Sandro was facing the huge canvas, staring intently at the creation he had just completed. Rife with a thousand questions, his mind was elsewhere anxiously rummaging the layers of memory in search of answers. It was a pleasant day outside. Inside the stone-cold walls of his studio, the watery August sun was seeping through the slats of the north-facing window, casting a golden varnish over the painting- the naked goddess with one hand covering the bosom and the other concealing the pubis looked ethereal in the natural light. Afloat on an enormous scallop, with the help of the wind god Zephyr and his flower nymph wife Chloris, she was sailing towards the shore where the goddess of spring Flora awaited with a robe to cloak her modesty.
It was the biggest day of Sandro’s life. He knew he had created something special for which he would be remembered till eternity. Yet his mind traveled back to the day he met his friend Lorenzo; under whose patronage he elevated his vocation. From the portly boy of a common goldsmith to a celebrated artist, Sandro had come a long way. Illustrating allegories and cantos from Dante’s verses became his specialty. Bringing the nine levels of Inferno to life using intricate drawings and colours pleased his deeply religious soul. He was a devout Christian who believed in the condemnation of non-religious men. Once blindly swayed by his religious fervour, he had despised the remarkably talented Leo.
Seven years Sandro’s junior, Leo was an exceptional painter and sculptor who had openly defied religious teachings through his unconventional work. He was a polymath who excelled in several crafts. A fearless rebel who was also accomplished in weaponry and engineering. Being a man of science, he was committed to devoting his life in pursuit of knowledge. Scorned by the priests and the god-fearing citizens alike, he never heeded anyone who tried to warn him against his unorthodox ways. For the realistic depiction of human anatomy, he would collect unclaimed bodies of fallen soldiers and criminals and study them in detail. He had no qualms in slicing up the cadavers, scooping out their innards, and measuring and weighing the organs before sketching them on parchments. These anatomical sketches were later used by the students of medicine to study the afflictions that plagued the human body.
Sandro abhorred Leo’s ungodly ways of creating beauty. Depicting scriptural tales and messages through art helped him feel closer to god. This became his sole objective in life. And today he had created his magnum opus. A work that would become the source of inspiration for artists and poets of posterity. It would be analysed, admired, and revered by art enthusiasts from across the world for centuries to come. His chest swelled with untainted pride. The kind an artist experiences after reaching the pinnacle of his artistic journey. An artist always knows when he creates his best work and Sandro was no different.
After summiting creative excellence, the journey ahead would be of gradual decline, Sandro was aware of that. A creator, irrespective of his exceptional gifts, can never replicate the level of perfection and beauty of his masterpiece. Although with time, enough time, this fear of not being able to match his own creation would ebb away. He would again rush to his atelier at the middle of the night or whenever inspiration strikes. In the solitary room, he would sharpen his tools, trim the brushes, grind and mix pigments, stretch and level the canvas on the wall, and then get busy capturing the initial impression of the subject he had in his mind. However, it would never be the same. His bold brushstrokes will impress and intrigue art lovers and critics alike, but an inadvertent comparison with the masterpiece would invariably be drawn. This brutal realization pierced his heart asunder.
Back in the damp workshop, the whispers of his apprentices, who had now gathered behind him, failed to reach his ears. Enthralled by their master’s new painting, the young wards with wonder-filled eyes were struggling to contain their excitement. Sandro stood there transfixed with misty eyes and a diminishing smile.
N.B. Above is a fictionalised account of the Early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli’s life and his relationship with his patron Lorenzo de’ Medici and contemporary Leonardo da Vinci (Leo). I do not claim any historical accuracy here.
Pic: The Birth of Venus painted by Sandro Botticelli