László Krasznahorkai

…and this was very striking, especially to Aulista, who had been watching the maestro with special attention since this feverish work had begun — with the exception of: the book in the hands of Santo Nicola da Tolentino of the lily, the upper garments of broadcloth of the Madonna, the cloak covering the body of Saint Sebastian, and Jerome’s renowned bishop’s mitre on the ground, at the bottom of the picture, next to the saint and in front of the lion; no one knew why these parts were never painted, especially not Aulista, Raffaelo was visibily uninterested as to why, or why these parts were to be painted at the end, before the completion of the entire picture, Aulista didn’t know why, he just waited for the day, the hour, the minute for the time to come, and he did not wait in vain, because the day did come when every element of the Pala Tezi picture really was painted, already the yellow shone there, the blue glimmered, the green swelled, the brown appeared gently, and all across the border of the sky was a strong glaze of whitish blue, but it was already obvious that it was the painting of the red that the maestro had left for the very end, and Aulista simply could not wait for that day and that hour and that minute when he would say to him to begin breaking up the pigment, because he truly hoped that he would be the one to whom the maestro entrusted this task, and he was not disappointed — not that the maestro selected him himself, but Aulista positioned himself in such a way so that if there was even the tiniest chance of breaking up the vermiglione, it was he who had something to do right there, accordingly the maestro spoke to him one day, Aulista, please be so kind and break up the vermiglione, I ask you, and Aulista flew, already there he was with a tiny sack of fragments of vermiglione from the monastery of the Jesuit order in Florence — San Giusta alle Mura — directly from brother Bernado di Francesco, from whom the maestro ordered the pigments personally, regularly, and in great quantities, he was not willing to order from anywhere else, he only ordered this kind of pigment, even if it was a little more expensive than at the apothecary’s, there was something in these paints, first and foremost in the vermiglione, due to which the maestro never used, under any circumstances, any other kind, only this and exclusively this, the breaking up of which Aulista was now preparing for, and really there was something special in it, which an experienced disciple such as Aulista noticed immediately, this time as well, something extraordinary, this kind of vermiglione was different from every other kind, because as he broke it up now, he saw once again how the crystals in it glittered, and how something else was glittering too, 

Seiobo There Below

just that Aulista did not know, and no one knew, only the brothers and the maestro; whatever it was, in any event, it was truly unique among pigments, not a single property of which the maestro’s assistants and disciples in any workshops could ever discuss, because it was a secret, in addition to that, it was a secret, the meaning and essence of which the assistants and the disciples of the maestro’s workshop did not know too much about; beyond the face that through its mere use a most wondrous light could be made to appear, with this ultramarine that came from the brothers of Florence, with these malachites and azures and golds that they got from them, but especially with this vermiglione, something was happening here, when after the paints were prepared and according to custom everyone had to leave the workshop, accordingly it was some kind of thing about which they, the assistants and the disciples, could not know anything, and they did not dare ask what it was, because when following custom, after a few minutes they were allowed back in and they found the mastro already at work, who would have had the courage to disturb him in the midst of work with such questions, one thing however was sure, the maestro had a secret with these paints, in these paints there was some kind of secret, and Aulista knew that it was with these that the maestro dazzled all the patrons who bought his pictures, but at the same time he dazzled the assistants as well, Aulista just broke up the vermiglione on the pumice stone, and he was not thinking now about what the secret could be, he was just thinking that for two or three hours he would be breaking up the vermiglione, then he would hand it in the seashell to the maestro, who then would send them out, and do something with the paints; then he sets to the upper garments of the Madonna, then the folds of the cloak on the tortured body of Saint Sebastian, and the mitre on the ground next to Jerome, and when he is ready, and they can all look at it, they are dazzled by the eternal light of this red, as it nearly shines out between the green and the yellow and the blue, then finally it becomes hopeless to them, as it does to his most trusted follower, Aulista, to answer the question as to what could have happened in Florence, in what accordingly did this fiaso consist of, why they had to return to Perugia, and why he felt that it was the end for his adored master, to answer the question of whether the maestro, Pietro di Vannucci, born in Castel della Pieve, and renowned as Il Perugino, had simply outlived his talent, or whether he has merely lost all interest in painting.

Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai, translated by Ottilie Mulzet, copyright ©2008 by László Krasznahorkai, copyright © 2010 by S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, translation copyright © 2013 by Ottilie Mulzet. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Background illustration by Marcela Gutiérrez