Da Vinci's Tiger

Da Vinci's Tiger by L. M. Elliott Read Free Book Online

Book: Da Vinci's Tiger by L. M. Elliott Read Free Book Online
Authors: L. M. Elliott
of music, high art, and philosophic debate among Florence’s most renowned and beautiful. A night I’d hear about all sorts of exotic things—like Venice, a city that lived on stilts in the sea. And the chance to share one of my own poems! Lord, which one should I bring?
    I ran upstairs and lifted the heavy lid of my wedding chest, the traditional Florentine cassone , painted with a scene to encourage a bride in her marital duties. Some were romantic scenes, but most were historical or biblical, representing women’s submission to the rule of husbands. For my chest, Uncle Bartolomeo had commissioned one of the most popular choices—the abduction of the Sabine women by Roman soldiers. I hated it.
    As I always did when I opened that chest, I simply closed my eyes to the scene. That day I nearly fell into it, rummaging for the poems hidden at its very bottom.

    S EVERAL WEEKS LATER, ON A COOL, EARLY M ARCH EVE, MY husband and I approached the Palazzo Medici for dinner. The sun was setting, yet a handful of petitioners still sat on the rough-hewn stone benches carved into its fortresslike walls. One of them held a squawking, squirming chicken, another a thick roll of parchments. In all probability, they had been waiting all day, inching their backsides toward the inner courtyard as the man nearest the portal was granted access, creating a ripple of shuffling bodies as the line slid forward.
    Every day dozens of citizens—merchants and craftsmen, magistrates and farmers—waited to speak to the Magnifico, seeking Lorenzo’s help in resolving business arguments,brokering marriages, or securing a government post. The law courts of the Mercanzia might be where guild disputes were settled, and the Signoria where the gonfaloniere lived and the priori fashioned laws, but it was here at the Medici stronghold that the real business of Florence was done.
    Tucked in the sleeve of my gown I carried my own supplication of sorts, one of my poems, as invited by Lorenzo. Would I dare present it in this place of power and sway?
    A scribe emerged from the entrance’s enormous carved wooden doors, followed by another servant bearing a torch. “No more today, signori. Come back tomorrow.”
    The merchant closest to the hallowed gateway protested. “But I have been here all afternoon!”
    The scribe seemed to smile patiently, but even in the twilight I could see it was more a smirk. “Of course the Magnifico looks forward to speaking with you. But I suggest next time you return closer to dawn to be ahead of the line.”
    As he retreated inside, the merchant kicked the dirt with his soled turquoise hose and swore. “God’s wounds!”
    My husband caught the arm of the merchant as he stomped past in indignation. “Ludovico, what troubles you? Perhaps I can help? Is this a matter the guild can take up?”
    â€œLuigi? Forgive me, my friend, I did not see you in the dusk.” And as he said so, a Medici servant lit fire to the first in a series of torches held in iron rings along the palazzo. One after another, they cast a warm glow on us and long flickering shadows down via Larga and the houses facing it.
    As the men conversed, I marveled at the enormity ofthe formidable palace. Twenty dwellings had been knocked down to build this one. But of course, it never was meant to be just a home but a public forum of influence, carefully placed only one block away from the Duomo and Baptistery and on the major processional route for our feast days. The first-floor exterior consisted of taupe-brown unfinished boulders—nothing fancy or ostentatious to annoy the pragmatic Florentine business class. Simple, solid, strong. The second and third floors, in contrast, were elegant testaments to the Medici refinement—the stone smooth and cut in symmetrical blocks, punctuated with a parade of tall arched doubled windows. But one had to look up to see this.
    Of course, I knew the real

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