Having made his figure in one posture he rose and showed me another and drew his fisherman so. Then he demonstrated a third way and drew again. Now he was silent, working hard, and now he dropped his hand, threw back his head and talked. He himself made a picture, paly gold of locks, subtle and quick of face, plastered against a blue shield with a willow wreath going around.
I stood so or so, drawing hard upon the net with the fishes. Then at his command I approached more nearly, and he drew full face and three-quarter and profile. It was between these accomplishings that he talked more intimately.
“Seamen go to Italy,” he said. “Were you ever in Milan? But that is inland.”
I answered that I had been from Genoa to Milan.
“It is not likely that you saw a great painter
It happened that I had done this, and moreover had seen him at work and heard him put right thought into most right words. I was so tired of lying that after a moment I said that I had seen and heard Messer Leonardo.
“Did you see the statue?”
“The first time I saw him he was at work upon it. The next time he was painting in the church of Santa Maria. The third time he sat in a garden, sipped wine and talked.”
“I hold you,” he said, “to be a fortunate fisherman! Just as this fisher I am painting, and whether it is Andrew or Mark, I do not yet know, was a most fortunate fisherman!” He ended meditatively, “Though whoever it is, probably he was crucified or beheaded or burned.”
I felt a certain shiver of premonition. The day that had been warm and bright turned in a flash ashy and chill. Then it swung back to its first fair seeming, or not to its first, but to a deeper, brighter yet. The Fisherman by Galilee was fortunate. Whoever perceived truth and beauty was fortunate, fortunate now and forever!
We came back to Messer Leonardo. “I spent six months at the court in Milan,” said the fair man. “I painted the Duke and the Duchess and two great courtiers. Messer Leonardo was away. He returned, and I visited him and found a master. Since that time I study light and shadow and small things and seek out inner action.”
He worked in silence, then again began to speak of painters, Italian and Spanish. He asked me if I had seen such and such pictures in Seville.
“Yes. They are good.”
“Do you know Monsalvat?”
I said that I had climbed there one day. “I dream a painting!” he said, “The Quest of the Grail. Now I see it running over the four walls of a church, and now I see it all packed into one man who rides. Then again it has seemed to me truer to have it in a man and woman who walk, or perhaps even are seated. What do you think?”
I was thinking of Isabel who died in my arms twenty years ago. “I would have it man and woman,” I said. Unless, like Messer Leonardo, you can put both in one.”