Tuesday Critique: In the Garden of San Marco

Here’s a new excerpt from my time travel story set in Renaissance Florence.  Hope you like it! 🙂  Please feel free to comment and critique.  



Mason stepped into the garden, feeling as though he’d just entered Eden.  Birdsong and the trickle of fountains mixed with the sough of the wind through a million leaves.  The garden opened out into a vista of orderly trimmed hedges and a riot of flowers, each spilling their perfume into the sun-warm air.  

And everywhere he looked Mason saw statues.  

Pale and gleaming against the glossy green foliage they stood, silent witnesses to his trespass.  Priceless artifacts, rare and beautiful, most of them lost forever in his own time.  It was a curator’s heaven.

As he trod through this paradise, the sounds of occupation rose from the row of cypress that the guard had mentioned.  Here was the greatest concentration of statues—ancient ones, even at this time—and beneath them, a collection of artists working at sculpting and painting.  

Mason scanned them eagerly for a familiar face, but he knew none of these.  They were mostly youths.  Even from here he could tell they were none of them masters.  At least, not yet.  An older man strode between them, hands clasped behind his back, leaning over them in the unmistakeable stance of a teacher.

Recalling something from his histories, Mason took a risk and approached the teacher.  “Signore Bertoldo di Giovanni?”

“Si,” the man said, looking Mason up and down with a frown.  “Do I know you?”

Mason shook his head.  “No.  But I know you.  Your name precedes you as a great teacher of artists.”

Bertoldo raised his eyebrows at this, but remained aloof.  

“I am a travelling artist and I seek a particular painter.  The one who painted this.”  He took out his phone again and showed it to the teacher.  Bertoldo’s reaction was much like the guard’s, though he showed a keen professional interest after his initial surprise.

“It’s very good.  Reminds me a bit of Botticelli.”

“I thought so, too.”

He grunted in surprise.  “You know his work?” 

“Some,” Mason replied.  How about intimately, he thought.  “Do you think it might be his?”  Mason held his breath.  A lost Botticelli would be a career-making find.  That is, if he ever found his way back home.

But Bertoldo shook his head.  “Not his.  But someone who studied under him, perhaps.”

“Would you know where I could find him?”

Bertoldo shook away his fascination and narrowed his eyes in renewed suspicion.  “Where did you say you came from?”

“I didn’t.  Please excuse my poor manners.  I come from . . .”  He thought quickly.  He couldn’t say America.  That didn’t exist yet, as far as these people knew.  “The countryside outside Milan.”

It was true, strictly speaking.  His family did hail from that area, a century ago at least.  Or perhaps even now his early ancestors lived under the Caro name.  That was a thought.

Bertoldo gave a nod.  “Signore Da Vinci is there right now.”

“Really?  A shame I’ve missed him.”  That was a helpful bit of information.  It narrowed down the possible window he’d landed in.  Leonardo spent several years in Milan, but all between 1482 and 1499.  So somewhere in the eighties or nineties then.  The golden age.  Leonardo wasn’t here, but based on history others were, such as Botticelli, Girlandaio, and Perugino.  Even a young . . .

“Michelangelo, can’t you see I’m busy?”

Mason turned abruptly to see a young boy of ten approaching the master, a chisel and mallet in each hand.  His jaw dropped, but his surprise went unheeded by both teacher and pupil.  

“I’m sorry, Signore, but I need some help with the horns.”

Bertoldo excused himself and went over to where the youth was working on a block of half-formed marble.  Even at such a tender age, even in the crude first cuts of a sculpture, the mark of a master was evident.  Bertoldo jabbed a finger at a certain point and said something to the boy then stood back, arms folded to watch.  He nodded and smiled, then came back over to Mason.

“Young Buonarroti.  He shows a great deal of promise.”

I’d say so, Mason thought.  He watched the boy work, his dark curls close-cropped over a high brow, sensitive, wide-set eyes, long nose, small delicately-shaped lips and pointed chin—a face not unlike his own sculpture of David.  He allowed himself an indulgent smile.  Now I get to say I knew him when.

“You asked about Botticelli?” Bertoldo recalled him to his mission.  


“He has his own studio.  I can send a guide with you.”

“No need.  I know the city.”

Bertoldo gave him the address and Mason thanked him.  

“You are welcome in the garden any time,” the gruff master said.  “I would like to see some of your own work one day.”

“Thank you.  I’d like that very much.”

Still buzzed from meeting one of his idols as a child, Mason left the garden and went out to find another.



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