Mosaic Maker, Italy
An excerpt from Jessica Sequeira’s A Luminous History of the Palm
We know that we will be remembered as followers and disciples, ‘the school of’. Yet we are not bothered. We belong to this period, to the summit of creative activity, and through these great works worldly recognition will come to us. For now we spread stucco, place tiles and fill the gaps between them, before we carefully clean away the excess. There are many panels to fill; the work will take months. God the Father, Mercury, Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus. We press the tiles together as closely as possible, with almost no space between them; yet each tile subtly differs in its color and angle, and the effect is to create a shimmering gleam around the angel painted by Our Master. In the evening I approach him where he sits, alone in the gloom. He is familiar with my presence; I have approached before with questions, whatever strikes my mind. Another might call these excuses. ‘Your ideas about Plato are known to those of us who love you,’ I said. ‘The palm tree was a Greek symbol representing the recurring nature of time. Would if not be perfect to include it? Why are there no palms in this new work of yours?’ Our Master looked at me, and then laughed. ‘You come from a part of the country where palms are less strange than here in Florence,’ he reminded me. I looked down at my dark skin; of course he was right. ‘Anyhow, my dear boy,’ he went on, ‘would you have me be so obvious? This work made for my patron and friend, the great banker Chigi, is called Creation of the World, but everything about the delicately exposed breasts, contorted muscular arms, scythes, swords, birds and bows, suggests not only eroticism but also violence. These, as you know, are the two great linked forces of the world. Do not forget that your brilliant gold tiles are black on the reverse. All of this can be found in the zodiac, which is cyclical; the zodiac itself is the palm.’ Our Master winked, and after I had lain for a while in his arms, I went away to look at the stars in the sky, those little tiles of gold. Then to my pallet for healthy rest, for night will soon flip to morning, and there is work to do.