What if you can't get your two favorite heroes from history to play nice? That's the problem my main character, art historian May Gold has in my WIP novel The Renaissance Club. She has a plan to get her idol, Gianlorenzo Bernini, the rock star artist of the Renaissance, and his chief rival, architect Borromini, to play nice and work together. Trouble is, she has to travel four centuries to bring it about. Time isn't giving her much time, and Borromini is out for blood. Here's an excerpt:
me out,” May said. “If you ask him for advice, then the project becomes his to
share, and that gives him an incentive to defend it. Even against those he has
Bernini wasn’t convinced. She had a bad feeling in her stomach, wondered briefly if it
was the sausage from last night, but when he replied, it vanished.
“Shrewd woman,” he said, smiling now. “You
would make a good courtier. But the man truly hates me for taking the job he
assumed would be his—Architect of St. Peter’s. I doubt anything can change his hatred.”
He was wavering, but considering her
She elaborated on her reasons. “But he
loves his reputation. Being your advisor could enhance his standing a lot. Surely
he will recognize how a partnership of geniuses will promote you both.”
had to say so herself: it was a brilliant idea.
may be a genius, but he’s also depressive egomaniac.”
anger for a moment almost seemed to be directed towards her, so she adopted his
strategy. She fought his opposition with an audacious turn.
is going to be completely taken by surprise at your invitation to collaborate.
And if he is a genius architect, he will recognize how valuable it will be to
was the truth, and Bernini saw it. He broke into a laugh and his face lit up
with his most charming smile.
you, I will try it! My note to Borromini will be the roses I lay at your feet, for
coming here at my request.”
was delighted. “That’s much better than roses!”
sent the invitation immediately and Borromini’s reply came within an hour. He would
come that afternoon. May was very excited to meet another giant of the Renaissance,
the architect whose buildings proudly refused ornamentation because their
complex geometries were so beautiful that colors, paintings, and statues would
have been a distraction.
Borromini arrived just after one in the afternoon. He came toward them from the
door at the far end of the studio, so she could watch him approach. He was
everything she had imagined, with his pale face and Van Dyke beard, good looks sabotaged
by his scowl—such a contrast with Bernini’s
very public and ready charm. Borromini wore a knee-length dark brown cloak,
old-fashioned and dour for the period. Under it he wore black, making him dark from
hair to shoes. She could feel the anger simmering under his melancholic
“Cavaliere," he said,
Before he lowered his head,
she saw the grim expression that revealed the temperament. That depressive,
suspicious nature had resulted in Borromini withdrawing from working under Bernini,
his young rival, at St. Peter’s. It was a banked fury that scared her and reminded
her that Borromini would die by grotesque suicide, on his own sword. She
wondered, as Bernini bowed in response, whether this meeting had been a good
“Maestro,” Bernini conceded
as Borromini rose unsmiling to stare at him, waiting. Bernini’s bow put a
fleeting smile on Borromini’s face.
their evident mutual dislike, May was excited. It would benefit them both if they
could work together to rescue the bell tower project. And if that changed
history, so much the better for history. She was playing God. She felt almost up
to the part.
Bernini wasn’t playing his part. He was just standing there silently waiting. She
prompted him, “You wanted to ask for some advice?”
turned to her with a disgusted look. “Is this one of your models? Why is she
was suddenly frightened. She felt the chasm between cultures and centuries and
realized she was out of her depth with such male chauvinism that they hadn’t
yet even invented a term for it. It simply was the way things were—women were
inferior and to be treated as barely existing.
came to her rescue. “She is not my model. She is my adviser on … matters of
politics. I’ll thank you not to insult Signora Bellini.”
had improvised a distinguished Venetian name for her, thinking quickly to give
her social superiority over Borromini from a region wouldn’t be very familiar
was the moment to say something, but she had no idea what. If a curtsey was
right, she didn’t know how to execute one. She opted for the nobler slight dip
of her head. Borromini, out-maneuvered, dipped his. He hesitated and then
executed a lavish bow to her.
was very glad she had not made the mistake of a bow, as she had in St. Peter’s—a
masculine bow, which had made Bernini laugh. She reminded herself to be feminine,
but not subservient. Feminine and noble, whatever that was.
seems politic for you both to consider working collaboratively on the bell
tower design,” she said, hoping that by filling in the blank she would gain the
advantage for Bernini.
turned to him. “So, Cavaliere, is this why have you summoned me?” He made his
are to consult with me,” Bernini said in a commanding voice that May didn’t
think was going to help. “I acknowledge your engineering proficiency, and I
want you to … to …”
was choking on the word “advise.” He just couldn’t say it.
seek his advice, isn’t that right?” she said softly, hoping only Gianlorenzo
allowed himself a smile. “You seek my expertise about the bell tower project,
is that it?”
seemed unable to utter, “yes,” so he bowed again.
bowed even lower. Bernini bowed again. There seemed to be a pissing match in
progress that May didn’t understand. She guessed that whoever spoke next would be
you be concerned the towers are too heavy for their bases?” Borromini asked.
one for Bernini, who eked out the merest of smiles. “You are correct, sir. I
have concerns. I might consider your thoughts on the matter.”
smiled broadly and said, “Because you’re already trying to decrease weight in
the South Tower as it is built, I understand your dilemma. You must be aware
that your design may prove too heavy for the bases already constructed by our
was the one to scowl now. “That is exactly what the cowardly author of the scandaglio wrote against my plan. I
wonder, Maestro, whether or not you are acquainted with the author of that
May, this was tantamount to an accusation. Borromini seemed to agree. “You
think I would write such a public rant? Why would I jeopardize my own
reputation with the pope? No, I had planned to wait until your tower is
finished and then we will see if it stands. Of course, my estimate about the weight
may be entirely incorrect.”
was to have been the moment when Bernini asked Borromini to help calculate what
had to be done, but Borromini had succeeded in getting Bernini to fume. This
wasn’t what May had envisioned. How had they managed to collaborate at St.
Peter’s? Surely they could find some common ground.
have been consulted,” Bernini said defensively, “and they assured us that my
design for the towers is not too heavy for the bases.”
haughtiness wasn’t helping. May could see Borromini’s mood had a deeper and
darker color than Bernini’s. He could afford to bait Bernini, because the
Cavaliere was notoriously emotional. With a lurch of disappointment, May
realized that was why Borromini had come. This had been a terrible idea. These two
artistic titans were hoping to mortally wound each other. As a result, both
“I remember this anonymous critic
mentioned that your towers will cost twice as much as Maderno’s original
design,” Borromini said. “I suppose you justify that on the basis of the pope
and his taste for extravagance. He seems to always prefer the most elaborate
design to the most pure one.”
“You impugn all my designs at one sweep!”
Bernini’s steam was frothing over. The
dour Borromini now shot May a smirking glance. He was going to milk this
encounter in the hope of getting Bernini to do something he might regret. She saw
now that the greater maneuverer in this meeting was Borromini, though Bernini always
had the greater luck. That luck lay at the core of Borromini’s hatred and thus
it would never change.
felt the tightness of her sleeves and bodice, the surreal way her breasts
wanted to spill over the top of the dress. She couldn’t catch her breath. She
couldn’t imagine surviving the oily poison of this atmosphere between them.
you must rise or fall on your own calculations,” Borromini said grandly. “I do
not know why you summoned me, if you have no wish to listen. I cannot help you.”
always were a stubborn ass!” shouted Bernini.
you, Cavaliere, have always been a thief.”
do you mean?”
devious way you stole my rightful commission for the Four Rivers Fountain. A pickpocket’s
ruse robbing a true artist.”
commission?” Bernini shouted.
voice rose too, cracking in a higher pitch. “Your esthetic is as common as your
how would the son of a stonemason appreciate esthetic refinement?” Bernini shouted.
was already retreating, but at this last insult, he turned. Throwing one side
of his cape over his shoulder to reveal his hand on the hilt of his sword,
though not drawing it, he answered.
easily as the son of a mediocre carver of small statues can understand the
complexities of geometry.”
was amazing that Borromini, renowned for his temper, had managed to bring the poised
Bernini to near-hysteria. Her hopes were at an end. She just hoped there
wouldn’t be a duel, and she had to remind herself that history had recorded
none between them.
turned again and with an insulting swagger departed.
turned to her and said, “I don't need him. I don't need any of them. I am going
to build taller towers than anyone ever dreamed. My towers will complement Michelangelo’s
perfect dome. That is how I will silence my ignorant critics!”
said nothing, knowing that Borromini had been right about the engineering. The added
height would cause the bell towers to crack. She had done nothing but goad him
into daring too much height. The entire basilica, had been built on underground
springs that would destabilize the foundations. But those facts would be
manipulated, and a pope who was far from Bernini’s champion would tear down
did you insist that I invite him?” Bernini’s anger was still hot. Now it found
its target in her.
couldn’t wish Bernini’s passion crushed, but it was going to be. She couldn’t
imagine living such a reckless, passionate life as he did—but passion was the
essence of his art. She didn’t belong here. Her ideas would create dangers for
him and this culture could suffocate her.
turned to say she was leaving, but before she could, she was caught by a dazzle
of afternoon light that struck the window.
Labels: #amwriting, #fiction, Baroque, Bernini, borromini, Magical realism, romance, time travel