Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Master of the Angels

(This story is based on a dream I had. It appears to be set in Italy in the early days of the Renaissance)

When Lorenzo di Prato heard the rumour that his only daughter considered herself betrothed to the young painter Tancredi, he was not pleased. He considered it entirely unfitting that he, a respected and prosperous cloth-merchant, should have his family linked by common gossip to a struggling and penniless artist. This was not the future he envisaged for his child. So when he confronted Gianetta and she could not deny her friendship with the young man,he had the girl shut away in a convent till she should come to her senses.

Tancredi was saddened, and also felt insulted. Admittedly he was as yet unknown, but he was sure his prospects were good. Had he not been comissioned to work on the altarpiece for the new church? It would depict the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and he was to paint one of the side-panels. He was certain this would establish his reputation as an artist, and quickly lead to fame and wealth. But also he truly loved Gianetta, and now he missed her greatly. As the days and weeks passed withou her, he became more and more depressed. He began to neglect his work; which increasingly he became aware was dull and uninspired, yet he was unable to do anything to improve it. He took to hanging around the gates of the convent for hours at a time, hoping for a sight of his beloved; but the walls were high and windowless, and no man could enter without permission.

Gianetta was also lonely and unhappy. To ease her grief, she took to praying in quiet places away from the nuns. Especially she liked to climb to the top of the campanile, where there was a small platform: the only place in the convent from which it was possible to catch a glimpse of the city outside. Here she would pray fervently for help and deliverance. And here one day her prayers were answered, as two winged Beings descended in majesty from the skies and took her hands, and then in an overwhelming miracle glittering wings grew from her own shoulders, and together the three of them rose beyond the prosaic earth and soared upwards into the cloudless blue.

The only person who saw them was Tancredi, from his lonely vigil outside the convent gates. As soon as they had risen beyond his sight he rushed back to the church and seized his brushes, and he painted his panel before the vision could fade from his memory. It showed three angels in brilliant colours. It was much the best part of the altarpiece, and its fame spread far and wide, so that his reputation was established and he was known ever afterwards as the Master of the Angels. But he never married Gianetta, for the poor girl was now incurably insane and was never again able to leave the security ofthe convent. Most of the time she was quiet, but occasionally she would escape the vigilance of the nuns, and then she would climb the tower of the campanile and would be found on the platform at the top, wildly invoking the heavens whilst uncontrolled tears filled her eyes.

"Fly!" she would call, "Oh, fly! Please, fly!"

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