Beauty nose no bounds
MANY generations of the Borromeo family are represented by the portraits that line the walls of the palace they built in the 16th century on Isola Madre, an island in Italy's beautiful Lake Maggiore.
Big noses ran in their family. It's a trait that must have presented a professional challenge to one painter after the next. Looking at the pictures made it clear that artists had employed various creative tricks to try to hide the all-too apparent.
One of the noble counts was depicted in half light, holding a candle before him. But even then the shadow cast by his nose almost filled the wall behind in the picture.
Another artist had adorned a lady of the family in an abundant richness of jewellery, hoping no doubt to draw attention away from the obvious.
The result, however, was simply the likeness of a woman wearing enough precious gems to fill a bank vault who had the biggest nose you've ever seen.
One particularly creative effort showed the head of the family standing with a unicorn, a creature that featured in the Borromeo coat of arms.
Putting noses to one side for the moment, you have to admire the Borromeos for the vision shown in creating the wonderful garden that surrounds their palace.
Isola Madre was an eight hectare slab of bare rock until 1501 when the family acquired it.
They organised the locals to ship earth by the boatload from the mainland and started growing citrus fruit there.
By degrees the orchards of lemons and oranges gave way to more decorative planting and an island garden created in what was then considered the English style.
Catch the ferry from any lakeside town in late spring and you'll find yourself treated to as spectacular a display of azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias as anyone could reasonably expect to see in a lifetime.
The crowing glory of this haven was, until a couple of years ago, a 200-year-old Kashmir Cypress tree, the biggest in Europe. Then in 2006 Isola Madre was hit by a freak tornado that swept across the island leaving devastation in its whirling wake.
The worst damage of all was suffered by the magnificent Cypress, which was wrenched from the ground.
An international team of specialists went into swift action to try to save the rare specimen.
Using a crane flown to the island by helicopter the tree was righted and re-planted, but to do so many of its venerable branches had to be cut away.
Now the Cypress is anchored by steel cables, fed and irrigated by an elaborate system and watched with a close eye by the horticultural equivalent of a personal physician.
This year some new leaves sprouted, so all may be well, but the fate of this arboreal wonder won't be certain for years to come.