THATLou (the theme of which is, of course Kings + Leaders)? Keep your eyes peeled on the THATLou Facebook page!

Leo’s Contemporaries

Last week 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?

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.

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

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

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, taken from Wikipedia

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, taken from Wikipedia

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!

Leonardo’s Lover!

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

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

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!

The Prado’s Gioconda

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

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 Gioconda's eyes at the Louvre, Wikipedia

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.

Mona Lisa's Eyes in the Prado's version, wikipedia

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.

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

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 last Feb), 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!

Louvre's Mona Lisa, taken from About.com

The Louvre’s Mona Lisa, taken from About.com