How did a painting that was practically worthless find itself at the center of a diplomatic tug-of-war between Saudi Arabia and France? It’s a fascinating tale.
The struggle surrounds Salvator Mundi, believed by many to be a lost masterpiece of Leonardo da Vinci. After going missing for centuries, the painting reappeared in 1900 in the collection of Englishman Francis Cook. It then passed through several more hands, before being sold at a New Orleans auction in 2005. Described as “a wreck, dark and gloomy,” it went for just over $1,000
An expert art restorer, Diane Modestini, was then brought in. Over the next few years, she slowly cleaned and restored the painting, and became convinced that it was a work of Leonardo da Vinci himself. But not everyone agreed, and the question of “who painted Salvator Mundi?” divided the art world.
The controversy continued when the paining was auctioned in 2017, fetching $450 million, by far the highest price ever paid for a work of art. The buyer, anonymous at the time, was later revealed to be Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. And then things got complicated.
Read all about the diplomatic tussle between France and Saudi Arabia in France Today!
Tucked into the mountains north of Nice sits an arboretum unique in the world. It mixes exotic trees, rare flowers, and “no-made” art in a mountain park overlooking the wild Tinel Valley—a perfect day trip for nature lovers and art enthusiasts alike.
The Marcel Kroënlein Arboretum stretches over 17 hectares along the flank of a mountain, rising from an elevation of 1300m to 1700m and creating “a green cathedral. It is home to many mountain flowers and it has assembled a complete collection of the wild roses of the Alpes Maritime region, a feat which garnered it the prestigious Henry Ford Environmental Award.
Besides the protection of flora, the arboretum’s mission is to serve as a place of artistic expression. Every year, artists worldwide gather to display their Land Art among the trees and turn it over to the elements. The forces of nature refashion these pieces over time, as each is sculpted by the sun, wind, rain, and snow.
Learn more about this unique and beautiful place in Perfectly Provence!
And on the subject of beauty, the Rhône River is one of the world’s most majestic. It begins in the Swiss Alps and flows into one end of Lake Geneva, then emerges from the other end and runs all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
Noted photographer Camille Moirenc has now captured the Rhône in a series of 80 magnificent photographs, on display in Paris. You can see the photos from the comfort of your own home, along with an explanation of each one. They are stunning!
See the photos and learn more about the exhibition at Perfectly Provence!
What are the greatest books of the 20th century? Americans might say To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. The British might push for Ulysses and Brave New World. But what do the French think?
That’s easy to answer, because a giant survey was done a few years ago on exactly this topic, ranking the 100 best books of the 20th century. It should come as no surprise that French classics The Stranger and In Search of Lost Time topped the list. But it might surprise you that French authors made up only half the list. There were plenty of books by authors from the US, UK, Italy, Russia…even Albania!
Learn what the French think about literature, and find out why this list was controversial, in France Today!
One of the highlights of a visit to Avignon is seeing the magnificent Papal Palace, once home to seven popes. But what were they were doing in Avignon instead of Rome? It’s an interesting tale.
For centuries, popes jockeyed with kings and emperors for worldly power. Things came to a head in the early 14th century when Pope Boniface VIII decided to excommunicate King Philip IV of France (this was not a good idea.) This enraged the king, and before long forces loyal to him attacked the pope, who died soon after. His successor was short-lived and King Philip forced the next papal conclave to elect his personal friend, Bertrand de Got, as Pope Clement V.
Pope Clement refused to go to Rome and set up shop in Avignon instead—the city and surrounding territories were then part of the Papal States. Thus began the Avignon Papacy, or as some in Rome snidely call it today, the Babylonian Captivity.
Learn more about this fascinating episode in church history in My French Life!
Let’s go underwater this week!
The Underwater Museum of Marseille (Musée Subaquatique de Marseille) recently opened its doors, so to speak, with ten newly-created sculptures near a popular city beach. Admission is free, and guided tours are also available.
The museum’s founder was inspired by Mexico’s underwater sculpture garden near Cancun. Such sculpture gardens have begun to pop up worldwide, and Marseille’s is one of the first in France, along with two others near Cannes and Corsica.
Learn more about visiting the museum and see some great underwater photos at Perfectly Provence.
Further east along France’s Mediterranean coastline lie the remains of Olbia, a Greek colony founded in 325 B.C. It once had a bustling port that eventually sank beneath the waves. The port broke apart into hundreds of stone blocks, strewn across the sea floor. Today no one knows what it looked like or how it was used.
But never fear, an intrepid group of scientists is virtually recreating the port. They are using sophisticated imaging technology, plus software that helps them put it back together–kind of like solving the world’s hardest jigsaw puzzle.
Find out how they are doing this, plus see a great video of the Olbia site, at Perfectly Provence!
You may already know that the French invented pasteurization and the stethoscope, and maybe even mayonnaise (it’s a hotly debated subject.) But did you know that they also invented the stapler? And how about my favorite, the hair dryer?
Learn all about some of France’s most interesting inventions in The Good Life France!
Just two miles from the center of Arles sits the Villa Benkemoun, a magnificent estate designed by a disciple of the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Visiting it is like stepping back in time.
The villa was the brainchild of Simone and Pierre Benkemoun, who enlisted their friend Émile Sala to design their dream home. Sala took an unusual approach.
Instead of creating an initial set of architectural drawings, Sala began by asking the family to jot down, day by day, how they lived their lives. Where did they take their meals, how did they entertain, did they spend time indoors or out? Then he used this knowledge to design a home that fit their needs, as well as Pierre’s desire to have a home that was “open and transparent.”
The Benkemouns liked Sala’s initial design but thought it had too many sharp edges. They suggested rounding a corner here, creating a curve there, until the house took the form they wanted. The final design was made up of round and elliptical rooms, “full of sensuality,” that seemed to swirl from one to the other. The result is a triumph of 1970s design, a masterpiece of modern architecture.
Read all about it, and see some beautiful photos, at Perfectly Provence!
Way back around 50 B.C., Julius Caesar conquered Gaul (now France) and the area remained part of the Roman Empire for the next five centuries. Today there are Roman sites all over France, but the best are in and around Provence. In fact, ‘Provence’ comes from the Latin ‘Provincia Romana’, the name of the large Roman province along the Mediterranean coast.
Whether it’s Nîmes with its magnificent temple, Arles with its arena, or Orange with its theater, you can find many reminders of the greatness that was Rome. And let’s not forget the Pont du Gard aqueduct, as tall as an 18-story building!
Follow me as I take you on a tour of Roman Provence in My French Life!
Picking a list of “greatest French people” is impossible. How do you define greatness? How do you compare a king to a scientist to a philosopher?
This hasn’t stopped people from trying. In 2005, a French television survey asked viewers this question, with dubious results — Charlemagne was ranked behind a soccer player! A study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology identified the best known French people, but fame is not the same as greatness. And then there are the lists of top French monarchs, French inventors, French writers, etc.
I decided to create my own list, based on who has had the greatest influence on France—usually positive, but sometimes negative. I combined the resources above with an informal survey of French friends, including business people, professors, scientists, and artists.
Check out my Top 10 in France Today!