The Adoration of the Lamb by the Van Eycks

Decoding the great Flemish Primitive Jan van Eyck [Bruges & Ghent]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

The stunning realism, numerous details and vivid colours of Jan van Eyck’s paintings give them an irresistible appeal that makes the Flemish Primitive an undisputed master who revolutionized European art and is still one of the most revered artists to this day. One of the founders of Flemish painting, his style was unique and has inspired many. His technique was so innovative that he is still often considered – wrongly – as the inventor of oil painting. Travelling to both Bruges and Ghent is the best way to learn more about Jan van Eyck, admire his most acclaimed masterpieces and rediscover his art and genius thanks to state-of-the-art technologies.

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View on rooftops and a brick tower with trees on top of it and hills in the background

Lucca: your ultimate guide [2 to 5 days]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Lucca is this kind of city. The more time you spend here, the longer you want to stay. Yes, the picturesque walled Tuscan city at the foot of the Apennine Mountains and along the Serchio River is touristy. Still it remains an authentic city with a very nice atmosphere, different from a slightly arrogant museum-Florence (don’t get me wrong, Florence can be wonderful, but it has also been the victim of its success and mass tourism seems to have taken the best of it) or quick-cruise-stop Pisa. How long to plan for Lucca? Two days is the absolute minimum, spending at least a night within the city walls. Here are many ideas sorted out by themes to spend a good 4 to 5 days in the city, including climbing its towers, visiting excellent museums, tasting and cooking delicious Tuscan specialties, listening to some Puccini, and experiencing unexpected outdoor activities.

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The crafts of Florence: making a leather shoe.

The crafts behind the masterpieces of Florence

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Florence is the artistic capital of the Renaissance. The Italian city is world famous for its museums and masterpieces by some of the most revered artists of all times. However, the unspoken stories of its craftsmen need to be told. Without them, most of these masterpieces would not have existed as it is thanks to their technical skills that Florence became a powerful trading place for high quality products. Moreover, Renaissance masterpieces would not have been executed with such maestro nor restored the way they are to this day if it were not for the talent of these workers of the shadows.

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The Duomo, the cathedral of Florence by night

The Florence Duomo: 10 fascinating facts about this masterpiece of the Renaissance

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

It bears different names: in Italian, the Duomo di Firenze or the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (literally translated as Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower).

It is unmistakable though. World’s fourth largest cathedral (after London, Rome and Milan) dominates the skyline of Florence. Whether from the hills across the Arno River, standing at its foot or looking at it from its bell tower or terraces, its dazzling dimensions make one feel tiny!

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Puccini festival in Torre del Lago: Madam Butterfly

In Puccini’s footsteps in & around Lucca [Italy]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

What do Rocky, Mission Impossible, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Goonies, Madam Butterfly and Star Wars have in common? An influencer and precursor of advertising and product placement, a maestro who created the first musical of history, a composer whose operas are amongst the most played in the world today: the Lucca-born Giacomo Puccini was a well-travelled man way ahead of his time whose legacy still resonates today all over the world and even more so in the Tuscan city of Lucca!

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The birth of Venus by Botticelli in the Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy

How to decode Italy’s best Renaissance museum: the Uffizi [Florence]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

The Uffizi is THE museum of the Renaissance in Italy; in the world actually! It was never intended to be a museum in the first place though. Initially, the urban palace designed by Vasari overlooking the Arno River a stone’s throw away from Ponte Vecchio, was commissioned by the powerful Cosimo de’ Medici in the 16th century. The Grand Duke of Tuscany needed offices to rule his duchy. His son Francesco converted part of its top floor in a private gallery to house his extensive Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture collection in 1581. The museum opened in 1769 making it one of the oldest museums in the world, and the most visited of Italy with over 2 million visitors per year today. Beyond Francesco’s sculptures, some of the finest and most influential paintings of the Renaissance can be admired in these galleries. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Lippi, Botticelli of course, and also Raphael, Caravaggio, Bronzino and more are well represented and waiting for you to be decoded…

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The golden death mask of Agamemnon, Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

8 reasons why you should not skip the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens showcases a very rich collection of Ancient Greek art that is a perfect introduction to any trip to Greece. The richness of the collections (a thorough visit will take you about four hours) and the extent of interesting written information can be overwhelming so we selected some masterpieces for you in this article.

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Screaming for Munch in Oslo

In 2012, Edvard Munch’s 1895 pastel, “The Scream” sold for a record price of just under $120 million at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. This was then the most expensive piece of art ever sold at an auction, sealing Munch’s reputation as one of the most influential painters. What makes Munch’s paintings so engaging? Keep travelling!

A night at the opera in Oslo

Inaugurated only in 2008, the Oslo Opera House has already become the landmark of the Norwegian capital. Its architecture intrigues. Like an iceberg floating in the Oslo fjord, locals and tourists alike climb it to reach its roof via soft inclines or explore its warm and modern foyer. Far from the elite image of most opera houses, the Oslo Opera House is an open space decisively. It has revolutionized its area, a former shipyard cut off from the rest of the city by an ugly highway that was forced underground, and made it a favourite promenade attracting recommendable neighbours like the new Munch Museum or the bar code urbanization project. The building fascinates, and the temptation of exploring its ins and outs only grows bigger as one approaches it.

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Guernica unravelled

“No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy” said Picasso.

And it can be such a powerful weapon that it can transcend the specific conflict to reach a universal status as a symbol of fight against barbarism. Such is the destiny of Guernica, Picasso’s most famous painting, an art and history icon showcasing strong artistic and political commitments.

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Zeitz Mocaa, the new pride of Cape Town

I enter a world of concrete, steel and glass towering me. Elevators are going up and down like the pistons of an internal combustion engine. In a cylindrical staircase movement is created by spectators going from one level to another. Looking up, the spiral of the staircase resembles a drill bit. Following the steel pipes running along a concrete tunnel, I notice rusty handles. They used to control the opening of the silos to load the grains onto wagons. The wagons would then take them straight to the boats anchored in the nearby harbour. Of the 42 57-metre tall cement cylinders that used to compose what once was the tallest structure in Sub-Saharan Africa, eight are left, all cut out or carved. Turned into a world-class museum, this industrial landmark has kept its soul and now hosts more than a hundred galleries exhibiting contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Keep travelling!

Modern buildings with water and a honeycomb roof, sunlight piercing through. Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Louvre Abu Dhabi unravelled

Imagine one dome covering all continents, all countries, and all civilisations, shining its light on all of them equally, unique as they are. A stroll underneath the ever-changing calligraphic shades of the dome, crossing oceans from one theme to another leads the visitor to all corners of the world in a search for universality where human concerns and evolutions are central. The specificity of Louvre Abu Dhabi, a universal museum at the crossroads of civilisations is to put these civilisations in regards. Keep travelling!

Decrypting the temple of light, La Sagrada Familia

Standing on the bunker del Carmen overlooking the city of Barcelona bathed by the sunset light, La Sagrada Familia boldly rises above the buildings. I have always had mixed feelings passing by the grey façades of the most visited landmark of the capital of Catalonia invaded by hordes of tourists. It is only by entering this basilica that I went from a dubious passer-by to being an admirer of Gaudí’s technical genius and refined symbolism.

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Palau Güell, Barcelona

Walking down the Ramblas and slaloming between noisy groups of tourists and insisting street sellers, we make a right into a quiet side street. A few metres further and the craziness of the Ramblas seems like a distant memory. We have just arrived in front of Palau Güell, Gaudí’s first major assignment for his most loyal patron, the rich industrialist Eusebi Güell. Keep travelling!

A symbol of Catalan pride, the Palau de la Música, Barcelona

Slightly more than a century ago, the pride of Catalonia already echoed loud and clear, carried by the Catalan Modernist architectural movement and the Renaixença cultural movement. The Palau de la Música in the gothic Barcelona is the communion of these influences. The most representative examples of this Catalan pride, it is one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world.

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The Frick Collection, NYC

The Frick collection is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States, showcased in a mansion on Central Park in a domestic interior.

Entering the private collection of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) is stepping into an elegant mansion highlighting the wealth and taste of the coke tycoon. Keep traveling!

Reviving Cambodia’s pride: Khmer golden silk

Born and raised in Paris, I am familiar with the haute couture stores of Avenue Montaigne or Rue Saint Honoré where the highest end luxury shops in the world can be found. The finest silk pieces I have ever seen are sliding through my fingers and I feel their soft and delicate textures. The shiny fabrics reflect the light delicately. The relief of the silk gives it an unexpected depth. However, I am not in the upscale heart of Paris, I am in rural Cambodia a stone’s throw from the temples of Angkor where this rare Khmer silk was made just for the king: “It took more than 10 years of research, and trial and error to revive the century-old forgotten techniques of silk weaving of the Khmers!” says Sophea Peach, the founder of Golden Silk, and it all started with the devata‘s sculpture of Angkor… Let me show you…” Keep travelling

Rope-skipping tricks, Phare the Cambodian Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Phare the Cambodian Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

A mind blowing blend of drama, dance, modern circus techniques and real-time painting on live music tells the true story of how art could empower a generation marked by the Khmer Rouge regime and the Cambodian genocide.

Sokha, an elderly bent woman slowly walks towards me. Her legs are shaky, her pace slow. Once close, she carefully sits down, opens a thick book and cautiously Keep traveling

From refugee kid to Cirque du Soleil star

Battambang was a flourishing city before the horrific Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, dramatically jeopardized the lives of its inhabitants. Many of them ended up slaughtered in the killing fields or neighbouring killing caves for no reason, whilst others were luckier and made it to close-by Thailand. Most of them spent years in refugee camps under harsh conditions. Kids grew up traumatised with hardly any access to proper education. In 1986, Véronique Decrop, a French art teacher, volunteered at the Site Two Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She used drawings as a therapy to help traumatised children express themselves. That was the spark to what will become Phare Ponleu Selpak (Cambodian for the brightness of the arts), a non-profit organization improving the lives of Cambodians through arts and education, its highlight being one of the best circus schools in the world. Keep reading

The MoMA: a brief visual tour, NYC

New York City does not lack excellent museums, and it is sometimes hard to choose which ones to explore. The Museum of Modern Art is one of our favourite. Started in 1929, its constant success has been calling for more exhibition space. Since 2006, the new MoMA designed by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, presents an inviting space to explore a panorama of Keep traveling!

Stories on the walls of Ataco, El Salvador

A surreal scene of black cat on the roof of a house with windows shaped as coffee beans attracts my attention. Overlooking it in the garden, a pink owl is resting in a tree. Cherry blossoms flower and villagers are cheerfully at work, from drying coffee beans, to washing clothes in the river. The bright yellow sky shines fiercely above the cute houses. A street dog is sound asleep…. Keep traveling!