Discovered

Conservators at the Met Have Discovered a Hidden Composition Under Jacques Louis David’s Portrait of a Famed Chemist


In 2019, Jacques Louis David’s famed neoclassical portrait of chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and his wife, Marie Anne, was sent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s conservation lab. The job was straightforward—the removal of a varnish. But in the process, researchers discovered something else, too: a hidden composition under the painting.

The painting we know depicts the Lavoisiers as assiduous leaders of a scientific revolution. A humbly attired Marie Anne leans over her husband, who is seated at a red-swathed table, hard at work before a bevy of specialized instruments. 

Jacques-Louis David, <i>Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and Marie-Anne Lavoisier (Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, 1758–1836)</i> (1788). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jacques Louis David, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and Marie Anne Lavoisier (Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze, 1758–1836) (1788). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But after months of analysis—via such techniques as infrared reflectography and macro X-ray fluorescence mapping—experts learned that David’s original painting of Lavoisier and his wife was far less flattering, depicting the couple as well-heeled members of the nobility, luxuriating in their lavish lifestyle. In the artist’s original sketch, the instruments are gone, the table is bare and inlaid with gilt brass details, and Marie Anne dons a swanky plumed hat. 

The restored painting has now been returned to the Met’s neoclassical galleries. It looks like it always has, but its context has changed.

“The revelations about Jacques Louis David’s painting completely transform our understanding of the centuries-old masterpiece,” said Max Hollein, director of the Met, in a statement. “More than 40 years after the work first entered the museum’s collection, it is thrilling to gain new insights into the artist’s creative process and the painting’s evolution.”

Left: a map showing the combined elemental distribution of lead and mercury in David's painting. Right: an infrared reflectogram of the canvas.

Left: a map showing the combined elemental distribution of lead and mercury in David’s painting. Right: an infrared reflectogram of the canvas. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Born in 1743, Lavoisier was responsible for a number of major contributions to modern science, including the metric system, the first table of elements, and the discovery of oxygen and hydrogen. His wife, born in 1758, was instrumental to many of these innovations, often assisting Lavoisier with tests. 

However, with his success, Lavoisier was also firmly entrenched in France’s Ancien Régime, the dominant system of rule upended by the revolution in the last decade of the 18th century. During that period, he was arrested by for his complicity as a tax collector, and eventually executed via guillotine in May 1794.

David’s 6-by-9 foot portrait was completed in 1788, just prior to the revolution. The artist intended to debut the work at a salon in 1789 but, according to the Met, he was convinced to pull the fawning tribute at the last minute by royal authorities, who were alarmed by rising tensions pointing to the coming overthrow. The painting wasn’t seen by the public until a century later, at the Exposition Universelle of 1889.

Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743–1794) and Marie Anne Lavoisier (Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze, 1758–1836) was purchased for the Met in 1977 by philanthropists Charles and Jayne Wrightsman.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

In the Underwater Egyptian City of Thônis-Heracleion, Divers Have Discovered an Ancient Warcraft


Divers have discovered a rare military vessel amid the sunken ruins of the ancient Egyptian city of Thônis-Heracleion.

Measuring over 80 feet long, the flat-bottomed ship had both oars and a large sail. While built in the classical Greek style, it also incorporates some Egyptian shipbuilding traditions. The vessel was likely sunk when the nearby Temple of Amun collapsed; the remains were discovered beneath 15 feet of clay and debris from the building.

Excavations from a joint French and Egyptian mission led by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) have also uncovered a 4th-century Greek funerary area.

“This discovery beautifully illustrates the presence of the Greek merchants who lived in that city,” read a statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, as reported by Reuters. “They built their own sanctuaries close to the huge temple of Amun. Those were destroyed, simultaneously and their remains are found mixed with those of the Egyptian temple.”

The Greek ship is one of only two known surviving vessels of its kind, underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio wrote on the antiquities ministry’s Facebook page. Archaeologists found a similar style of vessel from 235 B.C. called the Masala Ship, in Sicily in 1971.

Prior to the founding of Alexandria by Alexander the Great in the year 331, Thônis-Heracleion was the largest port city in Egypt, controlling the entrance to the country at the mouth of a western branch of the Nile River.

The city was destroyed by earthquakes and sunk beneath the waves of the Mediterranean in the 8th century. It was rediscovered by Goddio’s IEASM team between 1999 and 2001. It was known as Heracleion to the Greeks (the historian Herodotus wrote of it in the fifth century B.C.), but Egypt called it Thônis. A plaque discovered during excavations helped experts realize that the two were one and the same.

See more photos from excavations below.

Remains of an ancient military vessel discovered in the Mediterranean sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion off the coast of Egypt. Photo by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Remains of an ancient military vessel discovered in the Mediterranean sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion off the coast of Egypt. Photo by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Remains of an ancient military vessel discovered in the Mediterranean sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion off the coast of Egypt. Photo by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Remains of an ancient military vessel discovered in the Mediterranean sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion off the coast of Egypt. Photo by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

An artifact discovered in the Mediterranean sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion off the coast of Egypt. Photo by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

An artifact discovered in the Mediterranean sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion off the coast of Egypt. Photo by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

Archaeologists Have Discovered 110 Tombs From Three Different Eras of Ancient Egyptian History in the Nile Delta


Excavations at an ancient site in the Nile Delta have uncovered no less than 110 tombs dating from three different periods of ancient Egyptian history.

The find includes 68 oval-shaped tombs from the predynastic Buto Period (6000–3150 B.C.), 37 rectangular-shaped tombs from the Second Intermediate Period (1782–1570 B.C., also known as the era of Hyksos, a Semitic people that ruled Egypt at the time), and five oval-shaped tombs from the Naqada III period (3200–3000 B.C.), according to Smithsonian Magazine.

“This is an extremely interesting cemetery because it combines some of the earliest periods of Egyptian history with another important era, the time of the Hyksos,” Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist at the American University in Cairo, told Reuters. “Egyptologists are working to understand how the Egyptians and the Hyksos lived together and to what degree the former took on Egyptian traditions.”

The discovery was announced in statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which plans to continue excavations on the site. Artifacts uncovered to date include stoves and ovens, pottery, silver rings, funerary furniture, scarab amulets, pottery, and bricks from old buildings.

Scarab amulets from the archeological site of 110 tombs at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Scarab amulets from the archeological site of 110 tombs at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

The dead were buried in squatting positions in the Buto period tombs, while Hyksos period burials were done face-up, their heads pointing to the west. Both the Buto and Hyksos tombs included the remains of babies in jars, an ancient burial practice that remains mysterious.

“But there’s always the interpretation that the jar is almost like a womb, so basically the idea is to return [the] baby back into Mother Earth, or into the symbolic protection of his mother,” archaeologist Yoav Arbel told Live Science of a similar discovery last year.

Though maintaining tourism has been a struggle in Egypt over the past decade—first due to revolution, and more recently because of the ongoing pandemic—the government hopes discoveries such as these will encourage overseas travelers to visit.

Earlier this month, Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, marked the opening of Cairo’s long-awaited National Museum of Egyptian Civilization with an elaborate procession across the city of 22 ancient Egyptian royal mummies.

See more photos from the newly uncovered tombs below.

A human skeleton from a tomb at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

A human skeleton from a tomb at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

A human skeleton from a tomb at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

A human skeleton from a tomb at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Artifacts from the archeological site of 110 tombs at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Artifacts from the archeological site of 110 tombs at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

A human skeleton from a tomb at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

A human skeleton from a tomb at the Nile Delta. Photo courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

A Newly Discovered Ancient Grave Site in Spain Suggests That Women May Have Been Bronze Age Political Rulers


An archaeological site at La Almoloya, in what is now the southeastern Spanish region of Murcia, has yielded a burial site of an upper-class couple that offers tantalizing evidence that Bronze Age women may have held great political power.

La Almoloya is one of the first Bronze Age palaces in Western Europe, and was the home of the El Argar society, which thrived from ca. 2200 to 1550 BC. The complex society was highly stratified by class and their cities featured monumental structures.

The couple’s grave yielded a trove of precious goods. Cristina Rihuete Herrada, an archaeologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and one of the discoverers of the burial, tells the New York Times that women in Argaric society may have had greater political power than previously thought, while men may have been in charge of military matters.

Among the factors that suggest a unique status for women, say the authors of the study, published in the journal Antiquity, are that some objects of value are found only in female graves, and that women appear to have graduated into adulthood earlier, based on their having been given grave goods at a younger age. Crucially, only women were given diadems, or band-like metal crowns.

The grave in question contains a woman buried atop a man, both in a large jar beneath the floor of a grand hall. The building is unique among hundreds of Argar finds, say the authors, and was a political headquarters.

Both people appear to have died mid-17th century BC, at the height of Argar society. The 29 valuable objects buried with them suggest their upper-class status.

Valuable silver objects adorn the woman, such as hair fasteners, earlobe plugs, bracelet and ring. Most importantly, she wore a silver, headband-like crown. It is one of only a half-dozen discovered in Argaric graves to date.

“Imagine the diadem with a disc going down to the tip of her nose,” Rihuete Herrada told the New York Times. “It’s shining. You could actually see yourself in the disc. Framing the eyes of that woman, it would be a very, very impressive thing to see. And the ability of somebody to be reflected—their face in another face—would have been something shocking.”

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

An Art Dealer Discovered a Rare Miniature Portrait of France’s Cross-Dressing King. Now, He Wants to Sell It to the Louvre


Last year, a regional auction house in England sold a matchbox-sized painting of a man thought to be Sir Walter Raleigh.

But that identification wasn’t quite right, according to the savvy art dealer who snatched it up. It’s actually a rare miniature portrait of Henri III, France’s controversial cross-dressing king, painted by an acclaimed artist in the 16th century.

Now the dealer is hoping to sell it to the Louvre. 

Philip Mould, who co-hosts the BBC’s “Fake or Fortune?” show, purchased the work site-unseen in an online auction last year. The true identity of the painting’s subject quickly became clear to him, but an even bigger surprise came when its locket-like frame was later opened by a conservator. 

On the painting’s reverse was the signature of Jean Decourt, famed painter of the French court, and the date 1578. It’s believed to be the only example of an artwork bearing the artist’s name still in existence today.

“We can now firmly and finally imprint 16th-century royal portraiture with Decourt’s name,” said Celine Cachaud, a portrait miniatures specialist who works at Paris’s National Institute for Art History, in a statement. “This groundbreaking discovery will have a major impact on the study of late Valois portraiture and miniature painting in years to come.”

Mould is now offering the Louvre right of first refusal on the painting, which is appropriate, he explains, since it was likely executed in the royal residence—the building occupied by the museum today.

“This work is a French national treasure,” the dealer said in a statement, calling it a “hugely significant unpublished image of a misunderstood king, and confirmation of Jean Decourt’s immense talent.” 

“It would be wonderful if it could ‘come home’ to Paris, as I believe that is where it truly belongs,” he added.

The back side of Jean Decourt's miniature portrait of Henri III, bearing the artists signature. Courtesy of Philip Mould & Company.Courtesy of Philip Mould & Company.

The back side of Jean Decourt’s miniature portrait of Henri III, bearing the artists signature. Courtesy of Philip Mould and Company.

Mould did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the price he paid for the work, which was likely a fraction of its true value, potentially in the several hundreds of thousands of pounds, according to the Telegraph

Just over two inches long, the painting shows Henri III in jewels and a bonnet—a familiar depiction of the man who was the king of France from 1574 until his assassination in 1589, at the hands of a Jacobin friar. Indeed, Henri’s penchant for wearing women’s clothes was well documented in his day, as was his coterie of male companions. Images of his likeness became rare after the French Revolution as it was dangerous to own royal portraits.

Decourt became the official court artist in 1572 under the rule of King Charles IX. His best-known portraits include those of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook: