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.

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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.

Friends of THATLou — Edna Zhou

It’s very likely that there would be no THATLou blog without Edna Zhou. I first met her at the now famous Angels + Wings THATLou (which she reviewed in her blog, Expat Edna), and within a short time we became close. We have much in common as fellow Asian Americans who’ve traveled extensively and have lived in many countries. My toddler, Storsh, is in love with Edna. With the gravity of first love he solemnly comes over and hugs her legs when she visits. No messing about, no cute-kid-giggles that he’s happy to give most the world. His love for her is palpable and there’s nothing funny about it. She prompted me to consider my neighborhood in Paris, when she asked me to guest post on her I Love My Neighborhood series. She has probably been on the most THATLous of everyone, her third one being written up in Fodor’s. All of this, as well as our regular lunches, make Edna a very dear friend — but as a Friend of THATLou I cannot thank her enough for being instrumental in showing me the bare basics of the blog back office that I am too dimwitted to understand on my own. So without much ado, I shall leave you with Edna’s appreciation for what Paris has given her:

montmartre cafe

The standard opening line when speaking to an expat is always a variation on the theme: “Why are you here?”

Well, I came to Paris for my career.

I didn’t come here to eat foie gras and drink wine and fall in love with Paris, like a misty-eyed Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris.

I thought I would spend one year in Paris, learn French, then move to Asia and continue following a career in sports media there.

But the French didn’t come as easily as I thought it would.

I picked up a decent amount of Mandarin after spending time in northern China, so I thought the key to my linguistic success would be full immersion. For the first three months, I was spending nine hours each week in full immersion classes at Alliance Française.

Now, I’d moved to France with no French knowledge save the two words I remembered from my eighth-grade language class: “merci” and “poulet” (very handy for someone who only ate fish at the time). I was beyond clueless at the beginning: it took me two weeks to comprehend that when the teacher said “mem shoze”, he meant “même chose”, and that that meant “same thing.”

So for various reasons — frustration, work schedule, forming a social circle of mostly Anglophones — I found my motivation to study French slowly waning.

And with that free time I decided to throw myself into something else: writing.

I had deserted my blog after I graduated in 2010 and moved to Singapore — there was just too much life happening for me to stop and write it all down. Between work, traveling around Southeast Asia, a social calendar that never stopped filling up with pool parties and barbecues, not to mention hanging out with this guy I’d met…there simply wasn’t time.

But here in Paris, I found myself with nothing but time. The social calendar failed to come alive like it had in Asia and the guy — even though we ended up dating and getting engaged — still lived 6,000 miles away in Singapore.

So I started writing. A couple months into it, I “got serious” and purchased my domain name.

I started guest posting. I started reaching out for guest posts. I learned the art of the cold email.

WordPress featured one of my articles. Traffic started to pick up. I moved to self-hosting. I even had a logo made for the site.

Advertising offers came in. I learned how to negotiate.

Complete strangers started to comment on my posts. To email me for travel advice. I felt like I’d laid claim to my own little travel corner of the web.

I was even more grateful for my months of blogging when I found out I was going to the Olympics in London.

Before, I would drag my feet to start a post and once I finally did, it would still take hours to refine and polish. By the time I arrived in London, I was up to my hundredth post on my blog, and those months of forcing myself to sit down and just write helped me push out stories more quickly and concisely.

My blog is a labor of love and my pride and joy. I’ve never worked so hard on something that has no monetary gain, yet I continue to be happy to spend hours each day editing photos and text, just to be able to hit “publish” on another post.

I might not have learned French, but my blog has taught me how to be a better writer and photographer, how to network, how to be business-savvy. It has opened doors for me, and will continue to be a source of happiness and community in whatever cities I choose to move to next.

So in the end, Paris was a good career move after all.

Edna can be found on her blog Expat Edna, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ednacz).

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

Spain’s Span Across Europe

Diego Velazquez, 1630 Medici Gardens in Rome, at the Prado, taken from Wikipedia

Diego Velazquez, 1634 Medici Gardens in Rome, at the Prado, taken from Wikipedia

Because the three of us are headed to Madrid for a long weekend, I’ve been having a ball thinking of all things Spanish (I’m quite basic – my thoughts first linger on my stomach:  ham! tortilla! sangria! oooh la la, I cannot wait to tap my toes to taps tapas tapas!, then in a slightly more reasonable voice my thoughts stray to the tremendous benefits of Storsh hearing Spanish everywhere and realizing that it’s not some secret language that his father speaks to him). Then third on the list (of more than a hundred all-things-Spanish) is The Prado!

The Prado, like the Louvre, takes a bit of context. It is a Royal Collection, and the royalty in Spain was; Well, full of stories, to say the least. The Spanish had an enormous empire, but two provinces of supreme artistic value were Naples and the Lowlands (they had the Spanish Netherlands from 1579 – 1713 – roughly corresponding to Belgium and Luxembourg).

In 1700 the mentally infirm Hapsburg King Charles II of Spain named Louis XIV’s second grandson, Philip (Duc d’Anjou), as his heir. At 16, Philip V (formerly le Duc d’Anjou) was the first of the Bourbon kings of Spain. Needless to say this forged a Spanish-French alliance to the highest degree… which of course off-set a balance of power in Europe, which in turn brought on yet another war. This one aptly called the War of Spanish Succession (1700 – 1715). I will leave a proper background to this for another time, but if you’d like just the lightest touch of context I recommend http://www.spanishsuccession.nl/ (please note the NL in this URL!). Before moving on, however, I’ll include a painting of Charles II to give you a sense of just how mentally infirm he looked, poor inbred man that he was. He looks as contorted, deranged and plain-old-scary as the Appalachians in the film Deliverance.

Last Hapsubrg King Charles II (an argument against inbreeding!), painted in 1673 by Juan Carreno de Miranda, Museo del Prado, www.lessing.com

Last Hapsubrg King Charles II (an argument against inbreeding!), painted in 1673 by Juan Carreno de Miranda, Museo del Prado, http://www.lessing.com

Suffice it to say the 17th century saw an artistic surge in the Lowlands with Pieter-Paul Rubens (knighted by Philip IV), Anthony Van Dyck and a myriad of wonderful still life painters such as de Heem (as touched on in a recent post, Food in Art!), all of whom had either a sojourn to Spain or were directly affected by the Spanish crown.

The inimitable Spanish presence in Naples and Sicily (later called the Kingdom of Two Sicilies) had a profound impact on both the Spanish and Neapolitan Baroque. To name just a few big hitters the magnificent Baroque painter Jusepé de Ribera flourished in Naples (though proud of his Hispanic roots, apparently he signed some of his paintings Jusepé the Spaniard”, suitably acquiring the nickname Lo Spagnoletto), Neopolitan painter Luca Giordano was a court painter in Spain for ten years under Charles II (after having studied in Ribera’s studio), Velazquez was sent by Philip IV to Italy, which is considered a turning point in his style.

José de Ribera, 1632, Ticio, Museo del Prado, taken from Wikipedia

Caravaggio’s influence on Ribera is evident with such sharp contrast in this 1632 painting, Ticio. At the Museo del Prado, taken from Wikipedia

All of this is really just a laundry list of countries that were miniscule on the scale of Spain’s global dominance (think of a small continent across the pond called South America, let alone the discovery of another small space north of those Peruvian gold mines). But both the Netherlands and Italy were hotbeds of the Baroque, and their inseparable connection and influence on and by Spain has been the subject matter of the lives and careers of many art historians.

In great anticipation of beholding each of these masters at the Prado in person, I’ve had a ball brushing up on some background reading. And in terms of my belly and our little trio alighting a plane fast as a gazelle?  I’m already packed a day in advance – a rare occurrence!