Saturday, 7 March 2015


“Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” - Charlotte Whitton

Happy International Women’s Day! To celebrate, Art Sunday today is dedicated to a woman artist, Fede Galizia (1578–1630), who was an Italian Renaissance painter, a pioneer of the still life genre.

Fede Galizia, was born in Milan in 1578. Her father, Nunzio Galizia, also a painter of miniatures, had moved to Milan from Trento. Fede (whose name means “Faith”) learned to paint from him. By the age of twelve, she was sufficiently accomplished as an artist to be mentioned by Gian Paolo Lomazzo, a painter and art theorist friend of her father, who wrote: “This girl dedicates herself to imitate our most extraordinary art.” At a young age, Galizia was already an established portrait painter handling many commissioned works. Perhaps it was her father’s influence as a miniaturist that led to Galizia’s attention to detail in her portraits. Her treatment of jewels and clothing made her a very desirable portrait painter. She was often commissioned to paint religious and secular themes as well.

Several of her paintings based on the story of Judith and Holofernes, a popular theme in art of the period, survive in private collections. Perhaps her earliest was “Judith with the Head of Holofernes” painted in 1596 which is now in Sarasota Florida at the Ringling Museum of Art. She also created miniatures and altarpieces for convents. The style of her portraits derived from the naturalistic traditions of the Renaissance in Italy with a sharply realistic approach. Galizia’s artistic skills of drawing and painting are evident in her Portrait of Paolo Morigia, a Jesuit scholar and one of her earliest patrons and supporters. Morigia, also a writer and historian, was very pleased with Galizia’s work, and was portrayed in her 1596 Portrait of Paolo Morigia to be writing a poem about the picture Galizia was painting.

She received several public commissions for altarpieces in Milanese churches; one of these was the “Noli me tangere” (1616; Milan, S Stefano), made for the altar of Santa Maria Maddalena Church. When not painting portraits, Galizia was primarily interested in painting still lifes, a genre in which she was a pioneer and for which she is best remembered. Although very few contemporary sources mention Galizia’s still life paintings, they are the majority of her surviving works. Sixty-three works have been catalogued as hers, of which 44 are still lifes. One of her signed still lifes made in 1602 is said to be the first dated still life by an Italian artist, and proves her involvement in this new style of painting. Galizia never married. On June 21, 1630, she made her will and is thought to have died of the plague in Milan shortly afterward.

Fede Galizia’s paintings were not given the recognition they deserved until well into the 20th century, when special attention was given to her work in studies made in 1963 and 1989. Galizia shows a style related to the Lombard mannerism of the late 16th century, centred in Mantua, but known internationally, especially in France. Galizia’s still lifes are among the earliest examples of painting in a new genre in which women (partly because they were excluded from other kinds of painting), would excel. Galizia’s still lifes differ from her father's works in their greater detail and more vibrant colours. Most of these works featured fruit centerpieces in simple, frontal arrangements. They were often composed of a basket or bowl filled with a single type of fruit, such as peaches or pears, with a few fruit, sometimes sliced, scattered at the base of the bowl. The painting above, “Cherries in a Silver Compote” is typical of this genre she excelled in.

Many of her still lifes had fresh flowers or other fruits set on the counter to provide a noticeable contrast and scale as seen in her work titled “Still-life with Peaches and a Porcelain and a Bowl”. Galizia’s work displayed influences from such works as Caravaggio’s “Basket of Fruit”. Associating with the more restrained style of the Counter Reformation period, she did not explore the more lavish compositions and forms taken up by many of her contemporaries working in this genre; she preferred instead to use a stricter, more simplistic style like that seen in Francisco de Zurbarán’s slightly later still life paintings.

Galizia’s paintings were deft with detail, perfectly balanced, and her attention to shadow, light, and texture was unrivalled at the time. She was particularly good at creating inviting space in her paintings. Her compositions are not crowded. They look as if one could reach out and touch the fruit, grasp it, and pull it from the painting without disturbing the rest of the work. Her graceful, flowing arrangements were natural and poetic, unlike their predecessors. Galizia’s aesthetic treatment of still lifes would not be seen again until the middle of the century.

The modern direction taken in still life painting was shaped entirely by her works. Many of the still life paintings we see today draw their influence from her original ideas. Currently, it is unknown just how many paintings Galizia was responsible for. Many works that could have possibly been hers have been attributed to her male counterpart Panfilo Nuvolone, who drew significant inspiration from Galizia. She may have inspired the Bergamese Francesco Codino and the Baroque still life painter Giovanna Garzoni.

Friday, 6 March 2015


“Women hold up half the sky.” - Mao Zedong

To highlight International Women’s Day (8 March), which is a global day for celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future, I give you music by a wonderful female composer: Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (full name Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre; born Élisabeth Jacquet, 17 March 1665, Paris – 27 June 1729, Paris) was a French musician, harpsichordist and composer.

Élisabeth Jacquet was born into an important family of musicians and masons in the parish of Saint-Louis-en-l’Ile, Paris. A childhood prodigy, she played the harpsichord before King Louis XIV to inaugurate her career as a virtuoso performer at the age of five. At the court of Louis XIV she was noticed by Madame de Montespan, and was kept on in her entourage. She later married the organist Marin de La Guerre, son of the late organist at the Sainte-Chapelle, Michel de La Guerre, in 1684 and left the court. Thereafter she was known as Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre.

After her marriage she taught and gave concerts at home and throughout Paris, and gained much acclaim. A quote from Titon du Tillet speaks of her “marvellous facility for playing preludes and fantasies off the cuff. Sometimes she improvises one or another for a whole half hour with tunes and harmonies of great variety and in quite the best possible taste, quite charming her listeners.” (Le Parnasse Français, 1732).

Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre was one of the few well-known women composers of her time. Recently there has been a renewal of interest in her compositions and a number have been recorded. Her first publication was her “Premier livre de pièces de clavecin”, printed in 1687. It was one of the few collections of harpsichord pieces printed in France in the 17th-century, along with those of Chambonnières, Lebègue and d’Anglebert.

On 15 March 1694, the production of her opera “Céphale et Procris” at the Académie Royale de Musique was the first of an opera written by a woman in France. The next year, 1695, she composed a set of trio sonatas which, with those of Marc-Antoine Charpentier, François Couperin, Jean-Féry Rebel and Sébastien de Brossard, are among the earliest French examples of the sonata. The next few years heralded the deaths of almost all of her near relations: Her only son, mother, father, husband and brother Nicolas, and were not productive times.

The year 1707 saw the publication of “Pièces de Clavecin qui peuvent se jouer sur le Violon”, a new set of harpsichord pieces, followed by six “Sonates pour le violon et pour le clavecin”. These works are an early example of the new genre of accompanied harpsichord works, where the instrument is used in an obbligato role with the violin; Rameau’s “Pieces de clavecin en concerts” are somewhat of the same type.

The dedication of the 1707 work speaks of the continuing admiration and patronage of Louis XIV: “Such happiness for me, Sire, if my latest work may receive as glorious a reception from Your Majesty as I have enjoyed almost from the cradle, for, Sire, if I may remind you, you never spurned my youthful offerings. You took pleasure in seeing the birth of the talent that I have devoted to you; and you honoured me even then with your commendations, the value of which I had no understanding at the time. My slender talents have since grown. I have striven even harder, Sire, to deserve your approbation, which has always meant everything to me...”

She returned to vocal composition with the publication of two books of “Cantates françoises sur des sujets tirez de l’Ecriture” in 1708 and 1711. Her last publication, 15 years before her death, was a collection of secular “Cantates françoises” (c. 1715). In the inventory of her possessions after her death, there were three harpsichords: a small instrument with white and black keys, one with black keys, and a large double manual Flemish harpsichord.

Here is her Sonata Nº 1 in D minor for violin, viola da gamba and continuo: Lina Tur Bonet (Baroque Violin); Kenneth Weiss (Keyboards); Patxi Montero (Viola da Gamba).

Thursday, 5 March 2015


“A well-made salad must have a certain uniformity; it should make perfect sense for those ingredients to share a bowl.” - Yotam Ottolenghi

At a dinner party some years ago, we tasted an old-fashioned entrée, which was quite impressive when served, but was also light, tasty and extremely healthful. This particular salad dish somehow seems to have gone out of fashion and except for a few special occasions when we make it at home, I haven’t seen it around much. It’s a pity as it is quite delicious. Here is the recipe for this perennial favourite of ours, made with lots of fresh vegetables, however, keep in mind that you may improvise and substitute fresh seasonal vegetables depending on availability and what you have on hand. The main rule is to have everything as fresh as possible.

Layer Salad
1 head lettuce, chopped
1 green capsicum, deseeded and chopped
1 yellow capsicum, deseeded and chopped
1 cup thinly sliced very fresh radishes
1 cup chopped, tender celery stalks (may substitute with shredded red cabbage)
1 cup thinly grated (or sliced) carrot
4 spring onions, chopped
2 cups mangetout peas (snow peas), uncooked and chopped (may substitute with frozen baby peas, which you have thawed)
1/2 cup mayonnaise, mixed thoroughly with
1/2 cup vinaigrette
2 cups tasty cheddar cheese, grated
2 thinly sliced Lebanese cucumbers
Rocket leaves (non-vegetarians can choose to top with fried bacon pieces)

Layer all of the above vegetables in order, evenly, in a deep, clear glass bowl. Drizzle the dressing on top so that it percolates down.
Cover with plastic wrap securely and refrigerate for a few hours. When serving, decorate with sliced cucumber rings and rocket leaves (or fried bacon pieces).

Use the Linky tool below to add your own favourite recipes:


“We think fast food is equivalent to pornography, nutritionally speaking.” - Steve Elbert

Ever-increasing amounts of data from dietary and scientific research indicate that the foods we eat can influence whether or not certain types of cancer develop in our body. It is generally believed by experts in the field, that high energy and high fat diets, which can lead to obesity, increase the risk of some cancers. Conversely, diets rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains help to prevent cancer. 

Diet is just one of the lifestyle factors that can influence one’s risk of developing cancer. Smoking, obesity, alcohol, sun exposure and physical activity levels are also important.

Here are the leading cancers in Western countries like Australia, USA, Western Europe and how diet influences their development:

Lung cancer is the number one cause of death from cancer in the world today and cigarette smoking is mostly responsible for its development in the body. There is evidence that diets high in vegetables and fruits are protective against lung cancer. Compounds called carotenoids (present in significant amounts in fruits and vegetables), as well as vitamin E, are responsible for some of this anti-cancer effect. The use of antioxidant supplements (beta-carotene and vitamin E tablets), has not been proven to be effective in either prevention or treatment of lung cancer and may, in fact, increase the risk of developing cancer in those who smoke.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in the world. There is an increased risk of breast cancer with factors such as rapid early growth, greater adult height and weight gain in adulthood. Much of the risk of developing breast cancer involves factors that influence oestrogen levels during a woman’s reproductive life, such as age of menarche (first period), number of pregnancies and breastfeeding practices. Obese postmenopausal women have more than twice the average risk of breast cancer. Diets high in mono-unsaturated fat and high in vegetables and fruits may reduce the risk, while alcohol consumption increases the risk.

Prostate cancer is the third most common cause of death of men in Australia. Vegetables, pulses (beans -soy in particular), seafood may decrease the risk, while a high fat diet that comprises mostly animal fat sources (such as dairy products, fatty meats and takeaway foods) may increase the risk. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant found in tomatoes, tomato-based products, watermelon and strawberries. It may also help lower the risk of prostate cancer.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the world. Up to 70 per cent of cases can be prevented by following a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity and a diet high in vegetables and fibre are protective, while a high red meat intake (especially processed meat) and alcohol may increase the risk.

In order to reduce your overall cancer risk, you should try to eat less of these foods:
Fatty processed red meats
Highly processed foods that are low in fibre
Heavily salted and pickled foods.

And eat more of these foods:
Vegetables, especially raw vegetables or salads
Leafy green vegetables
Citrus fruits
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy and other Asian greens.
Include more of these vegetables and fruits in your diet along with other varieties. Seasonal vegetables and fruits and a variety of these through the year is better than having “an apple a day”…

Eating seven or more serves daily of a variety of grains, grain products, legumes, roots and tubers will also provide protective benefits against cancer. The less processed the grains, the better. Diets high in refined starch and refined sugar may increase the risk of stomach cancer and bowel cancer.

Results of studies that show a protective effect of foods containing certain nutrients should not be taken to mean that these nutrients, when isolated and taken as supplements, will provide the same benefits for cancer prevention. In some cases, there has been an increased risk of cancer in those people who take supplements!

Consuming alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast and liver. The risk is even greater in those people who smoke. Alcohol has also been associated with colon, breast and rectal cancers. Men should drink less than two standard drinks a day and women less than one standard drink a day.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015


“Home is where the heart is.” - Pliny theElder

Poetry Jam today has set the theme of “Local” as inspiration for all participants in its poetry challenge. The instructions are: “Give us a feel of what makes your town or city special - it could be a person, a local character, a place off the beaten path that few know about or a food that you can only find - maybe even a celebration that only happens locally.”

Oddly enough, this immediately brought to my mind a distant place, which once upon a time I considered as “local” when I lived there alone for a few months. It was Amsterdam, where I went on sabbatical, many years ago. Yes, it was quite special and yes, I met a host of interesting work colleagues and made a few friends, however, it was also a bit of a hard time for me as my beloved was far away from me, on the other side of the world. Pliny said, “Home is where the heart is”, and though I made a new home for myself in Holland, my real home was back in Australia, where my beloved was. So “local” was a questionable concept in my predicament then…

Amsterdam IV

In the yellow streets of Amsterdam
So early in the morning, that night still darkens the sky;
When the thin houses loom high over the canals
And the water flows so slowly that it mirrors
The yellow lights unblemishingly,
I walk the cold streets, going home at last
After a long night’s pretence at carousal.

I know that I will call you as soon as I get home
To share my night with you, to tell you yet again
How much I miss you, how much I wish you were here with me.

In the cobblestoned, jaundiced streets of Amsterdam
Early in the morning when night lingers on;
When the revellers go to their beds, staggering and tripping
And the air echoes now and then with a rowdy laugh, an off key song;
When the young men boisterously call out as they piss in the dark corners,
I walk home insulating myself from the drunken merrymakers
Walking quickly straight ahead, past the cheap whores in a line.

I know that I shall sleep alone again tonight,
After drinking of your soft voice across the thousands of miles,
I will dream of our frustrated embraces for one more night.

In the empty streets of old Amsterdam
Early in the morning when only I walk in the lonely alleys;
When even the air is asleep, and the wind dares not to blow,
When alleycats have found a snug, warm corner
Where they can dream of nimble mice and careless birds,
I walk the narrow streets, going home at last
After a long night’s torture without you by my side.

I know that I will count the hours once more tonight
To see if they are any less than last time I counted, discovering yet again
How slowly time passes until I can spend the night in your arms.


“Greece is the most magical place on Earth.” - Kylie Bax

Victoria Hislop (née Hamson; born 1959) is an English author, born in Bromley, Kent (now part of London), she was raised in Tonbridge, Kent, and attended Tonbridge Grammar School. She studied English at St Hilda's College, Oxford and worked in publishing and as a journalist before becoming an author. She lived in London for over 20 years, and now lives in Sissinghurst.

She married “Private Eye” editor Ian Hislop on 16 April 1988 in Oxford. They have two children, Emily Helen (born 1990) and William David (born 1993). Her novel “The Island” (2005), which the Sunday Express hailed as “the new Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, was a number one bestseller in Britain, its success in part the result of having been selected by the Richard & Judy Book Club for their 2006 Summer Reads. “To Nisi” (The Island) was filmed as a TV series by the Greek TV channel MEGA.

In 2009, she donated the short story “Aflame in Athens” to Oxfam’s “Ox-Tales” project, four collections of British stories written by 38 authors. Her story was published in the “Fire” collection. Hislop has a particular affection for Greece, visits the country often for research and other reasons, and has a second home on Crete.

Victoria Hislop’s third novel, “The Thread”, was published by Headline Books in October, 2011. It is set in Greece, in the city of Thessaloniki in a story that spans almost a century, beginning with the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, which almost destroyed the city, burning for almost two days and razing 9,500 houses. The city that rose from the ashes would be very different both architecturally (as the government commissioned a French architect to design a new urban plan) but perhaps more importantly in its population since the historical events that happened shortly afterwards changed the demography of the city forever.

The novel begins in Thessaloniki, 1917. As Dimitri Komninos is born, a fire sweeps through the thriving multicultural city, where Christians, Jews and Moslems live side by side. It is the first of many catastrophic events that this city suffers. War, fear and persecution begin to divide its peaceful people. In 1922, after the Asia Minor disaster, young Katerina escapes to Greece when her home in Asia Minor is destroyed by the Turkish army. Losing her mother in the chaos, she finds herself on a boat to an unknown destination. From that day the lives of Dimitri and Katerina become entwined, with each other and with the story of the city itself. 

The story shifts to Thessaloniki, 2007. A young Anglo-Greek hears the life story of his grandparents for the first time and realises he has a decision to make. For many decades, they have looked after the memories and treasures of people who have been forcibly driven from their beloved city. Should he become their new custodian? Should he assume this burden of memories and old sins? Should he continue his peaceful, life in England or stir up the ghosts of the past in Thessaloniki?

This is an epic novel that spans almost a hundred years, It is a wonderful story of friendship and love that endures through the great upheavals of the twentieth century in one of Greece’s most beautiful cities. Hislop writes a saga of emotional richness and sweeping historical events, from fire to civil war to Nazi brutality and economic collapse, to the Colonels’ dictatorship. “The Thread” is historical fiction at its best, colourful and captivating with unforgettable characters.

With screens and newspapers full of images of Greek unrest, a threatening economic collapse and terrible hardship for millions of Greeks, this novel may do much to help many non-Greeks see a bit below the surface of today’s turmoil and learn how Greeks cope under stress and somehow manage to always survive… A beautiful read, a fantastic plot written in a clear and immensely readable style.

Sunday, 1 March 2015


“Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster.” - Jim Wallis

When I was quite young, 9 or 10 years old, I read a Greek translation of “The Last Days of Pompeii”, a novel written by the baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1834. The novel was inspired by the painting “The Last Day of Pompeii” by the Russian painter Karl Briullov (see above), which Bulwer-Lytton had seen in Milan. The painting is now in The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia and is quite a spectacular work, oil on canvas a huge 4.6 x 6.5 metres. One can see why the author was struck by it and inspired to write his novel. The novel impressed itself on my mind and fuelled my imagination and pre-existing interest in things ancient.

This was once a very widely read book but unfortunately, it is now relatively neglected. The plot culminates in the cataclysmic destruction of the city of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The novel uses its characters to contrast the decadent culture of 1st-century Rome with both older cultures and coming trends. The protagonist, Glaucus, represents the Greeks who have been subordinated by Rome, and his nemesis Arbaces the still older culture of Egypt. Olinthus is the chief representative of the nascent Christian religion, which is presented favourably but not uncritically.

At the weekend we watched the 2014 Paul W.S. Anderson film “Pompeii” starring Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland. I must confess that the only reason I wanted to see the film was the novel I had read in my youth and my continuing interest in things ancient. Alas! The screenplay was pure hogwash manufactured by the trio of Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson. It had nothing to do with Bulwer-Lytton’s novel and the story simply had to accommodate as many special effects as possible in order to make the film as spectacular and as worthy of 3D treatment as possible.

The plot begins in Roman England, where a Celtic tribe of horsemen is slaughtered by a Roman army commanded by General Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and his right-hand man Proculus (Sasha Roiz). The boy Milo is the only Celt survivor of the tribe, and is captured lto be sold as a slave. Seventeen years later, the slave Milo (Kit Harington) turns into an invincible gladiator in Londinium and is brought to Pompeii to participate in the games of this resort city’s arena.

While travelling to Pompeii, the noble Cassia (Emily Browning) and her chaperone Ariadne (Jessica Lucas) cross paths with the marching gladiators and Cassia is fascinated by Milo, who kills her injured horse bare-handed so that it does not suffer. In the gladiators’ quarters in Pompeii, Milo shares the cell of Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye- Agbaje), who is near to get his freedom provided he wins his last fight.

Meanwhile Cassia meets her parents Severus (Jared Harris) and Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss) and learns that she has been betrothed to the corrupt Corvus, now Senator and close to emperor Titus. During the games, Mount Vesuvius erupts allowing Milo and Atticus to escape from the amphitheatre. However, Milo learns that Cassia has been confined in her villa by Corvus and he decides to rescue her in the midst of the catastrophic events…

The movie is full of historical and physical inaccuracies, but one expects that of Hollywood. One may forgive such lapses if the story is good. However, the story is thin, too full of clichés while the acting is rather wooden and the movie becomes a shallow disaster flick. Historical accuracy should not be sacrificed unless it fulfils a purpose in the movie. This movie got it wrong, making it confused, illogical and a poor film. The bad script began it all, the poor direction helped it all along, and finally the immense pressure by the producers to make it as “epic” as possible with special effects thrown in left, right and centre, as well as lots of violence and fight scenes.

After watching this movie, I’ve discovered that there is a 1984 television mini-series broadcast on ABC-TV, adapting the novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It was the second English-language adaptation of the book for film or television (previously adapted mainly in Italian; the 1935 RKO film was unrelated to the novel and the 1900 adaptation by Walter R. Booth, the first adaptation to the cinema in English language, was a short film). It is available on YouTube and I’ve bookmarked it to see it. A casual glance revealed rather cheap costumes and sets, but the acting is good (Laurence Olivier plays in it) and the plot is much better! It is also available on DVD if you can get your hands on it.


“Happy is the man whom the Muses love: Sweet speech flows from his mouth.” - Hesiod

Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) was one of the foremost North Italian painters of the 15th century. He was a master of perspective and foreshortening, and he made important contributions to the compositional techniques of Renaissance painting. Born at Isola di Carturo, between Vicenza and Padua in 1431, Mantegna became the apprentice and adopted son of the painter Francesco Squarcione of Padua. He developed a passionate interest in classical antiquity.

The influence of both ancient Roman sculpture and the contemporary sculptor Donatello are clearly evident in Mantegna’s rendering of the human figure. His human forms were distinguished for their solidity, expressiveness, and anatomical correctness. Mantegna’s principal works in Padua were religious. His first great success was a series of frescoes on the lives of St. James and St. Christopher in the Ovetari Chapel of the Church of the Eremitani (1456; badly damaged in World War II).

In 1459 Mantegna went to Mantua to become court painter to the ruling Gonzaga family and accordingly turned from religious to secular and allegorical subjects. His masterpiece was a series of frescoes (1465-74) for the Camera degli Sposi (“bridal chamber”) of the Palazzo Ducale. In these works, he carried the art of illusionistic perspective to new limits. His figures depicting the court were not simply applied to the wall like flat portraits but appeared to be taking part in realistic scenes, as if the walls had disappeared. The illusion is carried over onto the ceiling, which appears to be open to the sky, with servants, a peacock, and cherubs leaning over a railing. This was the prototype of illusionistic ceiling painting and was to become an important element of baroque and rococo art.

Mantegna’s later works varied in quality. His largest undertaking, a fresco series on the Triumphs of Caesar (1489, Hampton Court Palace, England), displays a rather dry classicism, but Parnassus (1497, Louvre, Paris), an allegorical painting commissioned by Isabelle d’Este, is his freshest, most animated work. His work never ceased to be innovative. In Madonna of Victory (1495, Louvre), he introduced a new compositional arrangement, based on diagonals, which was later to be exploited by Correggio, while his Dead Christ (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) was a tour de force of foreshortening that pointed ahead to the style of 16th-century Mannerism.

One of the key artistic figures of the second half of the 15th century, Mantegna was the dominant influence on north Italian painting for 50 years. It was also through him that German artists, notably Albrecht Dürer, were made aware of the artistic discoveries of the Italian Renaissance. He died in Mantua on September 13, 1506.

“Parnassus” of 1497 is shown above. Around 1495 Isabella d’Este planned to have the most famous painters of her time contribute pictures for her studiolo; she was unsuccessful in obtaining pictures from Leonardo (although he drew her portrait) and Giovanni Bellini, but not for want of trying. Mantegna, her court painter, and Lorenzo Costa, Mantegna’s successor, each completed two canvases and Perugino one.

Mantegna’s so-called “Parnassus”, is one of his finest works, much discussed and admired, although the exact meaning of the allegory remains elusive. As a painter dedicated to the study of antiquity and ancient archaeology, it is fitting that Mantegna should have produced a masterpiece with a classical theme. In the centre of the painting representing a mythological scene the dancing Muses are easily identifiable, both on account of their number and the presence of the mountains in the top left of the picture.

There was a tradition that the song of the nine sisters caused volcanic eruptions and other cataclysms which could only be stopped by Pegasus stamping his hoof - and indeed we see, on the right, the winged and bejewelled horse engaged in his providential pawing of the ground. Beside him is Mercury, whose presence is justified by the protection, which he (together with Apollo) afforded the adulteress in the love affair between Mars and Venus. The two lovers hold sway over the scene from the top of Parnassus; a bed is beside them. The cuckolded husband, Vulcan, springs out from the entrance of his forge, fulminating against the faithless pair.

Apollo is seated lower down, his lyre in his hands. Mantegna has integrated the landscape elements with the figures, using rocky cliffs as foils, while the central arch permits a deep vista into the rolling landscape. In this late work Mantegna has maintained a monumental approach to human figures. Stocky and heavy-limbed, they plant their weight solidly in easy contrapposto.