Museum Musings


Musée Jacquemart André
03 June 2012
  • Museum Musings

Musée Jacquemart André

Welcome to the 1st of the Monthly Museum Musings (MMM), where we’ll linger on lesser known museums (when compared to the Louvre that leaves us pretty much open to any of the more than 150 museums across Paris). MMM will focus predominately on Paris (though at times we’ll stray to other cities’ fine collections) and will be defined by a brief overview of the collection at hand, as well as a quick “In the Neighbourhood?” element to provide suggestions for a stroll one could take before or after your Museum Musing. If you have suggestions of a museum you’d like covered or would like to contribute, we’d love to hear from you!

Jacquemart-André Museum
Jacquemart-André Museum (as seen from inside the Winter Courtyard)

The Frick Collection in New York, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, London’s Wallace Collection: All of these places were the mansions of wealthy families, now housing their art collections for the public. Paris’s version of this big-home, small-museum type is no less impressive, though perhaps slightly less known on an international scale: The Musée Jacquemart-André.

Jacquemart-Andre Museum
Jacquemart-Andre Museum

The couple, Edouard André and his wife Nélie Jacquemart, collected old masters such as Titian, Uccello, Van Dyck and Rubens. Though the quality isn’t quite on par with Frick’s peerless collection, some of the 15th and 16th century Italian paintings are divine. Paintings aside, the house is a piece of art unto itself with a gorgeous aerie, plant-filled interior courtyard with a Tiepolo fresco overlooking the double-spiraled staircase. Downstairs you see Edouard and Nélie’s separate bedrooms – the toilet of which has always fascinated me with its various embroidered furniture (didn’t it get wet with splashes? No matter). Made into a museum in 1913, you can also go for one of the best high teas in one of the prettiest salons in Paris. I work in the neighbourhood and go for a delish mango salad on special occasions when I can go a-missing for a few hours of pretending to be a lady-who-lunches.

Jacquemart-Andre Museum
Children can rent period costumes (as seen to the right) to make their visit more colorful

A visit to the museum is certainly worthwhile, though the 8th Arrt ‘hood is dry with row after row of Hausmannian façades fencing in the tree-lined boulevards. They’re mostly international law firms and companies or posh residences, impenetrable to tourists and expats alike.

In the neighbourhood?

It’s less than 10 minutes by foot up to Parc Monceau for a stroll where the first parachutist landed in the 18th century. If you have kids Parc Monceau has a pony trail that my toddler’s fascinated by (and counting the minutes till he’s big enough to go for a ride). For now though, he’s content with the adorable Parisian 19th Century swings and picnic green rare to many a Parisian park.From there you could go to the pedestrianised market street, Rue de Levis in the 17th Arrt, for a drink and some fabulous people-watching.

Or if you want a more ‘famous” version of Paris it’s 10 minutes west to the l’Arc de Triomphe, where you feel like you’re at the center of it all. It’s true the expanse of all of the boulevards, the Champs-Elysées in particular, meeting at your feet is something to write (at least a postcard) home about!

Jacquemart Andre Museum
What’s on now?

From Zurbaran to Rothko is running from March 3rd to July 10th 2017. Alicia Koplowitz has amassed through Grupo Omega Capital Ω, a collection that reflects her own personal tastes, bringing together numerous masterpieces from some of the world’s greatest artists. The Old and Modern Masters feature heavily in her collection, fostering a dialogue of sorts across the centuries: antique sculptures and paintings by Zurbarán, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Guardi and Goya can be seen alongside paintings and drawings by Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Van Dongen, Modigliani, Schiele, de Staël, Freud, Rothko and Barceló, as well as sculptures by Giacometti, Bourgeois and Richier.

Details: 158, boulevard Haussmann 75008 Paris

Metro: Miromesnil (lines 9, 13), St Philippe du Roule (line 9, closer)

Hours: Open 7 days a week, 10am – 6 pm, Monday till 8:30 pm

Prices: Adults cost 13.50 euros, students 10.50, kids under 7 are free (as of 2017)
Borghese at the Louvre
22 June 2012
  • THATLou – Ladies au Louvre,
  • Museum Musings,
  • THATLou – Beauty & Bestiary theme

Borghese at the Louvre

It’s funny how these posts come about. Because of the last post concluding the Three Graces series, I’ve had the Borghese Collection at the Louvre on my mind. However, there are so many places to start on this topic, and so many paths to stray to. A rocky relationship between Italy and France is certainly one (think the Italian Campaign of 1796-7, where Napoleon made his name), as is the actual collection of 695* incredible antiquities (the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, the Borghese Gladiator, the Three Graces, to name a few). Just how these antiquities got to the Louvre is worthy of a large part of Marie-Lou Fabréga-Dubert’s two-volume tome “La Collection Borghese au Musée Napoléon,” published jointly in 2009 by Musée du Louvre Editions and the publishing branch of the Beaux-Art de Paris. The NY Times reviewed it favourably here, and as with any good review the Times provides great morsels from the book.   

Borghese Gladiator
Borghese Gladiator – now called the Borghese Warrior, taken from

Then there are the personalities — Napoleon has never been short on providing history with anecdotes, his brother-in-law Prince Camillo Borghese of the Roman nobility, is of course the source of the collection and then there’s Napoleon’s sister and Camillo’s wife, Pauline, whose salacious habits were already well established in her first marriage to General Leclerc (I believe “Bacchanalian Promiscuity” was attributed to her when she was in Haiti with General Leclerc).

And of course we can’t overlook the minor characters — minor to history, but with entire wings and courtyards named after them I guess “minor” is relative. Dominique-Vivant Denon (Director of Imperial Museums), and Ennio Quirino Visconti  (“overseer” of Roman Antiquities at the Musée Napoléon — what’s now the Louvre), were responsible for the mammoth task of getting the antiquities from Rome to Paris — no easy feat when the British had an embargo in the Mediterranean which made the French travel overland. Denon, Sully, and Richelieu will certainly have their THATLou posts at one point or another (concerning both the wings as well as the colourful characters of French history). In one of my first posts I wrote about the Visconti courtyard, which is about to be all over the press when the new Islamic wing opens this September (supposedly – the opening’s been postponed for a few years).

Villa Borghese, Rome
Villa Borghese, Rome, 695 treasures left from here for the Louvre… Photo from blog

PS/ I can’t seem to get to the bottom of just how many antiquities Napoleon (mmm, sorry, I mean the French State) bought from Borghese. Wikipedia, which of course isn’t to be trusted, says it’s 344 antiquities. A figure I’ve seen in other googled sources (who perhaps used wikipedia).  When addressing the Borghese Kylix the Louvre’s website says Napoleon bought Borghese’s entire collection — which of course can’t be right as there’s a small museum with  just a few Berninis on the Pincian Hill in Rome called the Villa Borghese (photographed above, where Denon and Visconti started their shipping process). So though I haven’t read Mme. Fabréga-Dubert’s 2-volumes, I have chosen to go with her figure of 695 pieces. If for no doubt because I’m from NY and trust the editors of the Times to at least quote her correctly.

Galleria Borghese Extra Info:

HOURS: open Tuesday – Sunday, from 8:30 – 7:30 pm

ADDRESS: Piazzale del Museo Borghese, 00197 Roma (in the middle of the large park, Villa Borghese)

THATMuse Recommendation: Purchase tickets on line, before you go (they can often be sold out as it’s one of the best museums in Rome, with Bernini, Caravaggio, Canova and the lot!)
The Art Newspaper
11 September 2012
  • Museum Musings,
  • Misc

The Art Newspaper

President Obama presents the 2009 National Humanities Medal to Philippe De Montebello
President Obama presents the 2009 National Humanities Medal to Philippe De Montebello in Washington, taken from

I haven’t been very good on the blog front in the past few weeks, struggling to keep up on all my fronts. So as I task myself with returning to some semblance of regular posting I have a bit of distance.  What is it I’d like to get out of blogging here? At one point last spring I had an entry or two on new Islamic wings in Mulling about the Met, The Victoria and Albert and the Louvre’s Cour Visconti (still dubbed to open this Sept – we’ll see!), but overall this blog has addressed either specific works of art at the Louvre (which may just help THATLou participants in their bonus questions) or has reviewed wonderfully memorable treasure hunts and the fun that the hunters have brought to the game. This is the core of the blog which I shall certainly continue, but I’d like to keep an overall dialogue alive, too, where we touch on museums on the whole and the art world at large and perhaps touch on one or two museum personalities here and there. So to start with an overview, what’s better than museum stats lists – the biggest, the oldest, the most popular?

The Art Newspaper is a marvelous source for the general public interested in Art. It’s a monthly published by the Italian publishing house Umberto Allemandi and is about the art world (you’d never guess it from the name, eh?). Though it’s catered principally to art professionals, it’s not a dry trade magazine.  I find it accessible and enjoyable to the layman (me) within the art world, however I also trust it as a source, because it has my old crush, Philippe de Montebello’s stamp of approval.

Philippe de Montebello in 1978
Philippe de Montebello in 1978, photo by Paul Hosefros published in the NY Times on 9 Jan 2008

The former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY was the first museum president I ever formed an opinion of (that baritone voice, that fine accent, ah, what starry-eyed teen wouldn’t swoon? – ok, ok, I was a dork. But I wasn’t allowed to watch TV, I had to have some sort of entertainment). After 31 years at the Met de Montebello resigned in 2008 (here’s an adieu from Michael Kimmelman in the NY Times, with the excellent title “The Legacy of a Pragmatic Custodian of Human Civilisation“) to go down a few blocks to NYU and create a course which he described as “the history of collecting, connoisseur-ship and evolution of museums including the central issue of how the museum’s mission can be defined in today’s world”. Oh what I wouldn’t give to take that course, and at my old alma mater no less – but babies and jobs and 6000 miles keep me from it heart-breakingly.

In any case, with regard to The Art Newspaper de Montebello said it “stresses accuracy embracing an editorial policy that consistently reveals a high degree of seriousness and sense of responsibility.” (13 April 2006 issue of The Art Newspaper).  Its subjects range from art market discussions to art book reviews and Op-Eds, from curator interviews and features to new wing openings, down to conservation techniques and new discoveries. One list it produces, which all general newspapers like the BBC pick up each year, is the most visited stats.

This week I shall post the top fifteen museum attendance list from The Art Newspaper with an aim to use it as a loose TOC, to touch on those most popular museums, and perhaps cover links between them.

And, yes, I couldn’t help but put the photo of yet another crush at the top of the page – how great is that, a photo of Obama with de Montebello?
Crazy Louvre Stats (+ Others)
13 September 2012
  • Museum Musings

Crazy Louvre Stats (+ Others)

 Le Louvre, photographed by Jennifer Greco
Le Louvre, photographed by Jennifer Greco and published in

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

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.

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!

Rank Museum City Country Visitor count  
1 Musée du Louvre Paris France 8,880,000  
2 Metropolitan Museum of Art New York United States 6,004,254  
3 British Museum London United Kingdom 5,848,534  
4 National Gallery London United Kingdom 5,253,216  
5 Tate Modern London United Kingdom 4,802,287  
6 National Gallery of Art Washington United States 4,392,252  
7 National Palace Museum Taipei Taiwan 3,849,577  
8 Centre Pompidou Paris France 3,613,076  
9 National Museum of Korea Seoul South Korea 3,239,549  
10 Musée d’Orsay Paris France 3,154,000  
11 Museo del Prado Madrid Spain 2,911,767  
12 State Hermitage Museum Saint Petersburg Russia 2,879,686  
13 Museum of Modern Art New York United States 2,814,746  
14 Victoria & Albert Museum London United Kingdom 2,789,400  
15 Museo Reina Sofía Madrid Spain 2,705,529  
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 thatlou plug.
THATLou Christmas Count Down
21 December 2012
  • Museum Musings

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
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!

Announcing Christ(mas)
23 December 2012
  • Museum Musings

Announcing Christ(mas)

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.
Buon Natale da Firenze!
25 December 2012
  • Museum Musings

Buon Natale da Firenze!

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!
THATLou @ #MuseumCo
26 January 2015
  • Museum Musings

THATLou @ #MuseumCo

Museum Conference - Paris January
@MarDixon @DianeDrubay and @Sree speaking at Museum Conference – Paris, Jan 2015

A lightning bolt of museum social media energy struck Paris last week at the 20th Museum Conference: 352 tweeters reached an audience of 1.8 million in 2 days. Attending it has jumpstarted my return from blogging-lassitude & merits at least 3 Museum Musing posts on the THATLou blog. Two posts to follow:

·         Mar Dixon, the Queen of Hashtagging, is an inspiration to ALL (not just those in museums, not just those in social media, but to ALL because Mar is the lynchpin – internationally – of democratizing art and museums; she’s fighting the good fight for small & medium-sized museums and de-snob-ifying the art world). Participating in her MuseumCamp set my mind (& to do list) on fire.
·         Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer of The Met, former Professor & Dean at Columbia J-School (21 years), an avid & generous favoriter with 61K followers on Twitter, will be another subject, to at least gloss over the wealth of information he provided on the cross-section of The Met and Social Media tips. After all, I have become a #SreeGroupie with l’Etudiant’s Helene, the Louvre’s Elise and the US Embassy’s Kim (who’s been a #SreeGroupie since 1994 when she was his student at Columbia J-School) to name a few, so it’d be odd if I didn’t devote a post to The Man Named Sree.  

But before touching on those gurus here are some tidbits on an array of museums that contributed to Diane Drubay’s 20th Museum Conference out at Porte de Versailles last week. Museums like the Tate (Claire Eva and Elena Villaespesa), the V&A (Julie Chan), Palais de Tokyo (Gaelle de Medeiros) and the Van Gogh Museum (David van Zeggeren) sent speakers (just to list a few).
Museum Conference Paris January
As for some Museum Musings:

·         Claire Eva, Communications head of the Tate, has a tricky job of branding 4 different locations and types of collections. The Tate wants to “Democratise Access to Art” whilst “Provoking a Dialogue”. This isn’t just a message on a banner: Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, actually read 950 staff letters (on a very long flight) of Tate feedback. You can’t get more democratic than actually listening to the feedback of BOTH the check-out chick as well as the PhD curator. Just brilliant. Taking art off the pedestal. Claire, who goes by @OtterClaire on Twitter, was both succinct in her presentation and very generous and accessible with her time thereafter.
·         The V&A‘s Julie Chan, spoke on partnerships (for instance the V&A has a line of shoes partnered up with Clark’s or a limited edition of magazine covers with Harper’s Bazaar for sale) & in the age of funding cuts she highlighted the importance of museum stores. The V&A made 2 million pounds last year and has a staff of 85 (just the retail dept!); their goal is to be seen independently from the museum (she cited the MoMA, whose design store is across the street from the actual museum on 53rd St in NY). As a social media tip, Pinterest is a better platform to monetize, Instagram is better for engagement.
·         David van Zeggeren, of the Van Gogh Museum said that a good museum website should be able to answer 99% of all questions asked by visitors to the museum. Makes sense. Their quest for accessibility has come in the form of presenting Van Gogh as “Vincent”.
·         Palais de Tokyo dubs itself an “Anti-Museum”. Development head, Gaëlle de Medeiros said they were resistant to the word “branding”, although they are clearly open to partnerships having hired the Boston Group to analyze their strategy. Their economic model is 60% private, 40% public; with this in mind they host all 4 fashion weeks & are popular on social media thanks to fashionistas. They’d like to be thought of a “Lifestyle Place” she said, with YoYo (their nightclub), Madame et Monsieur (2 cinema rooms), a café, resto & exhibition space within their 22,000 m². I hadn’t known that Quai de NY used to be called Quai de Tokyo before WWII, thus their name.  
hashtracks #museumco
Sree’s #hashtracking on #MuseumCo — which I mis-tagged as #Museum_Co throughout both days! Some help I am…

Soon to come: two more THATLou Museum Musing posts concerning The Met’s Sree (did you know The Met has a digital department of 70 people? Their video series iPad App is called 82nd and 5th, Eighty Seconds for the museum’s address. Clever things!) and #MuseumSelfie brainchild Mar Dixon (the 5th most influential person museumer — and yes that means that one very energetic lady is more influential than most major museums!). Not shabby!

** Papers like The Guardian (Mar Dixon, Nicholas Serota), New York Times (Sree) and various other sites are not credited but are provided via hyperlink

*** And I can’t call them #SreeGroupies without having asked their permission, but was so pleased that the following were among Sree’s last-minute audience at l’Express’s @educpros: Mary Kay of Out and About in Paris, Elodie of Elodie’s Paris (& the tourist office), Bryan of Where is Bryan? (& la Sorbonne), Colleen of Colleen’s Paris, Anne of Pret-a-Voyager, Damien of the US Embassy, Catherine of France24 and Krishna of K_Puro.

**** After a bout of Museum & Social Media postings I intend to run a weekly THATKid Tuesday… opposed to slipping back into my blogging lethargy!
Khan Academy's Sal Khan
Khan Academy democratizing education

·         Continuing to democratize art, The Met has partnered Sal Khan, by contributing the content of 82nd & 5th to the Khan Academy, a free on-line education resource. When Bill Gates met Khan and heard of what he was doing he gave him 2 million on the spot, likewise Carlos Slim is funding the translation of Khan Academy’s entirely democratic education
·         Sree was big on having a story to tell – here’s my fave of his: Lucy Redoglia started a twitter acct named @MetEveryday where she posted a photo of the museum everyday, eventually earning her a job as one of two social media strategists there. Social Media is changing the landscape of so many domains, including getting great jobs.
·         With Lucy’s generous approval I’m going to try to post a #LouvreEveryday photo on my Google+ in tribute to her clever @MetEveryday
·         ABC = Always Be Connecting, Always be Charging (battery), Always be Collecting (photos)
·         An addition to this was the common sense that you must connect before you need something from someone (so to avoid removing the K before you have to ASK (my most un-snappy paraphrasing)
·         Last and most important Sree adage “Almost everyone will miss almost everything you do on Social Media… Until you make a mistake
We’re going to New York soon and I look forward to taking an #EmptyMet tour with Sree before the museum doors open. And hopefully from NY I can also learn more about the Everhard Jabach family (the Met just bought a Le Brun family portrait and European Paintings curator, Keith Christiansen is blogging about its restoration)

Sree Social Media Success Formula
Sree-Recommended Apps (my faves – he recommended a lot more):

·         EverNote scans business cards and see ALL internet presence (accidentally my Nom de Plume was outted – although I’ve written about being the more stuffy Charlotte Louise with a Lou in Paris interview.
·         IFTTT (IF This Then That – to program recipes, for example to get around the fact that IG photos don’t post on Twitter (thanks to FB)
·         BananaTag tracks your emails (to see which attachments your boss opens)
Sree + Daisy Selfie
Not at a museum, but taken on Mar Dixon’s #MuseumSelfie day

Next week I’ll conclude this Museum + Social Media trilogy with a quick profile of the Queen of DEMOCRATISING ART, Mar Dixon.. The brainchild behind #AskACurator Day, Museum Camp & a million other inventive, engaging things. Then I’ll resume with a weekly THATKid Tuesday post, running the gambit from much needed Art History vocab to Things to do with Kids in Paris before and after your Louvre Treasure Hunt.
THATLou @ #SreeParis
02 February 2015
  • Museum Musings

THATLou @ #SreeParis

To continue on the THATLou @ #MuseumCo post addressing Museums, Social Media & DEMOCRATISING ART, today I’m imparting some Sree Sreenivasan-wisdom, passed along at a recent workshop.
Sree Sreenivasan

In line with being accessible, Sree glossed over his bio (21 yrs teaching at Columbia Journalism School before recently becoming the Met’s Chief Digital Officer — a post created for him & with a staff of 70 (which floored me), American immigrant, father of twins) before jumping into the grit of his 2.5 hour talk. He prodded us to network among ourselves as well as encouraging us to reach out from the room to tweet strangers (his wife Roopa, Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times, Thomas Campbell director of The Met, to name a few).

The workshop – hosted last-minute by Helene Allaire of l’Etudiant – consisted of Museumers (The Louvres Nick Melissano & Elise Maillard, Buzzeum’s Diane Drubay, the Carnavelet & Palais du Tokyo), State Department Americans (US Embassy’s Kim Baker Sassi (a #SreeGroupie since 1995) & Damien Bertrand), Paris Tourist Board trendsetter Elodie Berta (Elodie’s Paris), journalists (France24’s Catherine Viette), academics (La Sorbonne’s Bryan Pirolli) & bloggers (Out and About in Paris, Colleen’s Paris, Pret-A-Voyager).

Metropolitan Museum of Art webpage
Sree said the Met needs to improve its Weibo numbers, for a Chinese social media presence

Sree embodied his message by being a succinct, accessible story-teller. My class notes:

·         The workshop was FREE as Sree capped in his tweet announcing it. He pointed out that on your 140 character tweets CAP what’s catchy.
·         Someone in the audience grumbled about how we were doing his work by hashtagging #SreeParis to all these people he was getting us to network with. Sree gently rebutted that you get what you pay for, reinforcing his FREE point. Loved it.
·         Influence is More Important than Numbers (Mar Dixon – the fantabulous subject of the last post in this trilogy – is an example: she’s the 5th most influential museumer — one lady is more influential than the Prado, V&A, National Gallery (London & DC), Smithsonian, Guggenheim, etc)
·         Apparently the hardest part of creating the Met’s App was (cleverly named 82nd & 5th, their address, for 80 seconds) getting their approval to put the “Start Here” button on the painting of George Washington. Cleverly that “Start Here” badge has a huge sticker on the Grand Hall lobby floor. The App doesn’t include the whole museum, but just covers 100 objects with curators speaking for a record 2-minutes (such brevity’s tricky for curators).
British Museum THATMuse!
25 August 2015
  • Museum Musings,
  • Misc,
  • THATBrit (British Museum)

British Museum THATMuse!

Norman Foster Great Hall in the British Museum
The sky’s the limit! Looking up at the British Museum’s Norman Foster Great Hall Big News!

THATLou is expanding to London museums in 2016, starting with the British Museum, under the name THATMuse, which stands for “Treasure Hunt at the Museum”

For our soft launch, the British Museum is hosting THATMuse focusing on Fun & Games in Museums. We’re honored that the BM is featuring “The Art of Play: A Treasure Hunt Challenge” as part of their Friday night BM/PMs series, from 6:15-8:15 pm on Friday 11 September 2015. Registration is through the British Museum website, for 5£.

This soft-launch of THATMuse is open to the general public, come one, come all to scout out Fun & Games at the venerable British Museum! As with all of our public hunts, you’re welcomed to sign up without a partner (& will be placed in a team of 4) or as a team through the above link.

RULES are straight-forward: to find as many pieces of treasure within the given amount of time, photographing your team in front of each treasure as proof that you’ve found it (& stuck together as a team!). We’ll tally scores over a drink in the BM’s Clore Education Center before the prize giving ceremony!

TOOLS are few: a keen sense of curiosity, freshly charged batteries and comfy shoes!

In anticipation I’ll be posting photos of the British Museum and its surrounding Bloomsbury neighborhood on our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as possibly dropping some THATMuse hints, so feel free to connect on any of the platforms.

British Museum Ceiling
Apparently there are 3,320 panes of glass in this glorious ceiling, as I learned in Yannick Pucci’s (of London Unravelled) BM Highlights tour!

Our handle is:


on all social media where I post silliness such as the photos in this post, including this one of me trying to steal a kiss from Storsh on his favorite BM Lion
Daisy and Storsh at the British Museum Lion
THATMet Teaser, Frank Lloyd Wright
01 February 2013
  • Museum Musings

THATMet Teaser, Frank Lloyd Wright

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 fascinatingdiscovery: 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! 


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.
THATMet Teaser, Louis Sullivan
01 February 2013
  • Museum Musings

THATMet Teaser, Louis Sullivan

taken from the Met's website

Louis Henri SULLIVAN (1856-1924)

Chicago Stock Exchange Building Staircase, cast iron, walnut banister 1893

Louis Sully, as an old art history teacher used to lovingly call him, has been considered many things: The Father of the Skyscraper, the Grandfather of Modernism, the head honcho of the Prairie school. Mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, Savvy Mr Sully is one of the “Recognised Trinity of American Architecture” along with Henry Hobson Richardson (think of that horrible Trinity Church in Boston, ‘Richardsonian Romanesque’) and Frank Lloyd Wright (who needs no reminders). Demolished in 1972, there’s a smattering of the glorious Chicago Stock Exchange here and there —  a stone arch in the garden of the Chicago Art Institute and this beautiful ironworked banistered stairwell at the Met. Staircases lend themselves to arty photography, especially when they’re as pretty as this one. An extra fifty points for the team whose photo is the artiest – we’ll vote by consensus at the bar together (you’re not allowed to vote for yourself).


This is a two-part series of THATMet teasers. The same type of clue is given for THATLou (as you’ve seen in the Veronese Teaser)…

In fact, something that sprouted from Savvy Mr Sully (who ran in a December THATMet) is an idea to hold a THATLou photo competition. Should anyone have suggestions, I’m all ears!
Mulling about the Met
21 March 2014
  • Museum Musings

Mulling about the Met

To close off our new Islamic wings visits, we’re hopping across the pond from London’s Victoria and Albert Islamic Wing to NY. In 2011 The Met opened 19,000 sq feet (1770 m) of space devoted to Islamic art (the formal name of which is so long I’m not going to bother with it here). They haven’t had a new wing devoted to Islamic art since 1975. Worse, still, that was closed in 2003 to make room for the expanded Greek and Roman wing (which is utterly divine, by the way). The irony being, of course that this decision was made 2 years after 9/11, the very same year Chirac was ordering the Louvre’s Islamic collection. At the time plenty of critics pointed out that the west was being given priority so literally over the middle east.


Mistakes aside, the Met’s made right and after nearly a decade of debating has invested 50 million dollars to showcase their 12,000-piece strong Islamic collection. Construction started in 2009, in the midst of economic hardship, and this past November opened their 15 rooms.  I would like to have a brief visit with the naturalist painter, Mansur, a fine Indian included in the permanent collection, but just a quick aside:

The Met made an interesting decision to include a 16th century illuminated manuscript folio of the Prophet Muhammad. Thomas Campbell, de Montebello’s replacement, said “we hope that does not become a lightening-rod issue.” I don’t much care for Campbell (basically because he’s not Philippe de Montebello. When I was at Vanity Fair and fearful of losing any cultural education, I volunteered at the Met often, which is when I fell in love with the cadence of de Montebello’s voice and fine lemon-lipped accent. He could be telling the room the sky was blue and I’d find it sublimely insightful), but I respect Campbell for saying that the reason Muhammad is included is because they didn’t want to be accused of ‘ducking’ the issue.

There are tons of pieces to choose from, among them the Damascus Room, an 18th C wood-paneled reception chamber entirely intact, but for now I’d like to have a small visit with this blue bull, Nilgai. It is a page or leaf from the Shah Jahan Album (aka the Emperor’s Album or the Kevorkian Album).

Ink, opaque water color and gold on paper, he’s painted by the “Wonder of his age”, Mansur. During Jahangir’s reign (1605-1627) in the Mughal Empire, the painter Mansur accompanied the Emperor everywhere in order to paint page after page of natural phenomena. I suppose one could argue that Jahangir would have surely been a blogger, because as a copious diary keeper, he also insisted on having drawings to enhance his stories. And nature was his muse. This finely framed, delicate-legged bull antelope is taxonomically correct apparently. I wouldn’t know I haven’t ever seen an antelope, let alone a blue-tinged bull antelope. But there’s something sweet about the fellow. Here’s a real one, though he doesn’t look so blue to me, nor so sweet with those sharp horns.

a real blue bull,

Perhaps I was struck by Mansur’s gentle soul because he reminded me of an old friend at the Louvre, Pieter Boel: Another 17th Century naturalist painter, who has made plenty of appearances in plenty of THATLous. Hmmmm. Thoughts for the next post are already bubbling!
Museum Musings at the Victoria and Albert
16 April 2014
  • Museum Musings

Museum Musings at the Victoria and Albert

Largest, Oldest, Most Famous. These adjectives catch my attention. Continuing on this thread of new Islamic art wings at major museums (the Louvre, The Met), we’ve crossed the channel to London’s Victoria and Albert. The centerpiece to the Jameel Gallery of Islamic art, which opened in July 2006, is just that: The largest, the oldest signed, and undoubtedly the most famous Persian carpet in the world. Behold the Ardabil Carpet.

When William Morris, an art referee for the museum at the time (and the grandfather of textile design), first saw the Ardabil carpet in 1893 he was smitten, describing it as “the most remarkable work of art … the design is of singular perfection …”, banging on in delirious delight. Morris didn’t know that it was one of a pair (the other of which is at LACMA in Los Angeles, and was at one point in JP Getty’s possession).

Measuring 10.51m x 5.34m (34.4 x 17.6 feet), it has over 26 million knots of silk and wool. The pair took more than 4 years to weave and were laid on the floor of the burial place of Shaikh Safi al-Din, the founder of the Safavid Dynasty. They were in the mosque of Arbadil (NW Persia) from 1539-40, when they were made on royal commission, till 1890 when they left Iran for England. The inscription of the weaver (who wasn’t really a slave, but probably using the word in humility)

I have no refuge in the world other than thy threshold.
There is no protection for my head other than this door.
The work of the slave of the threshold Maqsud of Kashan in the year 946 (Muslim calendar).

After years of having it hanging from the wall, the Jameel Gallery had it restored outdoors near Wales. A slanted platform was made for it to rest and fresh river water, which is low in minerals there apparently, washed it clean. For some reason this amazes me the most about the Ardabil carpet – that it wasn’t cleaned in a scientist’s restoration lab. It is no longer hanging, but flat, and the V&A have a high-tech non-reflective whoosiwhatsit suspended above it so to protect the 10 colours from damage. Every half hour a dim light is switched on to illuminate it. A precious flash to behold this singular perfection. 

The idea here is that the more you read of this THATMuse blog, the more likely you’ll be to find hints to existing THATMuse treasure… The more you read, the more you’ll win. This Ardabil carpet, however, is an exception. Not only would it be too easy to find in a THATVA, it is too fine to take photos of. Something sacred to even the THATMuse gods!

Except for the NY Times photo, all other photos were taken from the V&A.
Museum Musings at the Louvre
16 May 2014
  • Museum Musings

Museum Musings at the Louvre

So after this bout of considering the Near Eastern Antiquities (from the oldest piece at the Louvre, to huge gentle Lamassus, fearsome Persian griffins and big bulls), what’s more logical than to turn my attention to the Louvre’s imminent Islamic Art wing in the Visconti Wing? It’s been in the making for quite some time. Back when Chirac and his adorable nose were leading France, the NY Times ran a piece on one of the major donors to construct the new wing. Apparently Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal’s donation of million was the largest gift ever made to a museum. Though Prince Walid owns 17% of the not so successful Eurodisney, he also has several luxury hotels in Paris (among them the George V). More interesting to finance people, he’s also Citigroup’s largest single shareholder, so I suppose a million gift is a drop in the bucket. At the 2005 unveiling of the plans for the wing, the French gov’t pledged million, and Total, the French oil company, coughed up a measly .8 million. Anyway, pennies aside here’s the photo the Times ran:

For more than 25 years the Louvre has kept most of its 17,500 pieces of Islamic art, ranging from the 7th to the 19th Centuries, in storage. It has one the world’s most important collections of carpets, as well as Ottoman empire art.

So in 2003, when Chirac was pitting France against its Anglo allies (god bless him – and let’s not forget de Villepin for his delivery to the UN. Have just thrown in a snap of this silver fox for good measure. I hear pretty faces sell) in the debate over the war in Iraq, he ordered the opening of an Islamic Art Department.

Taken from Mario Bellini Architectes

Architects Mario Bellini (Italian) and Rudy Ricciotti (French) won the competition to create the 3,500 meter squared space in Denon’s Visconti Courtyard. The glass and steel structure is the most dramatic change to the Louvre’s neoclassical architecture since IM Pei’s pyramid entrance and inverted pyramid were unveiled in 1989 and 1993, respectively.

Taken from

The Guardian quoted Mario Bellini in 2008 as saying “the roof is only supported by eight very narrow tubes which are leaning and dancing together and which support the weight of the veil to the bottom of the foundations”, two levels below. Ricciotti has described the 150-ton structure as a “golden cloud”, a more diplomatic description than Bellini’s “headscarf blown in by the wind”, which he said when Sarkozy laid the first stone in July 2008. One does have to wonder if Bellini was taking a small stab at the French for outlawing Muslim headscarves in public schools with such a visceral description.

Published in L’ on 4 Jan 2012

The Louvre recently announced in a press release that the €98 million wing would open this summer, but Le Figaro reported that the Louvre still needs to raise €10 million. Previously the Visconti Cour was slated to open in 2009, 2010 and now this, so we’ll see. Whenever it does open, getting a glimpse of the nearly 18,000 pieces will be a treat.

Does this look like it’ll be completed in 5 or 6 months? Published in

In the coming days I might linger on new Islamic wings in other museums, such as the Met’s November 2011 unveiling of their 12,000 Islamic works or London’s V&A, which opened the Jameel Gallery recently. I’m straying a bit from THATMuse in these Museum Musing posts, and my training is based exclusively on Western Art (Baroque Roman architecture to be specific), but what fun to consider these Near Eastern treasures! Here’s an article on the Louvre’s Empty Quarter which I wrote for France Today.
Spain's Span Across Europe
11 February 2015
  • Museum Musings

Spain's Span Across Europe

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

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 (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,

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 the 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.

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!
The Prado's Gioconda
08 February 2014
  • THATLou – Ladies au Louvre,
  • Museum Musings,
  • THATLou – Beauty & Bestiary theme,
  • THATLou - Love Hunt

The Prado's Gioconda

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 theDa 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 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. 

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

In 1992 Art Historian José María Ruiz Manero published a paper called “Italian Painting in 16th Century Spain” where he surmises that the painter was Flemish and that it was probably painted in Northern France. Because the Prado version’s wood was assumed to be oak (rarely used in Italy at the time) Northern Europe was an entirely plausible guess. However, last year the panel was found to be walnut, which was used in Italy — as was poplar, what da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is painted on. 

What I don´t understand is why all of the newspapers refer to it as a copy, as in this Guardian article or this Time Magazine piece… If it was painted simultaneously and developed along side Leonardo´s, why isn´t it simply thought of as another painting of the same subject, by a lesser painter?

Even more interesting than this is who painted this Prado version of the Mona Lisa. Though it hasn’t been confirmed (the discovery was only unveiled at a National Gallery (London) conference of conservators, most people seem to believe it was by Andrea Salai, an assistant to and perhaps Leonardo’s lover. More on that for our next visit! 

The Louvre’s Mona Lisa, taken from
Museum Mummies - Games to engage your kids at the museum
18 October 2016
  • Travelling in Paris and London,
  • Museum Musings

Museum Mummies - Games to engage your kids at the museum

Because my mother was an art historian, we spent at least part of each weekend prowling European painting collections across New York. I grew up in the West Village and associated uptown with The Met and Frick. To keep me quiet, she concocted all sorts of art games, which I’ve been handing down to my 4.5 year old, Storsh (he thinks of the Louvre and British Museum as playgrounds).

She did such a good job of it that I not only got my degrees in Art History, but when I had Storsh, a premature worry set in over what his relationship to art and museums would be. In his first year of life, I started a company called THATLou, which stood for Treasure Hunt at the Louvre. Now awaiting number two, we’re building THATMuse for museums in London. Our soft launch was generously commissioned by the British Museum, where I hosted a “Friday Late” entitled The Art of Play: A Treasure Hunt Challenge, which took place last week, on 11 September.

"Scour the wall of postcards for their five favourite pieces before setting off to find those paintings"

In my experience,children love museums if you know how to engage them. Here are some of my top games to keep them interested when you visit the painting collections.

The Postcard Game

If you’re travelling and it’s a collection you don’t know well, go to the gift shop before you visit the museum and have your children scour the wall of postcards for their five favourite pieces before setting off to find those paintings.

For older children

Ask them to find the paintings featured on the postcards within the museum by looking at the country/century of the work on the back of the postcard and finding it on the map. This will develop their navigation skills and give them a layout of the space.

For younger children

Have them pose as the subject for a photo with each work and postcard. If they’re in the habit of taking photos with your phone, trade roles with you posing as the silliest character in the painting. They will enjoy looking back at the photos later.

The Category Game

Find a bench in the museum lobby before entering and ask your kids to choose an animal, a type of food and something like grotesque noses (Storsh loves this one) as your categories.

"Giving them a sense of purpose helps stretch their attention – and your visit!"

Write your categories down then see how many of those animals/foods/body parts your children can find throughout the visit. All kids like collecting things, and having them keep count by writing a line every time they find their item is rewarding. And of course, giving them a sense of purpose helps stretch their attention – and your visit!

The Fashion Game

Before leaving the house, go to your wardrobe and ask your children to feel a variety of materials – scratchy wool, smooth silk, heavy satin, luscious velvet, soft fur etc – the breadth depends on the size of your wardrobe…. Choose one material or more and (assuming it’s not an evening gown!) wear it to the museum so the kids can look at the collection from a tactile perspective. Ask them whether they think it looks real.

The Saint Game

Every time I visit a museum with Storsh, we latch onto a saint and their attribute and devote our whole visit to finding that saint in various paintings. At 3, Storsh started out with St George, easily identified for killing the dragon from a horse. Each time we found a St George, Storsh would make the wild hissing sound of the dragon blowing fire. Sometimes I’d get on all fours and neigh wildly like George’s horse. The more vivid the enactment, the easier to remember the story.

"Quick, show me what Salome does?"

Slowly, one per museum visit, I added in St Michael and St Margaret, both dragon killers but without the horse. Then St John the Baptist. The bloodier, the better. I tend to quiz him on site, so that his connection to the painting is clear, “quick, show me what Salome does?” Sometimes Storsh draws his fingers across his throat with quick precision for a good beheading, other times he dances – much to the bemusement of the guards.