Art or Eyesore? The Eiffel Tower History You Probably Didn't Know

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


Nicknamed La dame de fer (the iron lady), the Eiffel Tower is one of the most well-recognized buildings in the world. This latticed iron structure, located in the Champ de Mais in Paris, was erected in 1889 for the World’s Fair of that same year.

Though the tower is now considered to be a cultural and global icon of France, beloved by the majority of its citizens, this was not always the case.

When engineer Gustave Eiffel (the man after whom the tower is named, who also created New York’s Statue of Liberty) put forth a proposal for the 320m (324m including the antenna) building, he was met with massive opposition from the artistic elite.

Some of the most influential members of the art establishment banded together in a group called The Committee of Three Hundred in order to defend what they considered to be “the untouched beauty of Paris”. 

They insisted that the “metal asparagus”, a useless monstrosity, would humiliate and overshadow beloved monuments like Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe.

To them, it was an ugly and overblown work of engineering. 

Every 7 years, the Eiffel Tower is painted with 50-60 tonnes of paint to protect it from rust. Painters use three different colors, with the darkest on the bottom and lightest on the top, to enhance the impression of height

Despite their objections, construction on the Eiffel Tower moved forward and was visited by over 2 million Parisians the day that it opened to the public.

Though many grew to accept the tower, there were still some from The Committee who refused to accept its presence. It is said that writer Guy de Maupassant ate lunch every day at its ground floor restaurant — the only place, he claimed, where he couldn’t see the offensive thing.

Though some still see it as an eyesore overrun with tourists, the 7,000 tons of metal are now widely considered to be a striking piece of structural art.

What do you think — art or eyesore?  

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The Eiffel Tower in Paris
 



Armless Propaganda: The Story of the Venus de Milo

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


The Venus de Milo is one of the most famous statues in the world, but like most famous art, one has to wonder what makes this piece more important than any of the other statues collecting dust in the galleries and storerooms of museums. 

Well, first off, you can’t argue with the fact that she is beautiful.

Artists and critics have long praised the work as being the epitome of graceful female beauty, so much so that her image used to be on the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

On the other hand, though, there are many beautiful statues — and many that still have arms. 

Venus de Milo (Aphrodite of Melos), circa 150 BCE

Did she ever have arms?

No, Venus was not created without her upper limbs. She did originally have arms but was found with them already broken off. The buzz created by scholars over the mystery of the placement of her arms and what she may have once held has aided in her popularity. Only adding to the mystery is the fact that fragments found with the statue when it was dug up on the Island of Melos in 1820 have been lost.

The fragments, if reconstructed, would have been from the right arm of the statue and would have shown her holding an apple. Because the fragments were made of stone that was rougher than the rest of the statue, it was concluded that they were from an earlier restoration and so were set aside without being documented properly. They have now disappeared.

Scholars have recently speculated that the fragments were the originals and were carved differently because they would have been above the viewer's line of sight and so did not require a smooth surface (a common sculpting practice at the time of her creation). Without the fragments themselves, however, this can not be proven. 

Who sculpted her?

Adding to her beauty, and the mystery behind her arms, is the fact that is is still not known who actually created the statue and for what purpose. Though it has been speculated that the artist may have been Alexandros of Antioch and she once sat in a high niche in the wall of an ancient city, none of this has been confirmed.

Though all of these facts are interesting, they do not add up to the kind of information that would attract the attention of the rest of the world.

Why is this Venus SO popular?

The main reason that this marble Venus is so recognizable is because of good ‘ol fashioned propaganda.

In 1815, France was forced to return the Medici Venus, which had been stolen by Napoleon Bonaparte, back to the Italians. It was (and still is) regarded as one of the finest classical sculptures in existence and to a country considered to be the art hub of Europe at the time, this was a HUGE blow to the ego.

When the Venus de Milo arrived at the Louvre so soon after the loss of the Medici Venus, French Officials immediately began promoting it as a greater treasure than what they had lost and voila, we now revere and recognize her as one of the most stunning and mysterious statues of the Hellenistic period. 

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What's So Special About The Mona Lisa? The Real Story Behind da Vinci's Famous Painting

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,


Mona Lisa, 1503-1506       Leonardo Da Vinci

When my sister recently came home from a trip to Paris she seemed impressed with everything that she had seen — except for the Mona Lisa.

One of the most recognized works of art in the world, reproductions of it usually come in poster sized prints while the original, hung behind thick, bullet proof glass and guarded by a velvet rope is miniature in comparison. 

She commented that in a museum filled with huge, wall-sized works of art, why should she care about something so small that she couldn’t even get close to?

This is a very good question and one that I am sure A LOT of visitors to the Louvre end up asking.

What's so special about the Mona Lisa?

The Renaissance era that Leonardo da Vinci lived in was a time of arts patronage, and artists usually only painted epic works at the request of a wealthy patron (basically someone who requested a certain type of painting and then paid for it).

Patrons valued these artists and usually gave generous commissions, but this meant that the artist had little freedom in what they were creating. Most works from this period were biblical or classical in nature and the patrons themselves were only painted if they were added into the scene. Unless you were a pope, a Medici (an influential family in Florence) or someone equally wealthy, there was little chance of there being a painting done only of you. 

And then there is Mona.

She is painted without a stitch of jewelry (unheard of for women of the era) — not even a wedding ring — and her look is contemporary, not drawing from any classical or biblical references. Women, at the time, were painted to look demure and would never be directly gazing at the viewer. Mona not only stares you down but does so with a smile on her face. It is almost like she is challenging those who dare to look at her. 

For someone like da Vinci, the painter of such revered biblical works like The Last Supper, this is a huge digression from the norm.

To make it all even more mysterious, the real identity of the woman is not known. There is speculation that she was Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, but there is no direct evidence of this. Many have guessed that the women and the artist were involved in some sort of love affair, but for all we know, the woman in this painting was his housemaid.

Something about her or the painting must have moved him, however, because once it was finished he kept it with him for the rest of his life. 

So, why should you care?

It is not so much the painting itself, but the history behind it that makes the Mona Lisa so special. In a time when the majority of art created was for someone else to appreciate, Leonardo da Vinci created something that was only for himself.

Though tame to us, the style that he painted Mona Lisa in was scandalous for his time and if there is anything to love more than a mystery, it’s a scandal. 

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What's So Special About The Mona Lisa?