Sugar Fox

From as soon as his eyes could focus, Donato Miele  had looked up to his elder brother Girolamo. But Girolamo was scarcely aware of Donato's existence; there was an age gap between them of fifteen years and Girolamo registered Donato barely more than a new puppy rubbing against his legs and jumping up for attention. And before long Girolamo had left their home town of Giglia with his best friend Gabriele to study the classical buildings and statues of Remora, the City of Stars.

Soon Donato's own artistic talent began to show, and he was determined to make his big brother, now an increasingly renowned and respected architect, proud of him. And when Donato was twelve, he made his only journey to visit his brother in the City of Stars. He passionately wanted to spend time with his grown-up brother and his artist friend. Girolamo, who saw  himself as a confirmed bachelor, and who knew nothing about children, was persuaded by their mother to look after Donato for a morning.

"What would you like to do?" asked Girolamo, looking at the boy doubtfully, as if he might demand some impossible entertainment, like a trip to the moon.

Donato had thought about this. "I'd like to see the horses," he said.

Girolamo and Gabriele both beamed with relief; horses they could manage. Remora was after all the city where the Race of the Stars was "run all year round". Every contrada of the city, each one named after a sign of the zodiac, had its own stables and all Remorans were horse-mad.

Miele and his friend had naturally gravitated to the contrada of the Lady, which was allied to Giglia and they had friends in that slice of the city. The Horsemaster of the Lady was at that time a fat and warty-nosed man called Arnolfo and, although he was no artist's model, he was as sure a judge of horseflesh as any in Remora.

He was also fond of children and had a grandson about Donato's age so was happy to show Girolamo and his brother around his stable.

"That is our mount for the next Stellata,? he told the boy. "Il Principe, the bay stallion."

The Prince was indeed a fine horse, strong and mettlesome, and Donato spent a long time looking at him and talking to him, before making a little red chalk sketch on the scrap of parchment he had in his pocket.

"Hey, that's not bad," said Gabriele, looking over his shoulder. "See, Girolamo — there is artist?s blood in the boy's veins. He is truly your brother."

Girolamo just grunted but Donato swelled with pride. He hadn't meant to show off but he loved horses and always wanted to try to reproduce their curves and lines, their muscles and their bone structure. But he found drawing on the flat frustrating. In his mind's eye he saw how the horse should look in the round and longed to sculpt one but no one would let a twelve-year-old near a block of marble and a chisel.

"Artist, is it?" said Arnolfo. "And one who likes horses. You should show him the statue, Miele."

"In Remora that?s like saying show him a pigeon," said Girolamo. "Which statue?"

"The bronze horseman of course," said Arnolfo. "The one they say is the Reman Emperor who embraced the New Church. It's over a thousand years old, according to some."

So the Giglians took the boy to see a huge bronze statue of a man on horseback in the courtyard of the Papal palace — and he never forgot it. All the rest of that visit, all the journey back home to Giglia and every year of his life after that until he could put it to the test, a part of his mind wrestled with the problem of how to represent a horse and rider in the round.

    * * *

By the time that Girolamo came back to Giglia for good, his little brother was an eminent artist in his own right, who had adorned the city with many statues in marble and bronze. But Donato was now working in Bellezza and did not know that the older brother had seen and admired his work. He was busy working for the Duchessa of the day and perfecting the art of portrait busts of subjects who would not take off their masks.

And he was often to be found in the great basilica, on the Loggia degli Arieti high above the Piazza Maddalena, studying the workmanship of the four bronze rams there.

Then came the commission from Padavia; would Donato Miele consider creating an equestrian statue of the soldier Ernesto da Bruni? This was what Donato had been waiting for since he had been a twelve-year-old boy in Remora but he hesitated before accepting.

"A mercenary!" said his wife, Serafina, when he told her about the delegation that had come from the Padavian Governor.

"It?s true that there has never been such a monument before," said Donato. "And there is some objection in the city. Particularly since the Senators want it to stand in the churchyard in front of the basilica."

"It is to be a tomb ornament then?" asked Serafina.

"No," said Donato. "I am to design a high plinth for it but the body will remain inside the basilica."

"Well, who is this Ernesto and why should he have such an honour?" asked Serafina, who was very loyal and thought there could be no higher honour than to have your statue made by her husband.

"They call him the Sugar Fox," said Donato. "The Volpeglassato. Because he was as cunning as a fox and yet always spoke fair and gentle to his enemies. He led the Padavians to victory against the army from the East and they garlanded him with honours."

"And why do you want to do it?"

"Because they will give me enough money to set up a workshop big enough to make a furnace of the size I?d need."

Serafina saw the light in her husband's eyes and went to pack. There was no arguing with that look.

Donato had wondered over the years why he had not heard of any horse-and-rider statue made since the one he had seen in Remora. A thousand years was a long time for an art form to languish. His researches in Giglia had taught him that there had been other bronze statues before the one of the Emperor but that they had been melted down to make weapons in the many wars that had afflicted the peninsula over the centuries. The Emperor's had been spared because he was the first to accept the truth of what was now called the Reman Church.

But to cast a bronze statue of that size was going to take an awful lot of copper and tin and zinc and lead. The Padavians wanted something huge and noticeable and were happy to spend a lot of money on it; that was what had helped to attract Donato. His own fee, though greater than any he had ever received for any other single commission, was not really important. It was the money for the workshop and materials that really enticed him.

He had cast several monumental bronzes already, though only of single figures, but this work would enable him to realise his greatest dream — a horse and its rider larger than life. He had made his first sketches before he left Bellezza. And, as soon as he reached Padavia and had established his wife and two small children in comfortable lodgings near the basilica, he rode off to Remora to take another look at the statue that had made such an impression on him in boyhood.

There was a legend in Remora that the Emperor and his horse had originally been covered in gold leaf, which had been stolen over the intervening centuries. And that on Judgement Day the unmistakable sign of the end of the world would be that the statue would once again, miraculously, be covered in gold.

Donato Miele did not believe in that kind of miracle. He believed in raw materials — the separate metals that would go to make up the alloy of bronze; and processes, like the method of lost wax casting he would use to make the huge hollow horse and its rider. Any miracle involved was in holding the vision he had in