Breath of Paradise

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ESTIMATE 6-MINUTE READ

EPISODE 1 – ARCHITECT

A 15th century commercial building designer feels his value diminishing as the Renaissance catapults other architects into the spotlight. Art history, geography, and romance merge in this suspenseful survival story.

By Kevin RR Williams

Struggling

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Italian Architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi is still basking in accolades from the year-1444 design of the Palazzo Medici in Florence. It expresses the Renaissance spirit of ration­al­ity, order, and classicism. Unfortunately, it will take 40 years to complete. During this time, other architects cast a shadow on Michelozzo’s significance.

Michelozzo di Bartolomeo wisely designs palazzos, or buildings, that highlight his sculptures. This way he can supplement his income after builders begin erecting his architectural masterpieces.

Both Michelozzo and his fiancé, Francesca di Ambrogio Galigar, share the desire to have a family of sons who carry on his creative legacy. Finding wealthy families like Medici to finance large contracts is difficult. With growing competition, Michelozzo senses a dilution of his prominence in Italy.

There are rumors that palazzos in Algiers overlooking the Mediterranean Sea are ripe for Renaissance archi­tec­ture. There, builders are developing their own Arabian Renaissance that deviates from the current style originating in Italy.

Venturing

In 1449, Michelozzo sails to Algiers in order to assess opportunities firsthand. The admiration motivates his purchase of property on the Northeast coast in Oran. On a steep hill, you can look through a window of most rooms for breathtaking views of a marble-like sea. Even better is the fact that this marble changes colors in the early mornings and evenings, casting iridescent light on coastal structures.

With modifications, each window can frame a different landscape—like living paintings. He is confident of his ability to repair and transform aesthetics. Returning to Italy, Michelozzo shares ihis exciting vision with his fiancé.

“Francesca, my dear, begin thinking of names for our children. I am going to design for you a perfect palazzo in Algiers. After marrying here with family and friends, we will sail to a paradisiac honeymoon that never ends.”

“When…? What will it look like?” she asks with eagerness.

“The property is already ours. I have come back to prepare a design that meets your approval. Next year I will go to make it a reality. We should be ready to wed in the spring of 1453.”

“Your Palazzo in Florence has been under construction for five years and it is not a quarter of the way finished. Is less than four years to design and build our home too ambitious?”

“There are three important distinctions. First, the property in Algiers is only for one family—ours. So although grand, it is on a much smaller scale. Second, there is already a standing structure. My work will be to modernize and customize it. Third, I will oversee the renovations myself.”

“I feel confident that you will succeed and I can hardly wait to see your drawings,” she replies.

“These few years will pass like months and pale in comparison to the duration of our lifetime together afterwards,” Michelozzo assures.

Planning

For several weeks, Michelozzo works long hours, giving attention to scenic views from various rooms. Position of the windows provide optimum ventilation during the summer. Most noteworthy is the Renaissance symmetry. Instead of being one of many architects in Italy, he could become the trendsetter in Algiers.

Revisions to drawings continue as the months accumulate. Francesca and Michelozzo are now happy with the architectural plans. So in the spring of 1450, Michelozzo sails again to Algiers. There he assembles a crew of builders. What Michelozzo lacks in local language skills, he makes up for with clear drawings to bridge the communication gap.

The illustrated progress reports by Michelozzo take romantic journeys of their own, as they traverse rough seas and amber sunsets. Each one is a snapshot of months-long history. But Francesca cherishes them nonetheless. So far, her favorite is this one:

Dearest Francesca,

My heart longs for the day when you view the world through windows framing vibrant living colors that complement your complexion. Stepping through such portals, lands you on balconies of trellises and flowering vines above the voices of our children playing below.

I have always been fond of the name Piero if we have a son. What names have you conjured up for a daughter? These are the two children playing as they await delivery of a new brother or sister.

Despite the language barrier, the builders are able to transform both the functional and aesthetic renovations by following my designs. The beauty of this structure will only be exceeded by that of your own. In the courtyard, an immortal sculpture of your sublime figure is a centerpiece.

I can hardly wait to walk down the aisle, exchange vows, kiss the bride, and sail away to this paradise with you. Until my next letter, keep my love within your heart.

With great affection, Michelozzo.

In a subsequent letter, Michelozzo mentions that a plague is gaining signifi­cance. He will do his best to avoid it and keep her apprised of any delays it might cause. Instead of the usual two-month interval, it has now been four months since receiving an update. Imagining the worst, heightens anxiety.

Waiting

Francesca’s heart races, she feels flush and must lay down in an effort to calm herself. She fears going to a doctor. The Hippocratic-Galenic views of the time attribute almost all female complaints to hysteria with a “wandering uterus” causation.

Another ten days progresses like frigid molasses before a new letter from Michelozzo arrives. The intensity of her anxiety transforms to fervent joy. On a cold, winter day, she pours herself a cup of tea and sits in a comfortable chair by the crackling fireplace that provides both illumination and warmth.

Opening the letter from her beau, she notices the absence of romantic poetry. The tone is of someone in despair. Her gleeful smile turns solemn as she reads further. The news is disheartening.

Continued

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