I have recently been revisiting countries that have inspired my designs over the past 35 years.
One of my favourite cities is Turin, the seat of the unification of Italy in 1861, and a city that might have just passed you by. This northern Italian City has delightful misty vistas to the alps, graceful porticos and an Egyptian museum that rivals the collections in the Louvre and the British Museum (and I have spent hours inside all of them!) In the centre of Turin is Palazzo Madama with its Roman towers and baroque facades, home until 4th May 2020 to the wonderful exhibition of Andrea Mantegna.
Mantegna, who married Giovanni Bellini's sister is often compared to Bellini but, for me, his art is very different. Mantegna's fascination with the Ancient Greek and Roman world comes across in the sculptural details in his painting style and at Palazzo Madama there is a juxtaposition of a Bellini portrait with one by Mantegna (of Carlo de Medici) that shows just this. And there are other juxtapositions, links and observations from the period throughout the exhibition. My creative mind loves this.
And I also loved the red fringed detail curling voluptuously over the turn of St George's leg on his skirt in a painting of St. George by Cosme Tura.
At the entrance of the exhibition on a high plinth and dramatically lit, stands a horse head by Donatello from 1456 and now part of the Archeological Museum of Naples. It reminded me of the horse's head at Marble Arch by Nic Fiddian-Green on a dark winter night.
Jewels in paintings are often fascinating for the jewels themselves as well as their style but also for the way in which they show the fashion at the time. Imagine what Vogue magazine would have featured in 1460 when Mantegna moved to Mantua under the patronage of Ludovico Gonzaga. Life in Mantua, where he was not always paid on time, was at times a struggle. He painted Gianfrancesco Gonzaga with his pearl and probably rough garnet crystal jewel hanging looped over a triple silk collar. This jewel shows the enormous value of pearls, rare as they were then, centuries before the great discovery of cultured pearls by Mikimoto. And the trend for rough crystals in jewels - much as in my Corona de Flores earrings.
I was fascinated by Mantegna's approach to his art and his work process. The broad consideration at the start, the sketches and re-sketches. Revised versions giving him time to dwell a little before execution. And his interest in the art of engraving, creating copies and then the copyright of them.
His painting of 'Madonna with the little cherubs' amused me. Each of the angels, seemingly a baby yet with their teeth showing!
If you saw the Mantegna and Bellini exhibition in London last year at the National Gallery and enjoyed it, this new exhibition will lead you further into the world of Mantegna. Then go to Cafe Al Bicerin for a hot chocolate - the wonderful cafe of Turin since 1763, only a short walk away. Or if a little hungrier - have lunch at La Via del Sale Trattoria in Via San Francesco da Paola. I had a salad of freshly sliced golden artichokes with shavings of parmesan followed by a bowl of homemade Ravioli. Allow time too for a quick coffee and then walk down to the river Po.