Sugar Fox

Truthfully, Donato was more interested in creating the horse than the man but he knew that to be impressive both components must have equal care. Back in Padavia, he bustled around the city with great energy, appointing a foreman for the foundry he was building and taking on nearly twenty workers to assist him in his mighty enterprise.

The workshop that grew out of Donato's ideas became a sort of museum or gallery where young artists or even noblemen could come and watch the master at work or look at his vast bundles of sketches, models in stucco or wax and, increasingly, cast bronze parts of the horse and rider, the armour and decorations.

Off the workshop was the foundry run by the foreman, Carlo Leone, and his team of stokers, bellowsmen and metal pourers. Overseeing everything was Donato himself, running back and forth between workshop and foundry, supervising every detail of the model-moulding, wax layers, mould-making and alloy-pouring and everything that went into casting the pieces of bronze.

When all the men went back to their wives and hot dinners at the end of the day, slaking their thirsts with vast quantities of red wine, Donato stayed in the workshop, as the great furnace cooled, refining, chasing, carving and polishing every detail of what had been made during the day.

Serafina complained that she saw nothing of him and that he ate his long-cold food without noticing what it was.

"I curse the day we ever heard of that Sugar Fox," she said.

"Never say it, my love," said Donato. "That Fox is putting meat and wine on our table. And will do so for years."

"Meat that goes cold while you work on his blasted statue."

"Do you mean the masterpiece I am creating for the city of Padavia," said Donato, coming to put his arms round her.

Serafina just snorted but she let him kiss her ill humour away.

     * * *

There was in Padavia at that time a great art collector called Scaligero Scalone, who kept a sort of informal museum himself. He had a studio full of bits of antique sculpture, fragments of broken columns and engravings of old Reman buildings. He was a wealthy man and a scholar and took a great interest in the work that Donato was doing.

Scalone was a man of refined taste and great learning, but Donato's heart sank whenever he saw him coming near the workshop; like many enthusiastic amateurs, Scalone, who had never made anything in this life, was very free with his advice.

The position of the horse's legs, the size of the rider, the armour, the decoration of the saddle — these were all matters of great interest to such a patron of the arts. And he had a fixed opinion about all of them.

"It's important for the horse to look as if it could really carry an armoured soldier, don't you think?" Scalone would say.

Or, "The great classical sculptors like the ones in Remora always made their subjects so lifelike. You should feel the need to keep the horse fed and warmed against the cold winter nights"

Donato tried to stay polite but it was difficult with so much work to do and oversee. He was coming up to one of the most important moments of the commission— the head of Sugar Fox. He had no idea what the real man had looked like but he had made innumerable sketches of how such a successful military leader should appear; MODELS too, though each one was different from the last. Now the day had come to finish the head that would be cast in bronze. And Scaligero Scalone was watching him. Donato would have liked to ask him to go away but he didn?t want to antagonise such an important citizen.

Girolamo would tell him where to go, he thought, important citizen or not.

And all of a sudden, the head of Sugar Fox began to take on a look of Donato's older brother. It had the same strong face, the big nose and cleft chin. And it was wonderfully right. This man could command others, could ride into battle in full armour while controlling a spirited horse, could ignore a tiresome private citizen if necessary.

Donato worked on, now oblivious to Scalone's presence, as he always was to everything when actually engaged in creating a sculpture. He spread the soft wax thickly over the moulded head and, by the time he was building up the clay vestment, Scalone had gone. Donato didn't notice: he was going to cast this piece himself.

It was midnight before the bronze head was revealed and though he knew he had a lot of work ahead of him, chasing and refining the head of the mercenary, Donato went to bed a happy man.

    * * *

It was the day before the big unveiling and Donato was like a cat with a large litter of newborn kittens. The plinth was in place and the bronze horse had been hoisted and lowered carefully into place.  All this had taken place behind sheeted scaffolding so that curious members of the public should not get an early glimpse of the statue; it had taken six years to make.

Scalone had asked for a preview and been sharply denied. The Governor had posted guards around the churchyard but Donato could not sleep. He thought he heard a commotion from outside the basilica and was out of bed stuffing his nightshirt into his breeches and his feet into his boots before Serafina had even woken up.

The churchyard was a ghostly sight in the dark before dawn. Tombstones loomed in the flickering torchlight.

"What's happened?" asked the sculptor, dreading some kind of sabotage.

"It's nothing, Maestro," said the leader of the guards. "A false alarm. We thought we heard an intruder in the basilica itself but it was nothing. There's no one there."

It wasn't until Donato was back in bed and the first pink streaks of light colouring the sky outside his window that he thought, false alarm or a diversion? But by then he was too tired to pursue it and fell into a deep sleep.

"Today's the big day," said Serafina, waking her husband with warm water and a clean shirt.

Donato shot out of bed, unable to believe he had overslept. He was in his workshop before he wife could persuade him to comb his hair or eat a bite.

It took some hours to get the armed figure on to the hoist that would lower it in place on to the horse's back, and when all was in position and ready, Donato heard laughter from behind the scaffolding.

I knew it! he thought, hitting himself on the head. I should have looked before going to the workshop. What can have happened?

His anxious face peering round the sheets on the scaffolding caused his apprentices to break out in fresh laughter.

"See, Maestro," said the boldest one. "Someone has been looking after your horse!"

It was a good prank. Someone had tied a nosebag full of oats to the bronze steed's head. And had thrown a fine woollen blanket over his back. Only Donato knew what the gold initials woven into the corner — SS —signified.

The sculptor joined in the laughter now; somehow his tormentor had sneaked a sight of the horse —and shown his approval.

But now it was time to take off the blanket and lower Sugar Fox into his saddle. Crowds were already gathering in the square to see the monument uncovered at midday.

Serafina, dressed in her best, found her husband still rubbing and polishing little spots on the plinth, while the horse and rider were swathed in Padavian flags and the scaffolding taken down.

"Come away this minute and make yourself presentable!" she scolded. "The Governor and Senate will be here before you know it and you looking more like a kitchen hand than a great artist."

She bundled him off to their lodgings nearby and stood over him till he passed her stringent tests of presentability.