Writing from Life Symbolism and Motif in Your Writing



Quindici Febbraio 1751

Pietro Longhi, my dear friend

Veryan Williams-Wynn

Please excuse this intrusion on your valuable time, but I have come with news of the most extraordinary nature, indeed

of a creature so wondrous, that has this very hour arrived in Venice. I fear it cannot wait but that you should view it

for yourself.

I shall remain below while your manservant delivers this note, lest you should immediately wish to engage your curiosity.

In great haste, your most humble friend, Guido.

Pietro was never pleased at being

interrupted when working so when

Fidel crept into the studio bearing a

note, which he said was of a most

pressing nature, he was immediately

put into a frightful rage. This was

made worse at being told that his

friend, Guido, who’d brought it, was

waiting below for an answer. Poor

Fidel's knees quaked as the note was

seized from his outstretched hand

and the seal ripped off sending fragments

of red wax skidding across the

bare boards.

‘What is this, Guido? Are you in your

cups that you should insist upon my

seeing you, at this hour, when you of

all people know I will not countenance

being disturbed at my work?’

‘No, Pietro, not a drop has passed my

lips these last hours. I am quite sober,

but elatedly so, and indeed if I am

drunk, it is with euphoria on account

of this most remarkable creature that

I have just seen.’

‘So remarkable that it will not


‘Quite. Come, set aside your

brushes, your depiction of God in his

heaven can wait until you have seen

and marvelled at this prodigious creation

of his, for it is a mighty beast, the

like of which has never before been

seen in this city.’

‘I will come with you, but later…’

‘No. I am instructed to bring you

forthwith – "find the most renowned

painter in Venice," I was told,

"Signore Pietro Longhi no less, if he

will come, so that he may paint the

creature before the exhibition is


Guido barely gave Pietro time to grab

his cloak from Fidel before hurrying

him out of the house. February had

been blown in by a bitter east wind. It

had been driving in off the Adriatic for

days on end, bringing with it torrential

rain, occasional flurries of sleet

and snow and whipping the water of

the canals into choppy, spumecrested

waves. The only good thing

about the weather was that the rain

cleansed the cobbled alleys and the

wind dispersed the putrid smells that

even in the depths of winter rose

from the sewage festering in the canals.

‘You must capture the creature on

canvas, make its image known that all

may see of what the Almighty is capable.’

‘Are you certain, Guido, that you

have not been subjected to a joke?

Carnival week is almost upon us,

when all manner of untoward occurrences

take place and when things

may not be quite what they seem?’

‘No, I tell you, it is no masquerade.

This creature, this rhinoceros, for that

is what I am told it is called, lives,

breathes, eats, even craps. I saw it

brought off a ship, straight from India,

from whence it’s come.’

‘A rhinoceros; here in Venice?’

‘Yes, in the pit of the opera house,’ he

said as his friend went quiet.

They were crossing one of the

many narrow bridges, when Pietro

stopped abruptly, not to admire the

ornate buildings, which rose out of

the dark waters on either side of the

canal, but to scrutinize Guido’s face.

‘I have seen a likeness of this creature

before, not living, but a woodcut

by Albrecht Dürer. 1515 I think it was,

when he recorded one such captured

animal whilst on a visit to Lisbon. I

take it this one is to be exhibited at

the Carnival for all to see?’

‘Yes. And I shall take Catarina and

Beatrice, the child is so curious, she

will love it.’

‘I wonder you continue your dalliance

with that hussy, when your wife

is the most lusted after woman in the

whole of Venice.’

Guido shrugged and laughing replied,

‘Catarina is the most intriguing

and diverting of all courtesans, I could

never do without her, anyway, too

much of a good thing just makes my

lust for women the greater.’

‘You won’t laugh so heartily, my

friend, when someone else takes an

interest in your wife’s charms.’

‘Who would dare to pick a fight with

me?’ he said, grasping the hilt of his

well-used sword.

Longhi didn’t answer, but pulledup

the collar of his cloak, not so much

to shield his face from the biting

wind, but that Guido shouldn’t see

the expression etched upon it.


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