Ferrara

Slanting across northern Italy between the Alps and the Apennines is the Val Padana is the plaIn where the river Po flows through probably the most extensive cultivation of rice in Europe. After the disintegration of the Roman Empire from the fourth century A.D....

Hibiscus

Behind the ruin, which is now the house where I am writing this, were the usual weeds and a few bushes. It was a hot August day, and most were wilting, but on one side I noticed a light purple flower with yellow stamens. Ah, I thought, this is an attractive weed, and...

Leonardo and the Queen

  As I write, history is palpably being made, so I take refuge in the past. I have been asked how over 600 drawings and sketches by Leonardo da Vinci came into the possession of the Queen of the British Isles. No pictures survive from Antiquity, so no depictions...

Wattle and Daub

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the indefatigable German immigrant in the 1930s who was passionate about English vernacular architecture, founded the indispensable Penguin guides to the buildings of England’s towns and villages. It may be legend or fantasy that he wished to...

Fame

Giorgio Vasari has a lot to answer for, like many people with a mission. An artist himself, he covered the ceiling of the huge council chamber in the Palazzo della Signoria in the centre of Florence with earnest historical paintings of battles and heroes, there to...

Landscape

As a child, the Nottinghamshire novelist D.H. Lawrence used to watch his father walking slowly back home up the dew-strewn pastures between his mining village and the pits after a night shift and later wrote, ‘that is the landscape of my heart’. Those words came to...