Monsieur Signy l'Abbaye was a master artist in his day, who in 1392 was ready to retire. It was the month of May. But Guiliano Bartoli, a rich Italian patron, sent for him saying, "I'd like a portrait of myself on my banquet room wall. Could you paint it? It's 20 feet tall."
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Contemplating this request, Monsieur l'Abbaye shook his head. "I'm ready to retire, so I'm not available for hire. I'm sorry. I simply can't paint your portrait." But seeing the disappointment in Senior Bartoli's eyes, he continued, "Well, there's a possibility if you can find it in your heart to allow me to explore the limits of my abilities. Not for money mind you, but for food and a bed instead. Furthermore, you need not even pose because my memory's excellent. Already I can see your portrait and how to derive it. But I insist, Senior Bartoli, while I work your portrait stays private -- even from you!"
This is strange, thought the patron, but he also thought about how highly the artist had been recommended. "Of course," he said "Anything you wish, but I insist upon paying you at least something for your effort. Let's draw up a contract."
Now a glint came to Monsieur l'Abbaye's eyes as he gazed upon that 20-foot wall and thought of all that space, such a wonderful place for schemes and things to give imagination wings. Because, unknown to Senior Bartoli, or anyone else for that matter, for all of his career (which was 45 years) Monsieur L'Abbaye had yearned to paint in his own way. And what way was that? Certainly not the style of Byzantine or of Proto-Renaissance. No. Monsieur Signy l'Abbaye had hungered to break free of restraints. But the guild, his craft and livelihood, would never have allowed it so he followed their rules although never proud of it. Of course he didn't reveal this to Senior Bartoli.
Signing the contract, they sealed the agreement.
Immediately the master artist threw a high curtain in front of the wall, a curtain through which Senior Bartoli couldn't see at all. He tried to peek, but Monsieur l'Abbaye insisted on total privacy for his artistic techniques.
A week passed. "How is it coming?" asked the hopeful Senior Bartoli.
Answering him from behind the curtain, Monsieur l'Abbaye said, "It's coming quite well. You know, at the age of eight I was apprentice to the great Ambrogio Lorenzetti. I could never dishonor his name. He taught me the art of grinding pigment, laying plaster, sometimes slowly, sometimes faster. He taught me how to draw and, most important, not to hurry. My training was rigorous and after certification even more vigorous. Senior Bartoli, a masterpiece... takes a while at least."
Reluctantly, Senior Bartoli withdrew.
A month passed. "How is it coming?" Senior Bartoli asked.
"It's coming well," said Monsieur l'Abbaye, again from behind the curtain. Along with his words came the strange sounds of swooshing, clanking and slapping. "You know you're fortunate it's I painting your portrait. Only buon fresco will do. It's four coats of lime plaster. First layer the trullisatio, followed by the arriccio, then the anenato and finally the intonaco not to mention the part where I draw. But it's the best plaster process I ever saw. Senior Bartoli, it will last forever, but alas, it's a time-consuming endeavor."
Sighing deeply, the patron again withdrew. Just how long would this take? Who knew?
Another three, four months passed and finally half a year went by. Senior Bartoli, the patron, marched in demanding of Monsieur l'Abbaye, the master artist, to see his portrait, "You must be finished by now and today I will see it!" he shouted, shaking with frustration.
Stepping from behind the cloth as though surprised by such anger, Monsieur l'Abbaye said calmly. "That's fine. You needed only to request it." And he pulled aside the 20-foot curtain.
Guiliano Bartoli stood for a minute and then his mouth fell open, his eyes turned red and he grabbed what few hairs he had left on his head. He did a little hop, and then a twitch, and his eyebrows contorted as though bewitched. Guiliano Bartoli obviously did not like his portrait, not a bit. Guiliano Bartoli threw a fit.
"How absurd, how obscene. What does this mean? You'll not receive one Florine, do you hear? You're not an artist, maybe a thief or a madman. Get out of my sight! You'll leave my house tonight or I'll throw you out!"
So what had Monsieur l'Abbaye drawn that was wrong? He couldn't see it, he'd fussed and fixed for so long. It was his masterpiece. He wasn't sorry, no, not at all, that he had drawn to his heart's content for 20 feet tall. No matter what anybody could say, Monsieur Signy l'Abbaye had drawn it his way. Perhaps his patron couldn't tolerate his obsession with cubist expression, but Picasso would have been proud.
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If truth be told Monsieur l'Abbaye wasn't crazy, surely. He'd simply been born 500 years too early!