Maps, The Louvre and Palais Royal

The Salle des Cariatides

Built by architect Pierre Lescot in the 16th century for King Francois I (finished under King Henry II), the Salle des Cariatides is one of the oldest areas of the Louvre and a solid example of Renaissance architecture.

The Salle des Caryatides is on the ground floor to the right

Originally conceived to serve as a tribunal as well as the ball room, sculptor Jean Goujon was hired to deck it out. Instead of beer pong tables and neon Budweiser signs, Jean sculpted four statuesque carytides that served not only as giant sexy focal points, but to also support 5-10 musicians who would play above the crowd like a 16th center surround sound Bosé speaker system.

Like an Architectural Mullet, he made a point to physically separate the party side from the justice side with three steps that are no longer present.
Given the important role to serve both the court of law and Friday Night Fever, this space was the heart of the Louvre Palace.

The room changed roles over the years, acting as both a marriage hall for a pre-King Henry IV when he married the daughter of King Henry II in 1572 and then his funeral parlors when he got shanked by François Ravaillac in 1610.

When Henry IV got hitched to Marguerite de Valois

This was also where the Le Toucher des Ecrouelles ceremony would take place, when the king would use his divine touch to poke at whatever diseased person was presented to him, make the sign of the cross, and proclaim “The King touches you! God heals you! Where’s my hand sanitiser?”

But my most favorite relevation of this room is actually underneath it. During renovation work here in 1882, remains of a room from the original Louvre fortress were found and integrated into the museum, which you can visit.

Today this room is home to a few famous Greek Gods, Goddesses, and Mythological heros including the iconic 1st century AD Artemis with a Doe.
Also known as Diana of Versailles, this Roman Goddess once graced the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles before being moved to the Louvre in 1798.

Fun Fact- A miniature replica of this statue was in the first class lounge of the Titanic. In 1986, Robert Ballard discovered and photographed the statue on the sea floor near the bow section of the wreck.

Diana of Versaille photographed in the Titanic in 1912 and where she lays today.
Maps, The Louvre and Palais Royal

The Galleries of the Palais Royal

Paris 75001

This painting, depicting a scene not so different from one we could find today in the same location, has a cheeky hidden context.

Clutch your pearls and grab your smelling salts respectable folks!


A reproduction of the lost original and first shown in salons in the early 19th century, artist Louis Léopold Boilly barely escaped the Reign of Terror thanks to his habit of pushing the boundaries of propriety with his “morbidly obscene” yet realistic style of painting. He continued to scandalize the slightly less rigid standards of a post-Revolutionary Paris with this scene of a seemingly normal moment in the day to day Bourgoise life of Parisian men, women, and children at the Palais Royal.

However, on further inspection there are a few clues that show this is anything but an appropriate family afternoon outing.

To start, we got a few ladies of leisure, who can be identified by their scandalously bare arms, naked ankles, and flimsy dresses. Accompanying them are upper middle class men whose reputations are high enough to afford a little afternoon delight without risking their honor or position.

On the far left, there seems to be a minor dispute. Monsieur clutches the railing, perhaps he feels the price tag of this ménage à trois is too high. Beside them we see the round rump of a girl lifting her skirts, probably giving potential buyers a taste of the goods before they commit to buy. The woman above her seems to say “for fecks sake Constance, you are giving it all away! I can see the outline of your knee through those five layers of petticoats!”

To the right, a satisfied customer grasps the waist of a visibly annoyed lady, who is probably thinking “Hell no we will not be Facebook friends. Pay up and back off, I got things to do.”

Moving along, a women is batting her eyes at potential customers, maybe trying to sweeten the deal. “You want me to put that cane up your bum? Ok but there’s a 15% added charge for sodomy”. A child looks up beside her, is it a decoy to make this scene more PG?

On the far right we have a Mademoiselle stroking a dog in a basket, held by a man who appears to be translating for his turbaned master who stands behind them looking on. The woman between them is the Pimp; her arms around them both while negotiating the price.

The garden and galleries of the Palais Royal were well known for their more libertine activities, and this was a popular hotspot for working ladies of all classes who came here to “faire leur palais”. This was even where pre-Emperor Napoleon picked up a lady who he lost his V-card with! (see related post below!)

Rates of the Palais Royal Girls

As many as 600-800 women lived and worked at the Palais Royal until Louis-Philippe forbid prostitution there in 1830.

Maps, Saint Germain des Près and the Eiffel Tower

The Theft of the Mona Lisa : Part One

Whether you agree that she is smiling or not, there is certainly no argument that The Mona Lisa (AKA La Joconde if vous parlez Francais or La Gioconda if.. ahh, YOU-A SPEEKIE ITALIANO) is one of, if not the number one, most recognized piece of art in the world.

From her Renaissance Mastermind, Leonardo da Vinci- to her insurance value- 820 million dollars!! to her background support in Jay Z and Beyoncé’s Louvre themed music video, (because nothing says priceless Renaissance masterpiece like “poppin’, I’m poppin’, my bitches all poppin’!”) her face is as well known as Jesus Christ and Donald Trump. But have you ever wondered WHY?

If we are being honest, there isn’t anything SUPER remarkable about this painting and unless you’re into the no eyebrows look, Mona probably isn’t giving anyone a chubby. The colors don’t catch your eye like a Gustav Klimt and there isn’t much to analyse in the portrait itself like a trippy Salvador Dali. The question of “is she smiling or not?” certainly brings attention, but what else is there behind this painting? Well I’ve got answers! But first, a little background..

What is it about this painting?

There are a few discrepancies surrounding Mona’s background, but most experts agree she was painted by Leonardo Dicaprio in early 16th century Florence for Francesco del Giocondo and the portrait is of his wife Lisa. (Mona is an old school Italian way of saying Madame). Some controversy comes from the fact that no one is 100 percent certain that the picture we know as the Mona Lisa at the Louvre is the same one that Leonardo is attributed to having done in a biography written 30 some years after his death.

Leonardo DiCaprio

The Louvre released a statement in 2005 explaining, “Leonardo da Vinci was painting in 1503 the portrait of a Florentine lady by the name of Lisa del Giocondo. About this we are now certain. Unfortunately, we cannot be absolutely certain that this portrait of Lisa del Giocondo is the painting of the Louvre.” However, most experts agree this is her.

Moving along, for reasons unknown Mona was never given to her namesake and remained with Leonardo until his death in 1519, before being bequeathed to his assistant Salai. Despite his Italian Stallion heritage, Leonardo was tight with France’s King Francois I, (I imagine they were Renaissance drinking buddies) and Mona wound up in his possession in the early 1520’s.

Leonardo da Vinci on his deathbed, at Cloux in 1519, with Francois I and members of the royal household in attendance. Engraving by James Scott (c. 1809-c. 1889) after William Fisk (1796-1872)

She stayed in the French royal art collection a few hundred years and moved around to various castles before she came to the Louvre after the French Revolution in 1793. There she remained, admired but relatively unknown, until 10AM Monday August 22, 1911 when a Louvre employee happened to notice a vacant spot on the wall of the Salon Carré at the Louvre. He cried out, “Someone has stolen La Jaconde!”

Wondering what happened? Stay turned for the answer, next time, on Paris History of our Streets! (Or just look it up on google you god damn killjoy) And if you’re wondering what kind of amateur professional historian I am to mix up Leonardo DiCaprio with Leonardo da Vinci HAHA JOKES ON YOU! Just making sure you are paying attention…

Maps, The Louvre and Palais Royal

The Secret Hearts of the Louvre

The Louvre Museum Paris 75001

I’ve got a little archaeology lesson for y’all today, something that I like to think of as my favorite Secret Paris Historical Detail since I learned of it in 2013 during a fieldtrip with my Histoire de l’Architecture Française class.

But first, a little FoUnDaTiOn! If you didn’t already know, there is an entire underground part of the museum dedicated to the foundations of the OG Louvre fortress that predates everything you see today, most of which is fairly recent dating from the 19th century.

Dating the Louvre Museum. The oldest parts are solid black and date from the 16th century. Mostly everything surrounding the pyramid is 19th century.

The Louvre Fortress was built by King Phillipe August II in 1190 and then destroyed during the Renaissance when King Francois I leveled it to begin creating the Louvre that we know today. The tricky thing about destroying fortresses is that they are built to withstand destruction, thus making them very difficult to erase. Fortunately for us, the foundation of the walls still exists and when you enter this part of the museum, you are actual walking in what used to be the moat. (see photo) Simply put, when the fortress was demolished, the walls were taken down and the moat filled in. No one bothered to take down the walls below the ground level. So this area, which today is found under the Cour Carré was just rebuilt upon with what we see today as the Louvre palace.

So my fieldtrip. Back then, I had been a pretentious little shit and I met my classmates that day thinking I had already seen everything there was to see at the Louvre, specifically in the Medieval Louvre section of the museum where we started.

The entrance to the Medieval Louvre in the Sully Section of the Museum

My professor herded all 15 of her students together and brought us to the first section of stone walled foundation, and asked us to tell her what we saw. It only took about 10 seconds for someone to hesitantly exclaim “Are those HEARTS?”

WELL SURE SHIT! There are hearts, like modern day cartoony Valentine’s Day hearts, carved on EVERY.SINGLE.STONE.BLOCK! My jaw dropped. I had never really thought about it, but I would have assumed the classic heart shape to be a relatively modern concept.

The hearts are everywhere but not really visible unless you are looking for them

It isn’t even the shape of a REAL heart after all. You would think something more appropriate for a 13th century shape would be more geometrical wouldn’t you? So what were they doing on 800+ year old fortress foundations? Our professor informed us that medieval stonemasons carved these hearts, and other shapes (marque de tâcheron) directly on their “canvas” for the same reason an artist signs their finished paintings.

marque de tâcheron examples

Each stonemason had a corresponding shape original to them so they couldn’t confuse the work (and bill) of one to another. Another reason was to create old fashioned publicity (I think this particular Stonemason would be very proud to see his work still admired in 2020).

As for me, whenever my foot isn’t in my mouth and I’m at the Louvre, I always take a few minutes to stop by the foundations and ask oblivious visitors (especially those who are already got that exhausted blank stare look that says they’ve already seen 453 pieces of art too many that day) to take a closer look. It never gets old to see their eyes widen in disbelief to see something as undistinguished as a derpy heart carved into each stone block making up the wall right in front of them.

You don’t see this mentioned in many tour guide books and it’s my favorite overlooked Paris detail. Of course everyone runs to see the Mona Lisa and the other Big Shots, but the Louvre Médévial trumps both of those in my opinion. It simply is a testament to the history found here, even if it ceases to exist in its original form.

Have you been to this section of the Louvre yet and seen these hearts, or did I just blow your mind?