The Louvre is spectacular. The building with its contrast between the ancient and the modern, the setting in the middle of Paris and of course, its contents. Millions of people from around the world visit every year and they all seem to congregate in one area! It’s a big room with a painting mounted at the far end. I say at the far end because all I have ever seen over the heads of the crowds who want to have a selfie taken in front of the Mona Lisa is a square frame with something in it. From where I stand when I walk in, it could easily be a daub painted by a seven year old. But of course, it’s not. It is probably the most famous painting in the world. It’s also probably the most inaccessible. One day, in complete disgust, I turned back and came face to face with an equally beautiful portrait by exactly the same artist. Admittedly, this was a pastel sketch rather than an oil painting but it had the distinct advantage of being alone. Not a single camera or elbow to be seen. It was Leonardo’s sketch of Isabella D’Este – one of the most powerful and intriguing women in history. Seeing that picture actually triggered off a series of ideas that eventually led to my first novel ‘Mirrors’. I paid a return visit recently, just to see if it was as spectacular as I remembered it and also to see if it had yet been ‘discovered’ by the Mona Lisa lovers. Aghast I found myself looking at a blank wall. It must have been moved. Searching out a guard nearby I asked for the whereabouts of the missing picture. ‘It’s in storage I was told. Because it was a pastel sketch, it was at risk.’ So there you are – Isabella D’Este – Lost in Paris.
However, the story continues. Much as I loved the Leonardo sketch, if I am perfectly honest, it doesn’t really do justice to a woman who was described as ‘the most beautiful person of her age’. A little research and a plane ticket to Vienna took me to the Kunsthistorisches Museum where a portrait of the same lady this time painted by Titian gave a much better idea of just how stunning she really was. Even by today’s standards, this portrait shows a face that is by equal parts incredibly beautiful, powerfully determined and very intelligent. Details such as her russet hair and grey eyes that can’t be seen in the Leonardo pastel are superbly executed. You can see the individual hairs in the ermine drape and the light reflecting from the earring is exquisite. There is a faint blush on her cheeks and the embroidery on the coat is amazingly detailed. Life is never perfect and as I walked away, I was left trying to decide whether the artist got bored when he reached the bottom of the picture or whether the most beautiful woman of her age really did have a dumpy right hand!