Priceless Art Found In Paris Apartment Vacant Since 1939
Caked in dust and full of turn-of-the-century treasures, this Paris apartment is like going back in time. Having lain untouched for seven decades the abandoned home was discovered three years ago after its owner died aged 91.
The woman who owned the flat, a Mrs De Florian, had fled for the south of France before the outbreak of the Second World War. She never returned and in the 70 years since it looks like no one had set foot inside.
The property was found near a church in the French capital’s 9th arrondissement, between Pigalle red-light district and Opera.
Experts were tasked with drawing up an inventory of her possessions which included a painting by the 19th-century Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.
One expert said it was like stumbling into the castle of Sleeping Beauty, where time had stood still since 1900. ‘There was a smell of old dust,’ said Olivier Choppin-Janvry, who made the discovery.
But he said his heart missed a beat when he caught sight of a stunning tableau of a woman in a pink muslin evening dress.
The painting was by Boldini and the subject a beautiful Frenchwoman who turned out to be the artist’s former muse and Mrs de Florian’s grandmother, Marthe de Florian, a beautiful French actress and socialite of the Belle Époque.
Marthe de Florian was an actress with a long list of ardent admirers whose fervent love letters she kept wrapped neatly in ribbon and were still on the premises.
Among the admirers was the 72nd prime minister of France, George Clemenceau, but also Boldini.
The expert had a hunch the painting was by Boldini, but could find no record of the painting.
‘No reference book dedicated to Boldini mentioned the tableau, which was never exhibited,’ said Marc Ottavi, the art specialist he consulted about the work.
When Mr Choppin-Janvry found a visiting card with a scribbled love note from Boldini, he knew he had struck gold. ‘We had the link and I was sure at that moment that it was indeed a very fine Boldini’.
He finally found a reference to the work in a book by the artist’s widow, which said it was painted in 1898 when Miss de Florian was 24.
The starting price for the painting was £253,000 but it rocketed as ten bidders vyed for the historic work. Finally, it went under the hammer for £1.78million, a world record for the artist.
‘It was a magic moment. One could see that the buyer loved the painting; he paid the price of passion,’ said Mr Ottavi.
According to a statement released by Flinders University, chemical analysis of 2,600-year-old copper ingots discovered off the coast of southwest France in 1964 indicates they came from a variety of locations.
For the first time, a scientific team led by Flinders University archaeologists, working with the Institute of History (CSIC) in Spain, has examined the origins of Iron Age metal items from an archaeological site in southwest France and found they were sourced from a variety of Mediterranean locations.
The underwater site of Rochelongue believed to be four small boats located west of Cap d’Agde in southwestern France and discovered in 1964, dates to about 600 BCE and its cargo included 800kg of copper ingots and about 1,700 bronze artefacts. They contain very pure copper with traces of lead, antimony, nickel and silver.
Flinders University maritime archaeology researcher Dr Enrique Aragón Nunez says the isotope analysis shows the composition of different ingots in the cache is consistent with Iberian and also eastern Alpine metalliferous sources, and possibly some Mediterranean sources – illustrating that water trade and movement was active in this period between Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean circuits.
This now provides a key to investigate the coastal mobility and cultural interactions between the Languedoc area in France and the broader Western Mediterranean basin in 600 BCE – before permanent Greek settlement occurred in this region.
Trade for metals, especially with seafaring people from the Levant, Aegean and Greek mainland, influenced these indigenous communities with the introduction of their foreign cultural goods and practices.
While the various sizes, shapes and composition of the various ingots found at Rochelongue show they originated from diverse geographical sources, the elemental and lead isotope analyses provide much more comprehensive knowledge, showing that a broad and diverse exchange network existed in this period for metals that includes continental and maritime routes.
“These metallic objects are important diagnostically because they lend themselves to source tracing of geological components, and technological studies of their processing and manufacture,” says Flinders University Maritime Archaeology Associate Professor Wendy van Duivenvoorde.
“The copper ingots were made of unalloyed copper with low levels of impurities – and more than half can be linked to the Iberian Peninsula.
This points to the circulation of metal through the wider Mediterranean region, but also to local and western alpine mining and manufacture, and possibly north-western Sardinia.
“Therefore, the Rochelongue items speak of indigenous agency rather than maritime intervention.”
Archaeologists discover medieval port in west France
A medieval port has been discovered in a 2,500m2 building site and archaeological dig surrounding a chateau in Vendée, western France.
Among the discoveries are a large number of oak beams that are extremely well-preserved thanks to the levels of underground humidity in Talmont-Saint-Hilaire, where the dig has been taking place.
Specialist in wood structures Pierre Péfou told FranceInfo that the discoveries were in such good condition that the team would “be able to identify a very precise date and recreate all of the forested countryside [of the time]”.
He said that visible rings in cross-sections of wood could be used to find out “if it was a tree that grew slowly or quickly, and how the environment impacted its growth, including human activity. [We can tell] if it was pruned or if it was a shoot that grew from a tree stump”.
Archaeologists have already been able to identify a riverbank and a gutter on the site.
As the Atlantic coastline is only a few kilometres away from the site, an initial hypothesis is that boats and ships could have transported merchandise and people to the chateau from England or even Spain, between the 10th and 16th centuries.
Archaeologist Stéphane Augry said: “We can see clearly that the stones that were brought here to build the chateau come from four kilometres away, and transporting them here by boat would have been much easier.
“It’s cost-effective and means you can transport large quantities of material at once.”
Other findings include artefacts that indicate there was a strong wine trade in the area, including remnants of grape must (freshly crushed grape juice including the skin, seeds and stems of the fruit).
A metal pilgrims medal has also been discovered, indicating a fishing trade and economic exchange.
The main artefacts have been collected and transported away from the site to be studied by researchers at L’Institut national de Recherches archéologiques préventives.
Deep in a Cave in France Neanderthals Constructed Mysterious Ring Structures 176,000 Years Ago
In February 1990, thanks to a 15-year-old boy named Bruno Kowalsczewski, footsteps echoed through the chambers of Bruniquel Cave for the first time in tens of thousands of years.
The cave sits in France’s scenic Aveyron Valley, but its entrance had long been sealed by an ancient rockslide. Kowalsczewski’s father had detected faint wisps of air emerging from the scree, and the boy spent three years clearing away the rubble. He eventually dug out a tight, thirty-meter-long passage that the thinnest members of the local caving club could squeeze through.
They found themselves in a large, roomy corridor. There were animal bones and signs of bear activity, but nothing recent. The floor was pockmarked with pools of water. The walls were punctuated by stalactites (the ones that hang down) and stalagmites (the ones that stick up).
Some 336 meters into the cave, the caver stumbled across something extraordinary—a vast chamber where several stalagmites had been deliberately broken. Most of the 400 pieces had been arranged into two rings—a large one between 4 and 7 meters across, and a smaller one just 2 meters wide. Others had been propped up against these donuts. Yet others had been stacked into four piles. Traces of fire were everywhere, and there was a mass of burnt bones.
These weren’t natural formations, and they weren’t the work of bears. They were built by people. Recognizing the site’s value, the caver brought in archaeologist Francois Rouzaud. Using carbon-dating, Rouzaud estimated that a burnt bear bone found within the chamber was 47,600 years old, which meant that the stalagmite rings were older than any known cave painting. It also meant that they couldn’t have been the work of Homo sapiens. Their builders must have been the only early humans in the south of France at the time: Neanderthals.
The discovery suggested that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than anyone had given them credit for. They wielded fire, ventured deep underground, and shaped the subterranean rock into complex constructions. Perhaps they even carried out rituals; after all, there was no evidence that anyone actually lived in the cave, so what else were the rings and mounds for?
Rouzaud would never know. In April 1999, while guiding colleagues through a different cave, he suffered a fatal heart attack. With his death, work on the Bruniquel Cave ceased, and its incredible contents were neglected. They’ve only now re-entered the limelight because Sophie Verheyden went on holiday.
A life-long caver, Verheyden works at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, where she specializes in stalagmites. She treats them as time capsules, using the chemicals within them to reconstruct the climate of past millennia. So when she learned about Bruniquel Cave, while visiting the region on holiday and seeing a display at a nearby castle, she had only one thought: Why hadn’t anyone dated the broken stalagmites themselves?”
She knew that Rouzaud’s date of 47,600 years was impressive but suspect. Carbon dating is only accurate for samples younger than 50,000 years, so the Bruniquel material was hitting the technique’s limits. They could well have been much older. To get a better estimate, Verheyden assembled a team including archaeologist Jacques Jaubert and fellow stalagmite expert Dominique Genty. In 2013, they got permission to study the site and crawled into it themselves. “I’m not very big, and I had to put one arm before me and one behind to get through,” says Verheyden. “It’s kind of magical, even without the structures.”
After drilling into the stalagmites and pulling out cylinders of rock, the team could see an obvious transition between two layers. On one side were old minerals that were part of the original stalagmites; on the other were newer layers that had been laid down after the fragments were broken off by the cave’s former users. By measuring uranium levels on either side of the divide, the team could accurately tell when each stalagmite had been snapped off for construction.
Their date? 176,500 years ago, give or take a few millennia.
“When I announced the age to Jacques, he asked me to repeat it because it was so incredible,” says Verheyden. Outside Bruniquel Cave, the earliest, unambiguous human constructions are just 20,000 years old. Most of these are ruins—collapsed collections of mammoth bones and deer antlers. By comparison, the Bruniquel stalagmite rings are well-preserved and far more ancient.
And if Rouzaud’s work made it unlikely that modern humans built the rings, Verheyden’s study grinds that possibility into the dust. Neanderthals must have been responsible. There simply wasn’t any other hominin in that region at that time.
Why did they build the rings and mounds? The structures weren’t foundations for huts; the chamber contains no stone tools, human bones, or any other sign of permanent occupation, and besides, why build shelter inside a cave? “A plausible explanation is that this was a meeting place for some type of ritual social behavior,” says Paola Villa from the University of Colorado Museum.
“When you see such a structure so far into the cave, you think of something cultural or religious, but that’s not proven,” adds Verheyden. Indeed, despite some fanciful speculations about cave bear cults, no one really knows.
Nor is it clear how the Neanderthals made the structures. Verheyden says it couldn’t have been one lone artisan, toiling away in the dark. Most likely, there was a team and a technically skilled one at that. They broke rocks deliberately and arranged them precisely. They used fire, too. More than 120 fragments have red and black streaks that aren’t found elsewhere in the chamber of the cave beyond.
They were the result of deliberately applied heat, at intensities strong enough to occasionally crack the rock. “The Neanderthal group responsible for these constructions had a level of social organization that was more complex than previously thought,” the team writes.
These discoveries are part of the Neanderthals’ ongoing rehabilitation. Since their discovery, scientists have tried to understand why they died out and we did not, with the implicit assumption that they were inferior in some important way. Indeed, to describe someone as a Neanderthal today is to accuse them of unsophisticated brutishness.
But we now know that Neanderthals made tools, used fire, made art, buried their dead, and perhaps even had language. “The new findings have ushered a transformation of the Neanderthal from a knuckle-dragging savage rightfully defeated in an evolutionary contest, to a distant cousin that holds clues to our identity,” wrote Lydia Pyne in Nautilus.
And now, we have Bruniquel Cave with its structures that are unprecedented in their complexity, antiquity, and depth within the darkness. We know that 400,000 years ago, some ancient hominins chucked their dead into a cave at Sima de Los Huesos, but there’s no evidence of the careful constructions in Bruniquel. There’s evidence of painting and sculpture within caves, but none older than 42,000 years. There are signs that Neanderthals used caves, but nothing to suggest that they frequently ventured deeper than sunlight.
“I think we have several lines of evidence showing that the cognitive abilities and behaviors of Neanderthals were complex,” says Marie Soressi from Leiden University. “But we had no direct evidence of their ability to build. That changes the picture for me. It’s puzzling to find such structures so deep inside the cave.”
To solve these puzzles, Verheyden wants to start cutting into the cave’s floor. It has been covered by layers of calcite, which may conceal specimens that hint at the chamber’s purpose. Verheyden also notes that the entrance they’ve been using cannot possibly have been the only one. “We’re crawling through this small thing and there are bear hollows in the cave. I don’t think the bears went in that way!” she says. “There must have been some other passage that collapsed.”
Discovered by chance 94 years on Bodies of 21 German soldiers in perfectly-preserved First World War trenches
The bodies of 21 German soldiers entombed in a perfectly preserved World War One shelter have been discovered 94 years after they were killed. The men were part of a larger group of 34 who were buried alive when a huge Allied shell exploded above the tunnel in 1918, causing it to cave in.
Thirteen bodies were recovered from the underground shelter, but the remaining men had to be left under a mountain of mud as it was too dangerous to retrieve them.
Nearly a century later, French archaeologists stumbled upon the mass grave on the former Western Front in eastern France during excavation work for a road-building project.
Many of the skeletal remains were found in the same positions the men had been in at the time of the collapse, prompting experts to liken the scene to Pompeii.
A number of the soldiers were discovered sitting upright on a bench, one was lying in his bed and another was in the foetal position having been thrown down a flight of stairs.
As well as the bodies, poignant personal effects such as boots, helmets, weapons, wine bottles, spectacles, wallets, pipes, cigarette cases and pocketbooks were also found.
Even the skeleton of a goat was found, assumed to be a source of fresh milk for the soldiers. Archaeologists believe the items have been so well-preserved because hardly any air, water, or lights had penetrated the trench.
The 300ft-long tunnel was located 18ft beneath the surface near the small town of Carspach in the Alsace region of France.
Michael Landolt, the archaeologist leading the dig, said: ‘It’s a bit like Pompeii. Everything collapsed in seconds and is just the way it was at the time.
‘Here, as in Pompeii, we found the bodies as they were at the moment of their death. Some of the men were found in sitting positions on a bench, others lying down. One was projected down a flight of wooden stairs and was found in a foetal position.
‘The collapsed shelter was filled with soil. The items were very well-preserved because of the absence of air and light and water.
‘Metal objects were rusty, wood was in good condition and we found some pages of newspapers that were still readable. The leather was in good condition as well, still supple.
‘The items will be taken to a laboratory, cleaned and examined.’
Archaeologists also uncovered the wooden sides, floors, and stairways of the shelter. The dead soldiers were part of the 6th Company, 94th Reserve Infantry Regiment.
Their names are all known – they include Musketeer Martin Heidrich, 20, Private Harry Bierkamp, 22, and Lieutenant August Hutten, 37, whose names are inscribed on a memorial in the nearby German war cemetery of Illfurth.
The bodies have been handed over to the German War Graves Commission but unless relatives can be found and they request the remains to be repatriated, it is planned that the men will be buried at Illfurth.
The underground tunnel was big enough to shelter 500 men and had 16 exits. It would have been equipped with heating, telephone connections, electricity, beds, and a pipe to pump out water.
The French attacked the shelter on March 18, 1918, with aerial mines that penetrated the ground and blasted in the sidewall of the shelter in two points.
It is estimated that over 165,000 Commonwealth soldiers are still unaccounted for on the Western Front.
2,000-year-old remains of infant and pet dog uncovered in France
Excavations in France revealed an apparently well-off child and their pet dog that had been buried in the 2,000s BCE making this find over 2,000 years ago. The infant, believed to be a year old, was found in Aulnat in the Auvergne region of central France by a team surveying for a planned airport expansion.
The remains date back to the first century AD when France would have been under Roman rule.
They were accompanied by numerous objects — including clay jars, animal parts, and a small toy — as well as a puppy wearing a decorative collar.
‘Such a profusion of crockery and butchered items, as well as the personal effects that followed the child to his grave, underline the privileged rank to which his family belonged,’ according to the National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research (INRAP).
This gravesite was discovered in December as part of preventive excavations carried out by INRAP before construction at Clermont-Ferrand airport.
Evidence of a wooden coffin was uncovered in the grave, surrounded by animal sacrifices including half of a pig, different cuts of pork and two headless chickens.
Twenty terra cotta vases and assorted glass pots in the grave may have contained medicine, cosmetics, or the child’s portion of the funereal banquet, while researchers believe a foot-long iron hoop attached to a bent metal rod was a toy or part of a game.
A baby tooth belonging to an older child was also found, possibly belonging to an older sibling.
The skeleton of a puppy was found at what would have been the base of the coffin, wearing a collar with bronze decorations and a small bell.
‘A dog’s association with a young child is well documented in a funeral context, but here it is the collar and bell that are unusual,’ according to archaeologists.
They call the discovery ‘exceptional’ and believe it’s the oldest child’s burial site discovered in France.
It dates to the reigns of either Emperor Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD ) or Tiberius (14 -37 AD), just decades after the birth of Jesus.
In Roman-era Gaul — modern-day France, Belgium, and parts of western Germany — adults would have been cremated, but children were often buried on family lands.
Head archaeologist Laurence Lautier said the sheer number of offerings buried with the child was unusual.
‘In this type of tomb we often find one or two pots placed at the foot,’ Lautier told AFP. ‘Here there are around 20 as well as many food offerings.’
That denotes a high social class, Lautier said, ‘ a family that was clearly very rich.’
Since November, surveys of the area have turned up items from the Iron Age, High Middle Ages, and other eras. The digs are expected to end next month.
Forget everything you know about the most famous painting in the world: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503–17). According to French scientist Pascal Cotte, who has analyzed the painting by reflecting light technology for over 10 years, the Mona Lisa hides another portrait underneath.
According to the BBC, the most surprising of Cotte’s findings is that the sitter in the original painting found underneath has no trace of the enigmatic smile that elevated da Vinci’s portrait to the category of myth.
The sitter is also looking off to the side, rather than towards the viewer like the Mona Lisa we know and love today.
Cotte’s pioneering technology is called Layer Amplification Method (LAM) and has allowed him to make a slew of groundbreaking discoveries. It works by projecting a series of intense lights onto an artwork while a camera measures the reflections.
Last year, he already made waves among the art historical community when he revealed that another da Vinci masterpiece, Lady With an Ermine (1489–90) was painted not in one, but in three clearly differentiated stages.
“The LAM technique gives us the capability to peel the painting like an onion, removing the surface to see what’s happening inside and behind the different layers of paint,” he told the BBC back then.
Crucially, this “new” Mona Lisa has ramifications also in terms of the identity of the sitter. For years and years, it’s been debated whether the woman in the painting might have been Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant, da Vinci’s mother, or even a Chinese slave.
Cotte, complicating things even further, told the BBC: “When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini, I was in front of the portrait and she is totally different from Mona Lisa today. This is not the same woman.”
Not everyone agrees with Cotte, however. Da Vinci expert Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, told the BBC: [Cotte’s images] are ingenious in showing what Leonardo may have been thinking about.
But the idea that there is that picture as it was hiding underneath the surface is untenable. I do not think there are these discreet stages that represent different portraits. I see it as more or less a continuous process of evolution. I am absolutely convinced that the Mona Lisa is Lisa.”
A $26M Cimabue masterpiece was found in an elderly woman’s kitchen
A missing masterpiece of the 13th century was sold for nearly 24.2 million Euros (26.8 million dollars), just months after it was found hanging in a French kitchen. “Christ Mocked,” by the Florentine painter Cimabue, sold for more than four times the pre-sale estimate at an auction in Senlis, north of Paris, on Sunday.
An elderly French woman from the town of Compiegne had kept the rare artwork — which she thought was a Greek religious icon — in her kitchen.
The unsuspecting owner did not know where the 10-inch by 8-inch painting had come from, according to Jerome Montcouquil of art specialists Cabinet Turquin, which was asked to carry out tests on the painting following its discovery in the summer.
“It didn’t take long for us to see that it was an artwork by Italian painter Cimabue,” he told CNN prior to the sale. “He’s a father of painting so we know his work very well.”
Cimabue is the pseudonym of artist Cenni di Pepo, born in Florence around the year 1240. He is known to have been the discoverer and master of Giotto, widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the pre-Renaissance era.
“There are only 11 of his paintings in the world — they are rare,” Montcouquil said.
Montcouquil said the work is part of a diptych made in 1280 when the artist painted eight scenes centered on the passion and crucifixion of Christ.
The style of painting, its gold background, and traces of its old frame helped experts identify the artwork as part of the triptych, according to a press release published by auctioneers Acteon ahead of the sale.
‘Lost’ Caravaggio valued at $170M bought just before the auction The pictorial layer remains in “excellent condition” despite accumulating dust, continued the release.
The National Gallery in London is home to another scene from the work, “The Virgin and Child with Two Angels,” which the gallery acquired in 2000. It had been lost for centuries, before a British aristocrat found it in his ancestral home in Suffolk, according to AFP.