The Exquisite

It is related how one day the Prince of Naverges received a call from an artist going by the name of Magassimo. Eschewing the customary bows the perfectly uncouth painter proceeded to ask a favour of his excellency. Four days before, the glorious coloursmith had been caught gambling in bed with the daughter of a local knight. He was wearing a cloak stolen from a mutual friend, consuming illegal foodstuffs and using the kind of language unimaginable to any maiden. The law suggested, with charming leniency, that the man should be hanged by a noose. Magassimo had other ideas.

In any other case our Prince would have dismissed the man out of hand. In any other case the man would never have had the opportunity to present his case at all. But this was Magassimo. You’ve probably seen his work. His Nativity hangs in Lyon. There’s a rather excellent, even touching,  Annunciation in Bordeaux. And those painted vases in Turin? There was never a better example of a painted vase. To see these vases is to catch a glimpse of the divine.

‘All I ask,’ said the scruffy artist, ‘to be made immune from the pounding hand of the law. A simple request, the granting of which will help me enormously in my work’.

The Prince nodded. ‘Please say more’.

‘Remember the sculpture I made last year? Hercules and the lion was the subject’.

The Prince nodded once more. He remembered this piece well. Who wouldn’t? Marble had never been so soft. The lion, in particular, was beautifully done. Exquisitely done. A fine, fine work of art.

‘One of my masterpieces,’ noted the proud sculptor, ‘and no doubt about it. But where would I have been without my transgressions? That sculpture means more to be than a lump of chiselled marble. No, there is so much more to it than that. Do you know how many times I broke the laws during the creation of my Hercules? Let me tell you. There was never a day I didn’t overstep the mark. Rampant fornication, violent behaviour, careless theft: that was the very least of it. An artist requires his inspiration, does he not? Beauty springs, we all know, from blood and sweat. And yet here I am being punished. Punished for doing my job! When will you learn that we artists require immunity from the law?’

‘But if I grant you immunity you will no longer be able to transgress,’ pointed out the Prince. ‘One needs the law to break the law.’

‘But you could at least be lenient! They want to hang me from a noose! It’s ridiculous!’

‘You’re quite right.’

‘So you agree?’

‘I agree that it’s ridiculous. But I also think that you should hang.’

‘But what good will that do my art?’

‘Very little I’m sure. But I’ll make sure other artists are on hand to sketch the scene. Goodbye Magassimo: I’ve enjoyed your work greatly.’

With a short bow the Prince took leave of the artist. Magassimo was hung two days later. Filippo Lorenza’s painting hangs in Mantua. It is, of course, exquisitely done.


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