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The Anatomist (Historical Fiction)

Trippayar Sahasranaman Priyaa

18th Feb, 1564
Tomasso ploughed through Angelo’s thick curly grey tresses as he lay motionless on his bed. A mild tear trickled through the corner of his eye as Tomasso read out one of those old verses he had once written:
“I feel as lit by fire a cold countenance
That burns me from afar and keeps itself ice-chill;
A strength I feel two shapely arms to fill
Which without motion moves every balance.”

“Your writings will put the poets of the future to shame, Angelo,” he continued. “I swear I have never loved any man more than you, never have I wished for friendship more than yours.”
Angelo smiled as Tomasso poured out his feelings through his words. The wrinkles beneath his eyes grew closer as he stretched his lips when the words flowed out. “Desperation, you see,” chuckled Tomasso, pressing his thumb on his chin covered in his brown beard.
“People say that desperation drove you to the Sistine chapel.”
The word “desperation” awoke in Angelo so many untold stories, which would soon be lost in the sands of time.

December, 1488
            Language had never been Angelo’s cup of tea. He had never found it necessary in the first thirteen years of his life to embellish the medium of communication, as bejeweled language had never served beyond its purpose. But that was just about likes and dislikes.  School proved to be abominable for more reasons.
            As the young twelve year old boys of his class ogled at the young women trotting past the streets from the windows of their classroom, Angelo remained submerged in the lines of his Science textbooks. As he rose up and walked towards the door, Pietro jeered at his demeanor, “Look at the duck faced duffer walking.”
            Angelo could not care lesser about the flout. He sighed as a crushed ball of paper missed his head. Pietro rushed behind him unable to bear the insult of his victim being unfazed. His fist reached out to Angelo’s nose. In moments he was left with a disfigured face that would stay with him for the rest of his life, and also the first taste of desperation - far less strong than the ones yet to come.

January, 1492
            The manifestation of scientific findings oft came along with a dear price to be paid for them. Several men were hanged and executed at the guillotine for their obstinacy to demonstrate their findings to the world. The church admonished men who they believed betrayed their cause, and their God.
            The snow of winter seemed to have shrouded the roads of Florence with its white mantle and along with it Angelo’s career as well. The fame that his masterpiece in stone- The battle of Centaurs, had brought him was soon history as was Lorenzo(the then ruler who succumbed to time).
            In a month’s time Angelo found himself digging up the graves at the back of Santo Spirito . As he scrutinized the shape of the bodies that were buried, something fascinated him.  He went on his knees and for the first time in his life, he pulled out a knife dissecting the body’s intestine. Marveled by his finding, he continued macerating the layer of skin from the dead man’s body. In the dimness of the night lit up by his bright flair for discovery, much against the principles of his job and his church, he continued studying as much as he could.
            From then on, neither a single night, nor a single body was spared. Angelo enthusiastically waited to be enchanted by the graveyard. Each carcass brought a smile to his face.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Angelo spent each morning in secret conclave with his findings. He penned them down inch by inch with precision. The mirror in his room was soon covered with a thin layer of dust. He mostly slept with his shoes on. His friend, Giorgio, reminded him to work on his unkempt beard every weekend. Angelo was turning into something the world would call abnormal.
            “What is up with you these days,” Giorgio asked him as Angelo quickly scribbled something, one Saturday morning.
            With most of his brain preoccupied with anatomy, all that Angelo could manage to do was smile. “Look Angelo, I am your friend and one thing I can tell you for sure is that your obsession with your night duty is beginning to scare me. They say that the evil spirits of the dark invade those who trample on the graves, but your bread has left you with no choice but to stride upon the lands of the forbidden. How long has it been since you visited the church?”
            Angelo turned a serious visage to him. “Do you know that it is the graves behind the church that contradict every ounce of myth that the church blindfolds us in? And it looks like there is more evil inside the church than behind it. Look at these,” he said holding up a bunch of notes- the outcome of his previous few nights of toil.
            Giorgio grabbed the notes and skimmed through them hastily. He gulped down his saliva as he paced through the last few pages. He paused looking up at Angelo with an ineffable expression on his face. His countenance contorted, his brows were tense. A moment of awkward silence transpired between the two of them.
            “Look Angelo, these are incredible, but in this world there are few who would appreciate your prodigious work. The church would condemn you for going against God and their grand vision for the people. The Church blindfolds people in beliefs to restore order in the society, as fear more than anything else holds back men from doing wrong. Every system has its own pros and cons and you would be outnumbered by the people who refuse to believe what you have found though it maybe the truth. The church would cleanse the city of the maverick minds like you. You never know, they just might do the unthinkable. It is only the few ones who love you who would suffer your loss, from your intention to gift the world a prize worth so much, and at the end your prized possession will be erased from the pages of history.” Giorgio clutched onto the lapels of Angelo’s mud stained shirt. “Listen, you are going to live till nature decides to take you in its arms and refurbish your old body. Don’t do something that would introduce you to the wrath of the Church and her followers.”
            Angelo heaved in a deep breath. He moved his eyes towards the sides rapidly. “I will soon become a part of the church, and embed in it each of my findings. I will die old and wrinkled and all that would be left after I’m gone would be the pride that my children would feel when my name is spoken of.”
            Giorgio rested his face on his fist. “Well, that does seem pretty enigmatic to me, yet all that you say seems to be more of a theory than anything close to possibility. Time could make every victory a failure. You need to take your steps carefully. Destroy these notes as soon as you can.”

18th Feb, 1564(present day)
            Giorgio’s words echoed in Angelo’s ears. He smirked recalling how he had escaped the hands of the Church all the while. He pressed Tomasso’s hands between his huge palms. They looked at each other in trance. “You didn’t tell me about why and how you made it to the Sistine Chapel, my old man,” said Tomasso. “How did you overthrow the reign of Bramante? You were a sculptor isn’t it? How did you become a painter? You are a staunch pious Catholic aren’t you?”
            Angelo narrated bits and pieces of his journey from Florence to the Sistine Chapel. He chewed down a few fragments of his story, but as he did, most of those untold scenes stood before his eyes.

20th January, 1492
             The situation in Florence was tense. People thronged the streets to behold the politicians fight for power, yet the real invisible ruler unstirred by the chaos remained the Church. Such was the faith of the people in the institution of God. Midst the commotion, the less known grave digger walked past the statues of their martyrs with a dirty linen bag flung across his shoulders. As he bumped into people some yelled out outrageous words to the vagrant. Such comments were no stranger to him. Angelo walked past them deaf to all that they said with his disfigured face held high. It took him a day to reach Bologna.
            Very soon his hands were flooded with a series of small assignments starting with the Shrine of St Dominic. At nights tucked away in his secret cell, with solitude his only companion, Angelo’s pen created much more than what his hammer and chisels did during the day. Yet, beneath the surface of toil ran the undercurrents of a plot to immortalize the findings. Steady yet uncertain about his success, Angelo carved the Shrine as precisely as he could.
            The chaos in Florence headed towards culmination. An inner voice told Angelo to return home. He believed in instinct and the feelings of his gut. The bags were packed and soon he was back at Florence.
            With practice, stone-cutting had become a part and parcel of Angelo’s fingers. Each piece of stone he touched, promised to transform itself into something that would soon be a synonym of perfection. As he touched up the statue of cupid with his chisel, his eyes brimmed with life. He ran his fingers over the wings of the seemingly innocuous child who had dwindled empires with his erotic arrows.
            Angelo sat back for a while with a stern expression on his face. He pulled out a few strands of hair from his beard which had streaks of white in between the long ebony ones. His face bore an asymmetric smile. He quickly pulled out a sheet of paper and stumped his grey rough fingers into the mud on the floor. The sweat that dripped off his forehead failed to distract him. He continued to work with his fingers on the sheet of paper. He mounted the piece against the wall and took a few steps back to observe it. Alacrity filled his heart the more he looked at his first painting. His heart blessed his fingers for the first time in his life.
            It had been only the matter of three years, by the time Angelo’s fingers had given birth to a series of masterpieces in stone ranging from Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus to the Roman God Bachus. Angelo visited Churches across the city on every Saturday and studied the principles of Catholics. He sat in silence observing people, the curves in their features as they took to various chores. His fingers moved in air as he observed them tracing out the path their nose took or the bridge above their mouths.
            As a young noble man trotted by on the streets of the otherwise dull city, Angelo’s pupils grew bigger. His head turned in the direction where the young man walked.  Beauty struck him for the first time, really hard.
           
1508   
            “I would like to paint frescoes alongside as I finish your tomb, Pope,” Angelo lowered his eyes as he spoke to Pope Julius.  Pope Julius shrugged his shoulders. “I believe that the best work can be accomplished when you focus on it, but I don’t know what you have in mind,” he said.
            “We already have Bramante working on the frescoes, but it would be a sin to prohibit a man from trying to do something as sacred as painting the roofs of the Sistine Chapel, and I wish to be far from sin. You could begin with the twelve apostles if you are really sure.”
            “Please don’t get me wrong, for the twelve apostles is wonderful, but I have something more in mind for the roofs of this holy chapel,” Angelo said in a firm voice. “And here is what I propose - the Creation, the Fall of Man, the Promise of Salvation through the prophets, and the genealogy of Christ. The stretch of over 500 square meters of ceiling deserves to be covered with over 300 figures. What do you think?”
            “Well, who can deny such grandeur and creativity,” the Pope replied.

 

18th Feb, 1564(this day)
            “So, from sculpting, to painting. You have had two major professions in your life and a remarkable transition. It must have felt bad when Pope Paul denied you of your pensions on the pretext that you defamed the church by depicting Jesus and Mary naked. I can’t say much, yet all I know is that your pristine thoughts and craze for good art deserves to be applauded. You were a staunch Catholic weren’t you, a believer in the authority of the Church?” asked Tomasso.
            “Pope Paul had his reasons. He couldn’t decipher anything I intended to convey to the world, but found nudity obscene. As a matter of fact, there was no message in that particular painting of Virgin Mary and Jesus. I have never done anything unless I found the dire need for it, right from polishing up my language to write letters to you to learning painting,” Angelo replied in a cracking voice.
            “But you haven’t answered my question, you were a strong believer in the Church until Pope Paul denied you your pensions isn’t it?” retorted Tomasso.
            “Well, you will realize the answer to your question when you take a closer look at Barthlomew’s body and the painting of Holofernes,” Angelo replied in a husky tenor.
            “I will by the time I meet you in the evening,” Tomasso reassured him.
            “Do observe the Separation of Light from darkness as well when you visit the Chapel and tell me your findings.”
            As Tomasso departed, Angelo sat up and pulled out a couple of notes from underneath his pillow. He pressed them close to his chest. He then took out a fresh piece of paper and penned down his epilogue dedicated to Tomasso:
            “The graves have taught me various lessons that I wish to tell the world, but the best I can do is to hide my messages in my paintings. You may ask why the Sistine Chapel, and the answer is that I am sure that people from all over the world would be drawn towards it at some time or the other. I believe that every man born has a purpose to be fulfilled and mine was to debunk the myths of the Church. Every painting of mine carries a message to the world, a message that anybody can decrypt if he really wishes to.
            In the Separation of Light from darkness directly above the altar, if you carefully observe God’s neck, you will find the human brain, the spinal cord and its stem embedded in the neck. Those versed in basic anatomy may even find in it optic nerves and the eyes. Some might say that it was the artists’ anomaly to create such an imperfect neck on a perfect body. But tell me; is it just God bestowing brain on Adam in this picture? Do you really need a church to connect with God? If He connects to Adam with his hands, can’t He connect with you and me? ”
            Angelo heard some footsteps at his door. As he bent over, he could see Tomasso through the crack between the doors that were left ajar. “Age has made my hand and brain so slow young man. But I know one thing for sure- you are definitely going to be smart enough to decipher everything about my paintings,” he murmured to himself. He quickly shook the ink off his pen and paced as fast as he could towards the fire place. 

 
 

“Are you alright? Feeling cold?” Tomasso asked Angelo wrapping his arms around him. Angelo hid the bundle of paper inside his cloak. “I am fine, just wanted to feel the heat,” he said stretching his palms out towards the fire. “So what did you see at the Chapel?”
            Tomasso paused. “Oh of course, I found the answers. I saw your face in the skinned man being tortured, I mean Barthlomew, and also in the severed head of Holofernes. I could figure that out by the shape of the nose. It’s obvious that it’s a younger you.” Angelo closed his eyes as the finding of Tomasso restored a lost fragment of hope in his heart. Tomasso rose up and walked towards the cot as Angelo ensconced at the fireplace.
            “So you think that you were tortured by the church and that’s why you wish to be buried in Florence far from the grounds of Vatican?” Tomasso continued.
            “You are right. Now the world will know me as an anatomist rather than a painter. The Church would despise me, but I would be the predecessor of Puritans, and there would be a race of people who believe in God but no middle man to communicate with him,” Angelo thought. He opened his mouth to resume with his heart thumping hard. “And the Separation of Light and darkness?”
            Tomasso’s eyes shimmered with the reflection of the fire. “I saw that throat of God was in the shape of a human brain.” Angelo quickly tossed all the notes into the fire as the years of toil had finally borne its fruit. He stood up moist eyed, thanking Providence from every corner of his heart.
            “But what I didn’t understand is why the brain in the throat of God. The neck looked goitrogenous, and bulged up. I could see something like the spinal cord emerging from the part below it. But why, what is it about …” Tomasso stuttered as his eyes caught a glimpse of Angelo shivering with one hand on his head and the other on his chest.
            It was too late. Angelo plummeted to the ground and wriggled through a delirious fit. He sweat profusely, throwing his hands and legs in the air, up and down, though he occasionally looked at the fire again and again and pointed towards it.
            On the next day as Angelo’s body was lowered into the ground, people dressed in black gathered around Florence with flowers and candles to honor the man with magical hands. Tomasso spoke:
            “The man who we lay to rest today was a man who always managed to finish what he began, with utmost perfection. He touched our hearts with his sculptures and paintings, and needless to say harbored a spiritual relationship with a number of people including me. He served as an inspiration to many.” Tomasso broke down as he uttered the last few words of his farewell speech:
            “The world will remember him as Michelangelo, the most ingenious painter of all times.” 

The name of a church in Florence

 
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