Louvre Lovelies

C - 4 - tourist shot, bldg with cloudsContinuing this photographic series, here are some more Louvre shots, some of which may appear on the imminent THATLou website. It’s funny about photography, I don’t know much about it, other than that I like it – to both take photos and look at them.

C 1 - escalator from above, sculpture section through circle

My taste for photography was borne exclusively whilst working for David Friend, who’d been the photography editor at Life Magazine for 18 years. His photo library and his pure joy of looking at pretty much any image, let alone the enriching old photojournalists who he palled around with like Carl Mydans, Gordon Parks and Cornell Capa was an education unto itself. At the time I never appreciated how clearly I would remember nearly every interaction that I had with those venerable old characters.

C - 4 - Metalwork

In that phase I also took a class at the ICP just to get a grasp on technical bare basics. Much to my surprise it was the developing that I enjoyed more than actually shooting film (which I’d loved doing for years). I had more control in the dark room, not to mention liking the smell of chemicals. But I forget things as quickly as I learn them, so now all I’m left with is what I do and don’t like.

C- 3 - metalwork

Here’s something that I adore: my husband playing with Light + Motion:

C 3 - H's Blurry Art shotFor other snaps du Louvre there’s Focusing my Lens on the Louvre and Up Next? THATLou Website. Next week we’ll move to the prototype phase, which apparently is where the fun begins!

C - double escalators, full circle

But before Jenny Beaumont‘s beautifully designed website is launched, more snaps shall be deposited herewith.

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.

Food in Art!

Jan Davidsz de HEEM, A Table of Desserts, 1640, at the Louvre, taken from Wikimedia Commons

Jan Davidsz de HEEM, A Table of Desserts, 1640, at the Louvre, taken from Wikimedia Commons

A TABLE OF DESSERTS

Jan Davidsz de HEEM (Utrecht 1606 – Antwerp 1684)

17th Century, Flemish

JD de Heem was one of the rare Dutch Vanitas masters to capture some of the exuberance of the Flemish baroque. No surprise, as he spent his life ping-ponging between Protestant Utrecht and Catholic Antwerp throughout the ravages of the 30 Years War. The vanitas genre lectured a moral message, for instance some of the fruit here evokes Christian symbolism: Cherries are a fruit of paradise, peaches and apples embody the forbidden fruit, grapes represent redemption, and bread and wine are of course a clear reference to the Eucharist, the bod and blood of Christ. The lute and recorder recall the pleasure of the senses and the globe at top right corner recall the universe.

Louis XIV, whose army ravaged the Netherlands in 1672 (again causing de Heem to head back to Holland), bought this painting for Versailles. Much later Matisse copied it twice – nearly replicating it in an unremarkable art-school copy in 1893, and then nearly 20 years later in 1915 when Matisse was painting during another World War.

Foodies in France, this is just one piece which is a fine candidate for this Wednesday 8 August’s Food + Wine THATLou. It could also appear in the Kid’s THATLou concentrating on the Richelieu wing, because that’s where it is (2nd floor, room 26!). The above is taken directly from the hunt, but with one thing missing — something obvious from the below article will be an embedded bonus question… But what? Better read carefully, because as you know there’s no internet during the treasure hunt!

There’s so much to touch on with this one painting alone, throw Matisse in there and it doubles the anti! The 30 Years War (1618 – 1648) and the Peace of Westphalia, Louis XIV and his army, Versailles and the Sun King’s art patronage, de Heem and the vanitas genre… Where to start, what to look at? We can’t do it all, let’s take the most recent – as we rarely have an excuse to discuss modern painters. One day we’ll cross the Seine to go hunting at the Musée d’Orsay, but till then paintings after the 1850s are lacking here.

Matisse's 1893 version "Dessert after de Heem", taken from www.moodbook.com

Matisse’s 1893 version “Dessert after de Heem”, from moodbook

Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954) did his art-student copy of de Heem’s Table of Desserts at the age of 24 in 1893. That version is really just a replica that any art student could have made with a dim attempt for precise mimicry and little talent to show for it. However, it was important enough to catch his eye later. According to the curators of the MoMA in New York, at the start of the Great War in 1914 the French military requisitioned Matisse’s house in the Paris suburbs of Issy les Moulineaux. The following year when Matisse was allowed back in his home he happened across this school version of de Heem’s sumptuous still life and decided to make another copy.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Art Institute of Chicago co-curated a Matisse exhibition in 2010 called “Radical Invention 1913 – 1917” which covered a period in the artist’s life when Matisse didn’t seem to follow any one style, instead jumping from one technique to another, one model to another, one house to another. This, I suppose makes sense, as there was a World War going on after all.

Variation on a Still Life by de Heem, 1915 by Matisse, at the MoMA, from www.moma.org

Variation on a Still Life by de Heem, 1915 by Matisse, at the MoMA, from http://www.moma.org

That said Matisse’s own style(s) had come through by 1915 and in his Variation on a Still Life by de Heem (as he called this second version) he pulls from a cubist base and makes de Heem’s Table of Desserts his own. He called what he was doing the “Methods of Modern Construction” looking at old masters and constructing them in his modern context, peeing on the painting so to elegantly speak with vibrant colours and various techniques, yet retaining the composition so to still pay tribute to its provenance.

In a short podcast concerning Matisse’s inspiration, Stephanie d’Alessandro, a co-curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, described Matisse’s approach in his Variation on a Still Life by de Heem a “buffet of techniques”. Apt, for a period of so many (destructive) distractions.

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MoMA co-curator John Elderfield and Michael Duffy also speak of the various Table of Desserts. Matisse’s art-school version is in the Musée Matisse‘s collection in Nice Cimiez’s Villa Arènes. Finding an image of this 1893 version was no easy feat – yet another reference to its obscurity.

The grapes and wine in de Heem’s vanitas qualify it for the 52 Martinis 5 September Liquid Louvre Treasure Hunt as well, wouldn’t you say?

SheMan Beauty

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

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, 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 and la Principessa Borghese, Madame la Bonaparte?). 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 friend Pauline.

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

St Teresa in Ecstasy, by GianLorenzo 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).

Santa Maria della Vittoria (1605-1620), Rome, www.wikipedia.org

Carlo Maderno’s Santa Maria della Vittoria (1605-1620), Rome, 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.

front of the Borghese Collection's Sleeping Hermaphrodite - www.Utexas.edu

front 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

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? I guess you’ll have to wait till this Sunday to find out. Who hasn’t signed up yet?

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* 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.

Next Icon of the Louvre

Cranach's 3 Graces, with journalists, www.artdaily.org

Cranach’s 3 Graces, with journalists, http://www.artdaily.org

In November 2010 the Louvre was made aware of a Lucas Cranach’s The Three Graces, which had been in private collections since it was painted in 1531. There’s another lesser Three Graces by Cranach at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas (seen below), but this 1531 Three Graces was not only unknown to the general public it was in pristine condition.  Henri Loyrette, Director of the Louvre said “the work’s astonishing perfection, its extreme rarity, and its remarkable state of preservation allow it to be called a ‘national treasure'”.

The Louvre scrambled to raise the enormously small amount of 4 million euros, but their acquisition department could only raise 3 million (does make you wonder), so they made an unprecedented on-line appeal to individual donors for the rest. Within a month they raised the 1 million euros from an estimated 7000 donors (initially the papers said it was 5000 donors, but the Louvre later corrected the figure).

24cm x 37cm, oil on wood, image taken from in.artinfo.com

Lucas Cranach´s Three Graces (1531) 24cm x 37cm, oil on wood, image taken from in.artinfo.com

What I don’t understand is why, when the National Gallery of Scotland raised 50 million pounds (in 2008 for Titian’s 1559 Diana and Acteon from Lord Sutherland) or the Tate raised 5.7 million pounds (for a Rubens drawing, The Apotheosis of James I (1628) — when Viscont Hampden threatened to sell it abroad, god forbid) was it such a big deal for the Louvre to appeal to the public for a measly one million euros? Why are we talking such small potatoes?  Le Monde said that the average donation was 150 Euros, and that a quarter of the donations hovered around 50 Euros. That’s great. Grassroots is important, but the figure does pale in comparison.

Another quandary – how could it have been on sale for so little when Henri Loyrette, director of the Louvre, said that it was a candidate to become the Louvre’s “Next Icon”? Let us not forget that Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust sold for 106 million dollars at Christie’s in NY in May 2011, that Munch’s The Scream sold for 120 million dollars at Sotheby’s, again in NY, in May 2012. They’re fine paintings, sure, but to my single-minded eye the talent that Lucas Cranach has over Munch and Picasso trumps them. Moreover, doesn’t age count for anything these days? Guess not.

1535 Three Graces, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in Kansas at http://www.nelson-atkins.org

1535 Three Graces, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in Kansas at http://www.nelson-atkins.org

In any event, my last gripe for the day… Good for the Louvre to have been so very modern in going to the public for such treasure – but where is it? On the second floor there’s a (GREAT) wall at the Louvre entitled “Painting of the Month”. It’s between Richelieu and Sully and it’s basically just a hallway with a bench. No one ever really notices it (and no, I’ve never put it in a treasure hunt — too unfair). According to the Louvre’s website this “Next Icon” was hung on the “painting of the Month” wall for an impressive 3 months at the beginning of 2011 (ooh la la, how big of them!), but has been in hiding ever since. Since it was in a ´Remarkable State of Preservation´ upon purchase, where is it? (Correction the 2nd floor Richelieu side room was closed off when I wrote this. As of 28 June it’s open. I really can’t keep up with all of their construction and changes – the Greek sections particularly)

My next post will address the actual painting, opposed to this museumese around the painting. But first, big question: Have you signed up for the next THATLou? Sunday 1 July, and it’s covering Ladies at the Louvre… surprise surprise!

Le Grand Palais

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… Speaking of THATou, it’s not too late to sign up for the next one by clicking on the logo on the right hand side!

THATMet Teaser, Frank Lloyd Wright

photo taken from the Met's website

photo taken from the Met's website

Frank Lloyd WRIGHT (1867-1959)

Window from the Coonley House, 1912

Height 86 ¼ x 28 x 2 inches, glass and zinc

The Avery Coonley House, in a suburb of Chicago, was designed by FLW and constructed in 1907-8. Bonus fifty points if you get a tourist to take your whole team’s photo in the Frank Lloyd Wright room nearby — and for those New Yorkers who don’t know where this room is, shame on you. But to put THATMet aside for a moment I must tell you a quick story from FLW’s life, which you guys probably knew, but I didn’t and find it an absolutely bizarre and fascinating discovery: FLW left his first wife in 1909 (in Illinois) for Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a married client with whom FLW was having a long-standing very public affair. In 1911 he and Mamah moved in together in Scottsdale, AZ (where his maternal family was from) in a house he built and named Taliesin…

On August 15, 1914, while Wright was in Chicago, his manservant of 2 months, Julian Carlton, set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin and had a total blood bath, axing 7 people as the fire burned the house down.  The dead were: Mamah; her two children, John and Martha; Thomas Brunker, the foreman; Emil Brodelle, a draftsman; David Lindblom, a landscape gardener; and Ernest Weston, the son of the carpenter William Weston. Two victims survived —William Weston and draftsman Herb Fritz—and the elder Weston helped to put out the fire that almost completely consumed the residential wing of the house. Carlton, hiding in the unlit furnace, survived the fire but died in jail six weeks later. His wife Gertrude also survived, having escaped the burning building through the basement; she denied any knowledge of her husband’s actions. This entry is entirely too long for you to be reading whilst on a hunt, but one more fact I am compelled to raise: FLW rebuilt Taliesin and it burned down again in 1925 (to an electrical fire)! Talk about loyal to your land!

POINTS: 45

The above is the 2nd of a two-part series, giving you examples of the funny bits of useless knowledge you pick up going on THATLous and THATMets and whathaveyous. The first part of the THATMet Teaser concerned FLW’s teacher, Savvy Mr Sully.