I’ve met Leonardo last night, yeah the famous Leonardo. I wasn’t sure it’s him at first sight. He was standing near the obscure entrance of some dubious den; a tavern in fact as if he was expecting someone, not me of course.
I didn’t want to miss that stroke of luck and turned to him right away:
‘Buona sera,’ (good evening) I said and as he turned round to face me, I added: ‘Come sta lei?’ (How are you sir?).
He didn’t answer just kept watching me with a suspicious look.
‘I’m so glad I’ve met you, I adore you sir.’ I declared vehemently. ‘I would be ever so pleased if you’ll agree to have a few words with me.’
‘Vabene,’ he muttered at last. ‘Let’s get inside and sit next to some quite and secluded table. I’m not very popular here in Venice; I’d to flee from Milan that was conquered by French…’
I followed him inside utterly astounded and excited, just to think of it – humble me in the company of the master of masters. He didn’t ask who I am or why have I turned to him at all.
As we sat down next to a far table at an obscure corner, he opened up and said: ‘We’d better sit here far from the lighted candles, thus no scoundrel would accost me and start shouting “La mano del diavolo”, that’s how they call me cause I’m left handed.’
He made a short pause, I guess he wanted to see how that nickname of his has impressed me; whether I might panic and leave him right away.
‘Would you care for some wine?’ He asked encouraged after a few seconds.
‘Yes but I…’
‘No, pago io (I pay) you’re young and my guest!’ He said decisively. ‘And I don’t think that your purse is heavy enough.’ He raised his arm and summoned the nearest waiter. Wine was served and we drank it in silence.
‘Well I’m supposed to help the Venetians with their defense programs. They’ve Ticiano and several more, they don’t need my contribution as an artist. That’s what you wished to know I guess, if you’ve followed here to Venice?’
‘Oh no,’ I hastened to answer. ‘I wish to know with your permission of course, why you have painted La Gioconda four long years. She isn’t as beautiful as Isabella D’este or even Ginerva de Benci.’
‘I’d my reasons and you don’t expect me to tell you why. You’re a stranger after all. But as for Isabella she has a very jealous husband, I finished her drawing thanks to my good memory, if I wouldn’t have left Mantua right away, he would have chopped my head off the Marquis. Ginerva is too young and I’m not fond of blonds.’
‘But you didn’t part with La Gioconda’s portrait until now, it still is in your possession.’
‘Allora, you’re well informed I see, I love her I can’t deny it…’
‘Don’t jump to conclusions young man,’ he said amused and a smile appeared on his lips.
So help me I thought, it’s the Mona Lisa smile and I woke up.
Haim Kadman May the 16th 2012 – all rights reserved.