Leo wasn’t looking forward to her visit, not today or ever since this commission was foisted upon him. The woman was dour, never smiling. Always dressed in her silks or velvets, she looked at him and those working with him as if they were all insects to be squashed under the soles of her soft kid slippers.
‘If it wasn’t for the fact that her husband is Lorenzo’s friend and had already paid me, I’d have told that miserable, unsmiling harpy where to go, but there’s something there…’ Leo grumbled sotto-voce, knowing how much he needed the man’s commission and Lorenzo’s patronage.
He watched her as she walked in and sat by the window, looking insignificant against the beauty of the terracotta and ochre colours of the landscape behind her. The woman didn’t even acknowledge him, looking ahead, staring at nothing. He expected the sunset to be magnificent later on, but what a waste on such a subject!
Leo sighed while he moved towards his table to grab his palette and select the colours he had previously mixed. Petruccio, his new fidgety apprentice, stood behind him, ready to help. Leo turned to speak but never uttered a word as Petruccio slipped and landed against his master. The impetus carried them forward and they both crashed heavily against the table, which promptly collapsed in a confusion of broken jars, pigments and oils flying everywhere.
Leo heard first the stupefied hush, then the sudden guffaws and laughs coming from the other apprentices. He looked at Petruccio, covered in a myriad of colours, a drop of orange pigment dripping from his nose. He expected the boy to look fearful, sorry, sheepish, but no, Petruccio looked transfixed. Leo followed the boy’s gaze and lo and behold, there she was, smiling. The others’ laughs had ceased too and the silence was deafening.
‘Dio mio!’ exclaimed Leo, scrambling up to grab his undamaged palette. “Don’t move, Madonna!’ he excitedly barked.
‘Quick, Maestro, before she stops! It was worth waiting for. That smile will survive time…’ Petruccio ecstatically pronounced.
And he was right.