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Becoming Mona Lisa - Episode 2

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

By the bank of Arno

Next morning Francesco set off for Siena. In the afternoon I told him, “Arno is not far, if you wish to visit.”

“Arno! This woman will never leave me.” He said, smiling.

“I will ask the coachman to ready the coupe. We can start in an hour.”

When we reached by the banks of Arno, no such people were there who could recognise him. We had time of solitude. Remaining inert with a steadfast and nonchalant look at the Arno, he said, “Does life always reel in a whorl?”

“Not always, if I know enough,” I replied in a diffident voice. “Then why in every stage of my life I return to her?”

“She is, haply, ineluctable chapter of you.”

“Nothing is ineluctable,” he smilingly replied, “Until we conceive such.” With a little pause he continued, “I have never been at these banks of her. Such verdurous landscape!” He looked at me, “What did forbear you from putting an end to that painting?”

He hadn’t forgotten about that. I had no reasonable answer to satisfy his intelligence. “Why to interrupt if not to conclude?”

I asked in reply, “Can you claim entirety?”

He remained silent for few moments gazing at me with a blank look. “Even he who is there in firmament above us all cannot claim entirety. I will never be exempted from disgrace of incompleteness.”

I apologized, as I didn’t mean to hurt him that he assuredly was, “I didn’t intend either to hurt you or being rude.”

“I am certain of your intentions. Not you worry.” I smiled, though I had become uneasy.

Understanding state of my mind he said, “You have no reason to be uncomfortable for what you have asked. A mind enriched with artistry has every right to be questioning.”

I asked about a rumour I had heard of, “Is what people say about you and that lady of Siena true? Do they still discuss about that? It has been more than a decade.”

He mockingly said. “Was it true? What was true?"

“That you had intimacy with her. I mean…”

He didn’t allow me to finish, “Is physical relationship meant by intimacy?”

Understanding my silence he said, “You know signora, at my youth I was once accused with the sin of sodomy.”

My right hand flew through to mouth to cover my flinching exclamation. In widened eyes I said, “You were not.”

“Oh yes! But unfortunately I was not fortunate enough to experience the life of a prisoner.”

My wonderment was hunting for its limit, “You wanted to become a convict of sodomy.”

“They couldn’t land their feet on sufficient evidence.” I was too bewildered to talk.

He said, “So, people talking such inapposite about me is expected.” He suddenly became staid, “Besides they do not know how to respect a relation. They, at every chance, refuse to believe about an incorruptible relation between a damsel and an unwedded man. They do not consider twice before spreading such heinous rumours about such a wonderful woman” He paused for a moment, “I was in my late thirties when I was commissioned to portray her. She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever met. At seventeen she was so promising. She was an ingenious musician. Her voice was like a nightingale. Her poetry was like the first flowers of spring. She was not from any nobility, which became curse for her. She remained as the mistress of lascivious Ludovico Sforza. When I portrayed her, he didn’t become Duke of Milano when I was commissioned. But his demeanour was no less. He married the granddaughter of Duke of Ferrara, when Cecilia was nurturing his seeds in her womb. I was court artist of Ludovico during those days. His passion for Cecilia’s portrait had moved me. Though I knew him quite a few days by then, we came closer during my portrayal. We spent solitary hours together. We met beyond the hours of portrayal, knowingly she was the mistress of Ludovico. Sometime we met outside the castle hiding all eyes. After all I was a court artist and any relation with his woman would not have been an affair of appreciation. Knowingly what peril could befall on us, we were attracted to each other like the insect dives into fire knowingly it would turn to ashes. My infatuation for her blooming youth knew no bounds.”

He again paused. I was too rapt to speak. Few moments later he started again, “Do not take my infatuation as prurience. Her youthful immaturity, her undeniable talent, her impeccable sense of music, her unfeigned and vernal poetry had awakened primordial and sincere affinity of masculine for a feminine in me. I had kissed her once, deep and passionate. A kiss, which could fade hours of playful copulation.”

He looked abstracted. We remained silent for long. Horizon was preparing to envelope the tired Sun. I was thinking of proposing our return when he asked, “Can we wait till the Sun is set?”

Setting Sun was never so melancholic to me. Mind was encumbered. He looked on to the Sun until that magnificent exhibition of nature’s wonder concluded. The lamplighters were illuminating the streets. He said, “Oh! I am being so selfish. Children must be longing for you,” as we approached the coupe.

Next few days he worked alone in the studio. In those afternoons and evenings we roamed about the Florence. We discussed about arts, about how different forms of art were going through a breakthrough transformation, how Italy and other countries were producing more geniuses and many other topics. Completely absorbed was I in his erudition and by his unimpeachable locution. He answered all my questions, even the most mindless ones, with equal patience and importance. I had started to wait for the afternoons.

At the breakfast of 14th April he asked, “Can we go to Arno tomorrow with the children? And instead of having lunch in your house, we can have there, like a picnic.” Children erupted in uproar. Though I was quite reluctant but agreed. That day he remained captivated in his room for almost all the day. At dinner I asked him about his absence from us. He smiled but didn’t reply. In silence, we finished our dinner. Usually, he spent some time playing the viol. But that day he said, “If it is not of much trouble, will you come to my room.”

Hesitatingly, after an hour and half of dinner I knocked his door. He was already in his sleeping gown. As I entered the room he said, “I hope my demand about tomorrow’s picnic was not of any objection you.” Suppressing the truth, I remained silent. “Your silence has confirmed my fear,” he said, “The arrangement can be crossed off.” “No need of that. Children are excited.” His smile looked pale, “Fifty one years ago on tomorrow’s date I was born.” I suddenly felt so ashamed, but my smile was from bottom of my heart. I complained, “Why didn’t you tell us in the morning? Not fair at all what have you done. How can we gift you something tomorrow?” He shone, “On the contrary I have a small gift for you. But you will have to be patient till tomorrow.”

“Of course not. How dare you to tell me to wait after the sin you have committed? You have to show it to me now and here.” I forgot that who I was talking to in excitement, knowingly his gifts can nothing be less than a masterpiece.

“It’s yet to be finished.” He tried to defend himself. “Sometime incompleteness bears its own charm.”

“Give me this night to complete.”

“Now and here,” I remained unswayed. Understanding my steadfastness he picked up a sheet of pioppo from his table and handed over to me, “Until the Lombardi pioppo arrives and I can start portraying you, this is something I wanted to do since the first evening by Arno.”

I turned the paper and looked at the painting. A lady was standing by a river, wind was playing with her dishevel hair, she was standing unperturbed and unbent looking at the setting Sun which had smeared a melancholic glow in her face with its own colour, her mirthless and supple gaze at incertitude had created an unworldly aura. Brilliance of the artwork had left me with no words. I silently looked at him with most definitive curiosity to which he smiled in approbation. I was so begone by the painting that I went out of his room without thanking him.

My mother was my father’s third wife and I was the eldest of seven children she had given him. Gherardinis’ wealth and income had shrunken to one farm and a rented space near Santo Spirito, as my father could not afford to renovate our house in Santa Trinita. I was merely sixteen when my father proposed my hands in marriage to Francesco. My opinion didn’t hold any good as I was presumed be to not mature enough to have the ability to perceive the significance of my marriage with him. I had lost my maidenhood before I came to know what love was. The first experience was hurtful initially but brought the unknown feeling of coition with time. Vehemence and penetration of masculinity had awakened an untameable pleasure in me. That was the prime traction which made me to like Francesco. Before realising that there could be joy of repletion and cession I gave birth to our first child, a son.

Painting was something I was always very fond of. In the initial years of my marriage, I did not have much time to spend for painting. After I lost one of my daughters in 1499, I again took up painting to alleviate myself from dole of bereavement. But painting came back in my life with a strange feeling. That year I had seen his work in Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milano – the ‘Lultima ‘tfe na. That mural had changed my conceived notion for art. And that had given birth to undulation in me with questions which I had never asked myself. Relation between man and woman beyond bodily was inexistent in my life. Fervidity of such poverty had made me inane. Perhaps Leonardo, unknowingly, was opening those closed doors of my life.

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