Marie Antoinette’s poodle sells for 56 times pre-sale estimate

An 18th century portrait of a small dog believed to be Marie Antoinette’s toy poodle Pompon sold at auction on Friday for $279,400, 56 times the high pre-sale estimate of $5,000. This was totally unexpected, as several versions of this portrait exist and none of them have generated the kind of explosive interest that sparks an auction floor bidding war. Fifteen people were bidding against each other for this piece, inexplicably driving the price up into the stratosphere.

The painter was Jacques Barthélémy Delamarre who was active in Paris in the last quarter of the 18th century through the early 19th century. Very little is known about him. The only biographical information with a paper trail about him is that he was admitted to the Académie Saint-Luc, a Paris painters and sculptors guild, in 1777.

He made several versions of this dog portrait. There are differences in the grooming style, the backgrounds and the accessories in the room. One sitting on a red velvet bed sold for 11,875 euros, 10 times its very low estimate, at Sotheby’s in 2020. That same version sold for just a hair above estimate in Paris in 2021.

There is no evidence that Marie Antoinette commissioned the comparatively unknown Delamarre to paint her pooch. There’s no evidence that the portrait was even made in the dog’s lifetime, nor in the tragic queen’s. Not even the dog’s breed is certain. It has been billed variously as a Löwchen, a King Charles Cavalier spaniel and as a Bichon Frisé/Maltese.

If this is a portrait of one of Marie Antoinette’s many dogs, it was probably painted after her death as a souvenir for people with nostalgic feelings for the decapitated monarchs. That would explain why he cranked out several versions of the pup.

So the feeding frenzy for the one that just sold cannot really be explained by the quality or backstory of the painting itself. My theory is the dog looks so meme-like with his fluff-up-top, shaved-down-below style that bidders lost their minds a little.

Temple of Venus and Roma reopens

The remains of the Temple of Venus and Rome, the largest sacred building ever constructed in the Eternal City, have reopened to the public after a major restoration project funded by fashion house Maison Fendi.

The Temple of Venus and Rome was personally designed by Emperor Hadrian and constructed at his command between 121 and 137 A.D. on a high platform on the Velia hill overlooking the Colosseum. The colossus that gives the Flavian Amphitheater its name today stood on that site, originally placed there by Nero. Hadrian had it moved to a new location aside the Colosseum to make way for his massive new temple. It took 24 elephants to move the statue.

Hadrian’s innovative idea to celebrate the goddesses Venus Felix and Roma Aeterna was to build the two cellae (the sacred rooms where the statues of the goddesses sat and only the clergy were allowed) back-to-back instead of the traditional side-to-side configuration. Trajan’s famous architect Apollodorus of Damascus was not a fan, so naturally Hadrian had him killed.

Maxentius ditched Hadrian’s cella design when he rebuilt the temple after it was devastated by fire in 307 A.D. He reconstructed it with two apses covered by coffered vault roofs made of stone instead of the original wood ceilings. He also added porphyry columns to the Proconnesian marble columns in the porticoes and the grey granite columns in the peristyle.

The temple was converted into an oratory dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul in the 8th century, but most of the immense structure was destroyed by an earthquake in the 9th century. The church of Santa Maria Nova, and later Santa Francesca Romana, rose from the ruins.

Today the remains left standing on the platform are from Maxentius’ reconstruction. The porphyry columns and marble inlay floors and walls were reassembled from fragments in the 1930s. There’s also a convent and the offices of the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum integrated into the site.

The Colosseum Park has put together a great video that explains the history (narration is in Italian but captions are bilingual in English and Italian) and virtually reconstructs the enormous temple, placing it in the context of the modern city.

Ming Dynasty shipwrecks laden with porcelain, wood found in South China Sea

Two shipwrecks from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), one laden with thousands of pristine porcelain objects, the other with wood logs, have been discovered deep under the South China Sea. The shipwrecks were discovered last October on the northwest continental slope of the South China Sea off the coast of Hainan island at a depth of 1,500 meters (just under a mile).

With the wreck of Ship No. 1, the remains of the ship itself are mostly obscured by tens of thousands of porcelain artifacts intended for export trade. The porcelain is so dense that there are stacked and nested vessels six feet deep covering 10,000 square meters (2.5 acres). Archaeologists estimate there are more than 100,000 individual pieces. Analysis of a few of the pieces suggest they were produced during the Zhentoku era (1506-1521).

Ship No. 2 was carrying raw wood. The timbers were uniform in size and carefully stacked. Initial analysis of the wood indicates the ship was a Chinese importer bringing in wood supplies from overseas in the Meiji-Koji era (1488-1505). They were likely intended for use in ship-building.

This is the first time a ship with export cargo and one with import cargo have been found in the same area. It is evidence of how well-established and widely-frequented in both directions sea routes were along the Maritime Silk Road. The two neighboring wrecks provide researchers a unique opportunity to study two-way traffic in the South China Sea 500 years ago.

Underwater archaeology in such deep waters poses enormous logistical challenges. This month, the cultural heritage administration of Hainan Province launched a new investigation to map the shipwrecks using a state-of-the-art manned submersible and a new permanent surveying and mapping base point installed in the seabed at the wreck of the first ship. This marks a significant leap forward in deep-sea archaeology.

China’s scientific research vessel Tansuo 1, equipped with the submersible Shenhai Yongshi, or Deep Sea Warrior, took researchers underwater for the exploration on Saturday. Chen Chuanxu, a scientist at the Institute of Deep-sea Science and Engineering, said that another vessel, the Tansuo 2, equipped with the submersible Fendouzhe, or Striver, will join the mission.

Advanced technological approaches, including soft robotics inspired by bionics and material science, were employed during the operation to salvage some of the relics from the shipwreck sites. New methods of scanning, photography and monitoring were also used.

“Speaking of protection and real-time monitoring of such a large underwater site at a depth of 1,500 meters, we have no precedent in the world,” Chen said, adding that the researchers are currently trying to remotely monitor the site.

The investigation will take place over about a year. The first phase will be a thorough survey of the wrecks. The second will entail a scientific evaluation of the preservation conditions of the wrecks. The third and final phase will be determining how best to protect the wrecks going forward.

Full-size 3D reconstruction of Titanic created

The first full-sized 3D reconstruction of the wreck of Titanic has been released, showing the ship in its entirety without the distortion of the water. The view was created by stitching together more than 700,000 scans of the site taken last year by deep-sea mapping company Magellan Ltd. They used remotely operated submersibles to capture images of the ship and debris field from every angle and covering every square inch of the vast site. The scans show everything from the giant stern and bow sections to individual shoes and Champagne bottles.

Magellan’s Gerhard Seiffert, who led the planning for the expedition, said it was the largest underwater scanning project he’d ever undertaken.

“The depth of it, almost 4,000m, represents a challenge, and you have currents at the site, too – and we’re not allowed to touch anything so as not to damage the wreck,” he explained.

“And the other challenge is that you have to map every square centimetre – even uninteresting parts, like on the debris field you have to map mud, but you need this to fill in between all these interesting objects.”

The scan shows both the scale of the ship, as well as some minute details, such as the serial number on one of the propellers.


The wreck of Titanic was discovered in September 1985 2.5 miles under the surface of the frigid North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. A team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution returned to the site in July of 1986 with one manned submersible and one remotely operated vessel to film the interior and exterior of Titanic. Footage from the 1986 expedition was released for the first time earlier this year.

Since then, the wreck has been explored repeatedly by submersibles, including private adventurers, and photographed in high definition. In 2010, when a team of archaeologists and oceanographers from RMS Titanic Inc. and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution returned to map the two main sections of the ship and the full debris field. The inky darkness of the deep water required that all film and photography be narrowly focused on small areas of the wreck. In 2012, the centennial year of the sinking of Titanic, National Geographic published beautiful new pictures of the wreck, composites created by stitching together thousands of photographs, scans and sonar images from the 2010 expedition.

Rijksmuseum acquires alchemist’s ruby red glass masterpiece

A unique shell-shaped gold ruby red glass drinking cup by 17th century German alchemist, apothecary and glassmaker Johann Kunckel has been acquired by the Rijksmuseum. The deep, intense color of the red was produced by the addition of gold to the glass, a method and recipe pioneered by Kunckel. It dates to around 1685, Kunckel’s first decade as glassmaker to the court of Frederick William I, Elector of Brandenburg. Only about 20 of Kunckel’s early gold ruby red glass pieces are known, and the shape, style and engraving of this calyx cup is unique among them.

The chalice is engraved with a scene of putti frolicking around vines. The engraving is attributed to the master glass engraver Gottfried Spiller (1663-1728) who engraved several gold ruby ​​glasses. The glass is processed in such a way that it does not look like blown glass, but is more reminiscent of cut stone. This object therefore fits in with the tradition of the Kunstkammer, collections where wonderful objects from nature, science and art were brought together.

The fact that gold compounds add to glass could produce shades of red was known in antiquity. German alchemist Andreas Libavius wrote in his seminal text Alchemia in 1597 that dissolved gold created a red tincture that could be used to make “red crystal.” The first modern treatise on glass, written by Antonio Neri of Florence in 1612, also noted that gold can make red glass, but neither the ancient texts nor the later chemistry books included any information about the process or even a basic recipe.

The first person to record a functional method for obtaining ruby red glass was Bavarian chemist Johann Rudolph Glauber who in 1659 wrote that gold could be dissolved in a solution of a tin compound and hydrochloric acid. The gold would then precipitate from the solution as a purple powder later dubbed Purple of Cassius that could be added to glass to make it red.

Glauber’s experiments never delved into the making of the ruby glass itself. It was Johann Knuckel who as both an alchemist and a glass-maker, refined the recipe and process to create gold ruby ​​glassware. He published a treatise of his own on glass production and taught practical chemistry at the University of Wittenberg. In 1678, Prince Frederick William I, Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia, set Knuckel up on a secluded island near Potsdam with a glass-making factory where he could experiment and perfect his gold ruby glass production away from the prying eyes of competitors.

His was immensely successful and the glowing dark red glass he made was believed to be a new precious material, not just mere glass. Like rubies themselves, Knuckel’s gold ruby glass was thought to have health benefits particularly for illnesses of the blood. His work launched a fashion for ruby red glass at the end of the 17th century. Every sovereign and ruler at every court in Europe vied to own a gold ruby vessel, including the King of Sweden who poached the master away from the Elector in 1693 and gave him a noble title and estate. Johann von Löwenstern-Kunckel died in 1703 and the heyday of the ruby glass fad died with him.