Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Patience (08/21/08)
TITLE: A LABOUR OF LOVE
By Kenneth Heath
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Clambering down the scaffold for the very last time, the artist surveyed his work. “I feel as old and as weary as Jeremiah, and yet I am only 37 years old,” he said. Francesco, his assistant laughed loudly as they folded up the last tarpaulin and packed the paints away. Together they looked at the fresco on the high ceiling. It was beautiful and breathtaking, Gods Creation captured in vivid colour, magnificent, but at what cost to the artist? The strenuous effort of climbing up and down the scaffolding fifty to sixty times a day, to ensure that his work was perfect in every detail, had taken its toll. “My friends don’t recognise the old man I have become,” he said.
Gazing up, he reflected that over the past 4 years there had been more than 400 life-size figures on the ceiling and now there were only 300. Lying on his back looking up had damaged his eyesight. He could no longer see anything if he looked down, and if he had to read a letter he was obliged to hold it above his head. It took great patience and skill to learn and master the art of fresco while on the job. It was a medium he was not familiar with, so time and time again he painstakingly redid a piece until he was satisfied. He would not be hurried, no matter how frustrated his assistants became, it had to be done perfectly. “Patience is a virtue, learnt in the hard school of life,” he would say to them.
Having been deprived of the suns health-giving rays for so long, his skin was white and sickly. The chemical smell of the paint and cleaning aids had ruined his sense of smell and his eyes were bloodshot from the paint that dripped down into them. The icy cold winters had numbed him to the bone; his only comfort being the fresh bread and hot soup that Vittoria brought him. Painting was not his forte, how he longed for the smooth, cold surface of the marble that he loved to sculpture. Ironically it was his success in sculpturing that had brought about this commission.
“David, my beautiful David”, he said thinking out aloud, “how I long for those happier days. I am here in great distress and with great physical strain, and have no friends of any kind, nor do I want them; furthermore, I do not have enough time to eat as much as I need; my joy and my sorrow, my repose are these discomforts.”
As he spoke a peace welled up inside him as he felt the Lord comforting him. A gentle inner voice reminded him of how youthful his hands and muscles had felt as he painted and of the difficult times, opposition and victories he had experienced through it all. Bramante and the other artists had hoped that he would fail. They attempted to distract the Pope from matters of sculpture, by recommending him for the job. He was not an artist, so they hoped his failure might cause the Pope to rather spend his money on their art instead. A smile crossed his lean face as he remembered how he had covered up his finished work so that outsiders could not see it and how the Pope in his enthusiasm would insist on seeing it, even climbing up the scaffolding to take a peek. There were many obstacles and challenges that the Lord helped him to overcome, and he had also learnt wonderful new skills in the process.
Gazing upon his masterpiece, he focused on the section where God stretches out His finger to touch Adams finger. Chuckling he recalled a poem that he had written to his friend Giovanni where he said,” My beard points skyward, I seem a bat upon it’s back; I’ve breasts and splat! On my face the paint’s congealing… I live in hell and paint its pictures.”
As the suns golden rays danced upon the ceiling, highlighting his beautiful masterpiece, tears ran down his cheeks as he realized that his labour of love was so inferior to that which his heavenly Father had created.
“ I am a poor man and of little worth, who is labouring in that art that God has given me in order to extend my life as long as possible.”
Michelangelo Bounarroti 1542.
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