Work in Progress


“Go get him, Brother Benedetto. He must be thirteen or fourteen by now. Older?”

“How am I to get him, Father?”

“Just go to San Zeno and tell them you need a bright boy to train as an apprentice. Maybe there will be six or seven boys to choose from. When was he born?”

“Fifteen years gone now.”

“It’s past time if you’re to teach him. Ask to see the boys who are the right age. For that matter, I am sure they keep records of where the children come from and when they came in.”

Brother Benedetto sighed. He wanted his son near him. He’d longed for that, the chance to teach his boy everything he knew, but now the moment was upon him, he was filled with doubt. It was strange enough he had a son and that son had been raised in the same place he had. “Life is a labyrinth,” he thought, again. 

“You’re not sure, Brother?”

“No, no, it’s all-right, Father. What if he’s no good? What if he’s simple-minded, has no interest?”

“He’s still your boy.”

“That’s so,” nodded Brother Benedetto. 

“Maybe he will not have a religious vocation. He’ll need a trade. There’s work for bad painters as well as good ones. Work for painters’ helpers. He will need a future.” 

“How do I start?”

“I’ll write a letter to the abbott at San Zeno and let them know you’re coming with my authorization. You have a big job here and any help is help, or am I wrong?”

“No, Father, you’re right. If the boy is nothing but a mule he can still carry things.”

Va bene.”

The Abbott sent the letter, and a week or so later they invited Brother Benedetto to come and meet the orphaned boys of appropriate age. There were three. One stood out to Brother Benedetto, an average sized boy with green eyes and black curls that dropped over his forehead. “The abbott was right,” he thought, his breast on fire. He’d never though to see those eyes again.

“That boy. What’s his name?”

“Michele. Came to us on the feast of San Michele. Come, my son.” Michele stepped forward. The other boys kept their heads bowed.

“How old are you, Michele?” asked Brother Benedetto.

“Fifteen next month,” he said. 

“Would you like to be a painter?”

Michele looked the older man in the eye for a moment, then dropped his gaze. Who was this man? Bringing him his dreams? “How?”

“Brother Benedetto is a painter, my son. He’s in search of an apprentice.”

“Yes. I would like to be a painter,” Michele replied. He almost whispered, but to his ears, his voice echoed in the empty corridor. 

“Can you draw?”

Michele’s face was red. He drew all the time. He drew everything. He sneaked out of the dormitory to watch artists painting on the street. He drew in charcoal on the pavement. He’d haunted the cathedral sanctuary watching the frescoes emerge from the plaster walls. He’d offered his help to the workmen who’d set him to carrying buckets of water, sand and plaster, cleaning tools. But how should he answer this man? It was prideful to say, “Yes.” Dishonest to say, “No.”

“He can draw,” said the monk, saving Michele from the embarrassment of answering. “You have chosen the right boy.”

“I know,” said Brother Benedetto softly, a catch in his voice. 

“Get your things, Michele. You’re going with Brother Benedetto. You will be his apprentice. You must follow his instructions faithfully, serve him well, learn his trade. In time you will join the Franciscans and serve the Lord as a painter.”

Michele looked at Brother Benedetto’s dark brown robe and cowl. “So be it,” he thought. “If that’s what it takes.” 


Fumbling around with a new story that is sometimes fun, sometimes difficult, but always exactly what I want to write.

20 thoughts on “Work in Progress

    • No. This is the 13th century. Michele is the teacher of the artist who is the protagonist in my novel, Martin of Gfenn. He’s just an ordinary guy and a man of his time. I don’t write about famous people. I take my cue from my own world, life and I think those famous artists are just “the bright stars in the firmament” (as Goethe said). All around them were others, sometimes every bit as skillful and talented, just living lives that were more obscure, maybe shorter or more riven with bad turns. 🙂

    • So far Mexico has produced two artists in its long history. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Never mind all the amazing art everywhere in Mexico, only two. Pisses me off.

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