Master at Work

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Annno Domini 1492

The two of them stood around the statue in the middle of the room, regarding it closely. It was a stunning artwork: the statue of a young, athletic Greek in the act of throwing a discus.

He wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing.

The old woman – unlike the statue, she was richly attired – nodded to her companion, a young artist with long, curly black hair and beard.

“Very well, Signore Michelangelo. Let's see what you can do.”

The young man bowed deeply. Then, his artistic locks flying in all directions, he marched towards the masterful artwork in the middle of the room and placed the chisel at the wrist of the young Greek.

The hammer came down on the chisel in a powerful stroke, and the hand clattered to the ground, separated from the body. Questioningly, the young artist looked at his client.

“No, no,” the old woman said, shaking her head. “You have to go higher – at the elbow, or, better still, at the shoulder. The more of the arm is missing, the better. And make the end of the stump look nice and ugly, with lots of cracks. Remember, it's over one-thousand years old.”

“Si, Signora.”

With another bow, Michelangelo proceeded to hack the right arm of the statue to bits. Stone shards clattered to the ground. Dust welled up. Soon, the young athletic Greek had become a young, arm-amputated, athletic Greek.

Michelangelo wiped the sweat from his face.

“The other arm too, Signora?” he inquired.

“No, of course not!” She waved her hand disdainfully. “Don't be silly. That's the arm he holds the discus with. How are people supposed to know it's the statue of a discus-thrower, if he doesn't have a discus?”

“But you said the statue is supposed to have been buried in the ground for over a thousand years,” Michelangelo reminded her. “If one arm broke off in the process, why not the other? The arm with the discus is the more fragile one, and thus likelier to break off.”

The old lady gave him a cold look.

“Signore Michelangelo, I have been in the Art Business for twenty years, and my father thirty years before me. I can tell you that when rich noblemen come into my shop to buy ancient art, they will be enraptured by a young, Greek discus thrower. They would be less enthralled by an artwork I would have to call 'Statue of a young man who maybe was throwing a discus, or kneeling down to relief himself, we are not exactly sure because both his arms are missing'. This is art, ancient art, not logic. Do you understand?”

Michelangelo grudgingly bowed his head.

Si, Signora.”

“So what are you going to do now?”

“I am going to make the statue as you tell me to, Signora.”

“Good.” With her fan, the old lady pointed to the hand that was holding the discus. “As I said, leave the arm. But chisel off one of the fingers, will you? Just so it looks convincingly old.”

Si, Signora.”

“And... maybe a bit more of the bottom...”

“... so that it looks old, I know.”

“No, no, just so it looks more... interesting.”

Michelangelo frowned. “Interesting how?”

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