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Renaissance of the Heart - Part 4

The journey in Rome nears its conclusion.

It was the third Saturday before Christmas and my quest to validate Elizabeth’s painting was gathering momentum. It was a wonderful time of the year and being in Rome and now with my lover beside me, it was especially magical. Being a Saturday, it was Elizabeth’s only real chance to buy what gifts and souvenirs she could carry. In Rome there was no Sunday shopping, with a few exceptions, as the Sabbath is still observed. We had an awfully busy schedule, combining business with pleasure. Somehow, we would fit everything in.

In five short days I had become comfortable in the hustle and bustle of Rome. I had found lots of short cuts, worked out how to dodge the traffic and picked up the odd phrase to make everyday life that bit more enjoyable.

We were up with the lark, or should that be the sparrow, which chirruped merrily outside our bedroom window. Our room had large French windows, which opened out onto a rooftop garden, where in the summer breakfast could be taken, bathed in the morning sun. Being the beginning of December, we had our repast in the dining room. I think we both were still gripped by a sense of euphoria and we spoke little and thought much as we ate our continental breakfast. It is hard to be in Rome and not be moved by the grandeur of the place. Add the simmering sexual tension between me and Elizabeth and the excitement of the unfolding events surrounding the painting and it might convey our feelings.

Elizabeth looked up from her sugared croissant, wiping the corner of her mouth with a napkin.

“What’s the plan for today then?” she asked.

“Well, there’s the auction house to get the low down on your letter and then we’re free all day.”

“Okay, that’s good.”

Elizabeth sighed and smiled warmly.

“I’m so relaxed Cindy. I’m really happy.”

“Good.”

“You know, really happy.”

“Glad to hear it! I’m happy too.”

“The thing is, two months ago I would have taken a weekend in Slough, just for a break.”

“Slough?!”

“Okay, well maybe not Slough, but just anywhere. And now I’m in Rome. And having breakfast with the hottest, sexiest blonde I know.”

“Awww babe.”

“Well it’s true.”

I leaned forwards and Elizabeth met me half way for a sticky kiss. I felt that Elizabeth was beginning to open up in a way she hadn’t done before. She was warm and great company for sure and of course the sex was amazing, but I had always felt she was slightly guarded. It was like, after all her difficulties she had forgotten how to enjoy herself. Maybe she had forgotten how to relax properly. She had admitted to losing sleep over money worries, when her debts began to spiral. I so wanted that to be a thing of the past. I guess you could say that we were taking things steady and the weekend was allowing us to get to know each other properly.

It was wall to wall sunshine outside. We headed on to the road that led vaguely in the way that we wanted to go and the main shopping street, which had outlets where all sorts of goodies could be bought. There were any number of shops with hand-made chocolates, scented candles and various mementos of Rome. There is something about those artisan chocolate shops – even the aroma of cacao seems to raise your serotonin. Despite being so close to breakfast the complimentary ganache were a little too tempting, and as they say, ‘When in Rome…’

Suitably guilty and replete with an extra truffle, we set off and took a short cut via the magnificent Villa Borghese. This was the best park of the lot, with little villas, statues, pillars and some remarkable balustrades overlooking the lake. A lot of the trees were bare but there was still enough colour to make the experience memorable. It was a truly romantic setting and if not for our appointment we would have ventured down some of the little avenues and exciting looking nooks.

Once back onto the street we crossed the river and after some slight confusion, we found Via dei Greci, which was a very pokey little street. It was a narrow thoroughfare with an arched bridge that had a gallery window in the middle. We entered the auctioneers through the rather small doorway and were approached by a small, flamboyant middle-aged man.

“Buongiorno, signorina. Come posso aiutare? Stai acquistando o vendendo?”

“Oh, ummm… I’m here to speak to Mr Cavatorre. Do you speak English?”

“Inglese? No. Mie scuse. Aspetta qui per favore!” He gestured in a way that I took to mean that he wished us to wait.

He had a slightly comical way about him and walked away quickly.

“Aquistando o vendendo,” I think that’s buy or sell,” said Elizabeth.

“Oh get you! Bilingual, all of a sudden.”

“I Just read my phrasebook on the plane, that’s all.”

Just then, the funny little man returned with a younger, wavy haired man.

“Signorina?”

“Yes, I’m here about the painting.”

“Of course, of course. You will excuse Salvatore, he speaks no English.”

“It’s fine. I don’t speak Italian either,” I said, looking at Elizabeth pointedly.

“Well anyway, if you would like to walk this way I will see how we can help you. You have a letter? ”

“Yes, it’s here.”

I passed him the letter, which I had now put in a plastic sleeve for fear of it becoming dog-eared.

We were led through a large viewing hall, which was full of every kind of antique and collectible and then up some stairs onto a mezzanine floor. Mr Cavatorre sat us down in a rather untidy area consisting of a desk and large coffee table with twin sofas. He excused himself before rummaging through a large filing cabinet, muttering to himself, as he opened and closed the drawers.

“So you flying back Sunday?” I asked, as we waited for the man to find what he wanted.

“Yes, six o’clock flight.”

“pm?”

“Yes, pm.”

“Oh well…”

“Ah I have it!”

Mr Cavatorre pulled out a manilla-coloured file and held it up, waving it triumphantly. He sat on the sofa opposite and flopped the file onto the table.

“So let us see,” he said, examining the folder. It contained a wad of aged documents and he proceeded to sift through the papers. He read the headers on each one, mumbling in Italian.

“Ah!”

“What?”

He smiled and raised a finger, carefully comparing our letter with a particular sheet.

“Yes, here we have it,” he said and tilted one sheet towards us. “This is the file for April to June, 1934. Here we have the sale for June 30th of that year.”

“Is my painting on there?!” asked Elizabeth, anxiously.

“So, your letter refers to Vincenzo someone or other. On June 30th , in the sales ledger we have one painting bought by a Signor V. Constanzione. The vendor was the estate of Giovanni Moretti. The sum paid was a little under two hundred and eighty thousand Lira."

The man screwed his face up as if doing some mental arithmetic.

“Hmmm…this was a lot of money in 1934. Now let me see. Oh!”

“What?!”

“In the note, it says ‘ll dipinto e nello stile di Michelangelo. Approximately translated, this means it was described as ‘In the style of Michelangelo.’

“Wow! Elizabeth! They thought it was by Michelangelo.” 

“My Grandfather certainly thought it might have been. This description shows caution. There would have been no way of proving the authentication, in 1934. But even so, Signor Constanzione paid several month’s wages for the painting.”

“Wow! Elizabeth, this Vincenzo guy must have thought a lot of your great uncle!”

“I understand he helped him fix some big business deals, my nan’s account was a bit sketchy.”

“So how much did it fetch?” I asked, turning to Mr Cavatorre.

“Oh, ummm… please.”

He got up and returned from his desk presently with a calculator and began to tap in some numbers.

“It is… yes.. ummm… yes, about the equivalent of ten thousand Euros in today’s money. Only a very wealthy businessman would have so disposable an income in pre War Italia. Most people would not have a twentieth of this amount.”

"Who was this Giovanni somebody?" I asked.

"Giovanni Moretti. Again wait, please."

The guy went back to the cabinet and returned with another file.

"Here are the vendors for 1934. In alphabetical order. Let's see..."

He rubbed his chin as his index finger traced down the pages.

"Here we have it! Moretti G. Art dealer. Campo Marzio. That is all."

“Thank you, Mr Cavatorre, you have been immensely helpful. Could we have a copy of the ledger, please?” I asked.

“By all means.”

He took a copy and then handed me the facsimile, which I placed in my plastic sleeve along with the letter. It was another link in the chain and went towards confirming my beliefs. Maybe I was exaggerating the significance, but at least someone seventy years earlier shared my faith in the painting and so did Vincenzo to have shelled out so much money all those years ago.

“This is so interesting!” said Elizabeth as we stood outside the auctioneers.

“I know, but to give the painting away! Your great uncle might never had the painting and then you…”

“I know, like one decision. It can change everything,” said Elizabeth, acknowledging the profundity of it all.

“I just hope the test on the paint doesn’t scupper everything. That would be just typical,” I said, soberly.

“Oh when do the tests come through?”

“I don’t know. I’m going to get a call.”

“Okay, well fingers crossed eh?”

“Definitely. Anyway, I think we have time to enjoy ourselves now. What do you say to a trip to see The Sistine Chapel?”

“Yeah! I think it’s a fantastic idea!” said Elizabeth, brightly.

“Good, well I don’t know how busy it will be, but we can see.”

We looked at my map and found that The Vatican was just a kilometre walk, some way past the castle in an area that we had yet to explore.

It was deceptively warm in the sunshine, though in the shade of the narrow streets that led to the main road we were glad of our coats. It soon became obvious that a lot of people were mainly going the same way as us. We paused occasionally to look at a particularly interesting set of pillars or a statue and eventually we passed through a pair of huge gates, which led majestically though unfusilly into The Vatican.

“Well, technically speaking, we’re now in a different country,” said Elizabeth.

“I know. I expected there to be a checkpoint or something.”

We followed the road round in a semi-circle, which took us past the back of The Basilica and then we just reached what can only be described as a queue. In front of us was a red-haired girl and her boyfriend who were speaking English.

“Excuse me. How far is it from here?” I asked.

She smiled and pointed to a sign with an arrow on the old stone wall to our right, which read ‘Capella Sistina 200m.’

“Oh yeah, thanks.”

“I’m not particularly religious,” said Elizabeth. “But I kind of feel like I’m on a pilgrimage.”

“Yes, it does feel like that. As if something special is happening.”

Elizabeth gave me her best smile and her hand reached for mine as we walked forwards a few paces. It was slow but steady progress, with the surroundings oddly relaxing and we passed the 100m sign after a further ten minutes. Eventually, and after torturing each other by talk of chocolate ice cream we reached the entrance to the Sistine Chapel. There was a sort of check point before entering the chapel proper, which entailed a full airport type security check, which meant our handbags were inspected and we had to walk through a metal detector. Having survived that, we were allowed through into a long gallery, which had an elaborately-painted ceiling and was lined with paintings for as far as the eye could see. Our inevitably slow progress was now a blessing as one could really take time to take in the beauty of the place. We weren’t guided per se, but rather shepherded in the right direction.

Our way led out into a courtyard of sorts, where a few red-robed Cardinals were consorting in a quadrangle above the crowds.

“There’s three places that I always wanted to go, when I was a teenager,” said Elizabeth. “The pyramids, The Little Mermaid and the Sistine Chapel. Two down one to go.”

“It’s a good list. I’d probably swap the Little Mermaid for the Bayeux Tapestry.”

We wandered back inside into a little vestry that looked as old as the hills. We took some steps down, admiring various artefacts and ecclesiastical art and then we were treated to the piece de la resistance. The word breath-taking is over-used but ‘the chapel’ itself is simply that. It is simply marvellous beyond words. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling, but it was the altar piece that really struck me and Elizabeth. We actually gasped in awe at the painting of The Last Judgement, which took him another six years to paint. To visit The Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel was to know greatness.

We walked around the inside and there it was at the back. I gave Elizabeth’s arm a shove.

“Oh Cindy! It’s my painting!”

“Well, the full size version.”

“It looks the same, but just huge.”

“It’s in the guide book. Adoration of the Madonna and child.”

“It looks the same, the poses and the colours and everything.”

“I know. Vincenzo must have thought that your painting was a sort of draft version.”

“Oh did they do that?”

“Yes artists would often do a kind of mock up before they did the final painting.”

“So if he paid all that money, why did he give it away?”

“That’s the question. I’m guessing he had a change of heart; decided it was either a forgery, by a student or just a copy.”

“Oh and that would affect the value, obviously.”

“Oh yes! But still worth quite a bit, depending.”

We walked into the sunshine, filled with wonder. The experience of the Chapel had had a salutary effect. I felt calm and peaceful.

Though still sunny, it had turned a lot cooler. It was hard to explain but somehow you knew it was now more winter than it was autumn. The sun had lost its power and was waning in readiness for the winter solstice.

Just then I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. It was Elanora.

“Hey!”

“Hey! Cindy, how are you? ”

“I’m with Elizabeth. We just left the Sistine Chapel.”

“Ah, quite a place, isn’t it!”

“It’s mind-boggling.”

“Indeed. Listen, Cindy. Can you get here on Monday. It’s important.”

“Oh?”

“We have made a test of the paint.”

“Ah, what’s the outcome?”

“We wish to do another test, to be absolutely sure.”

“Why? What do you mean?”

Elizabeth was dancing on the spot with her arms out stretched. I could only shrug.

“I have asked Giorgio Principe to come from Pisa, he is a renowned expert on Michelangelo.”

“Oh Monday. Shit!”

“It is a problem?”

“No, well yes. Elizabeth is flying back to England.”

“Elizabeth?”

“The owner of the painting.”

“Ah, I see. I think she should be here.”

“Can’t you tell me anything?”

“I am sorry, Cindy. Not until the test is repeated. It is a very delicate procedure.”

“Okay, sorry. Thank you, Elanora, I know you’re doing your job properly.”

“Okay, I’ll SMS you on Monday, Cindy.”

“Thank you, have a nice evening.”

I explained the situation to Elizabeth as far as I understood and the bottom line, that she needed to be here. She had already got into her boss’s bad books with a last minute vacation at a busy time. Not turning up for work would not go well with her.

“She couldn’t tell you anything?” asked Elizabeth.

"No, but they’re flying this guy out from Pisa, so it must be positive, I think?”

“Yes, why would they do that, just to say, sorry it’s painted by nobody?!”

“I get you entirely, honey.”

“No, I’m staying. My boss can kiss my ass!”

“Lucky boss.”

Elizabeth giggled. Then went serious and pondered.

“What do you think, Cindy? What do I do?”

“Well they can’t actually sack you. We would make a good excuse. Let’s cross that bridge…”

“Okay, yes. I’m just all excited now!”

“Me too! Anyway let’s walk, I’m getting a bit cold.”

We made our way around the corner and looked with wonder at the expanse of St. Peter’s Square. The Basilica looked amazing. I had seen this so many times on the TV, when the Pontiff did his Easter speeches and stuff. It looked beautiful now, especially with the huge Christmas tree in the centre, all trimmed up with lights and silver baubles. We walked arm in arm and followed the cobbled street back into Rome, where a couple of sentry guards were ceremoniously attending the gates out of the Holy city.

By the time we reached the centre of Rome, the light had faded and Christmas lights were being turned on. Twilight seemed to descend so quickly here. We could see the Coliseum to our right, but a lovely waft of baking led us the other way. There was a street where they had gone to town on the lights. It was all festive and Christmassy, with little red Santas hanging from the front of the stalls, where you could buy ornaments and gifts. Some stalls had tasty bites – fresh ravioli, mini pizzas, soup and hot cakes. The biggest queue was for a stall where a girl was ladling mulled wine into cups. It was just what we needed.

We joined the queue and we were soon imbibing the warm, spicy gift of Bacchus. The heat seemed to emanate from my belly until it reached every part of my body and I was just one warm glow, with Elizabeth’s cheery face close to mine. We found a corner of the street and we kissed, between sips of mulled wine.

Elizabeth looked into my eyes and held my hand. I felt a deep sense of something that I could hardly describe. All the people who were milling around became distant and hazy. All I could see was Elizabeth and the only voice I could hear was hers. She spoke clearly but softly.

“I love you, Cindy.”

“Pardon?”

“I love you. I meant to tell you before, but I wasn’t sure that you felt the same way, and I didn’t know quite how to put the words together. And now. Now, I…”

I put a finger to her lips.

“Elizabeth, I love you too.”

We held each other closely, trying not to spill our booze and enjoyed the warmth of each other’s bodies as the cool evening air swept by and the world went about its business.

We had a tub of ravioli before heading back to the hotel via the Coliseum, which was now lit up like a giant fairground attraction. I hadn’t allowed myself the luxury of love for a while. My career had got in the way and no one had fit the bill. I don’t think it had been love at first sight with Elizabeth and neither had our initial attraction been entirely lust. It was only a matter of time before someone had broken cover. Yet it wasn’t entirely out of the blue. I suppose we had both been looking for the right moment to share our feelings.

It was probably the coldest night, since I had arrived in Rome. It had been a long day, we had walked miles and we both needed to unwind, as we entered the hotel. Our bed looked very enticing, but so did the shower. Elizabeth took off her coat and I eyed her cute round bottom, naughtily. I slipped out of my own coat and we met in the middle of the room and shared a long, loving kiss.

“I want you in that shower,” I said.

“Hmmm… you can have me, baby.”

We undressed, discarding our clothes haphazardly as we looked for that special sachet of soap in suitcase and toiletry bags.

I got the shower going while I was still in my panties; then there was a couple of hands around my hips and then my panties were slipped off, followed by soft kisses on my hips and bottom. The water began to sprinkle and was hot and then not so hot as I fiddled with the controls. Elizabeth stepped into the shower behind me, taking a bar of soap and rubbing it against my breasts, the water splashing and soon making soapy bubbles around my boobs. The water was mainly spraying over my belly from the angle of the nozzle. I followed Elizabeth’s fingers with my own and I put a hand behind me, stroking her legs until my fingers reached the short stubble of her pubes.

Elizabeth took the head of the shower and aimed it at my body, washing away the suds and then I squeezed a little shower gel into her palm. She worked it into my belly and between my breasts and with the shower hose still in her other hand, she turned the jet away, and rubbed the shower head upwards between my legs. She teased a nipple between her fingers as the ridge on the plastic moulding moved up and down between my labia. I was so hot, steaming with hot water and completely turned on by her sexy use of the implements.

My fingers explored behind me, her body pressed into my bum, and I stroked her wet little opening as she pleasured me from the front. She let go of the shower and it snaked around our feet as she replaced it with her fingers. She cupped my breasts and kissed my neck as she thrust her hand against my sex, her fingers jabbing into my vagina. I was mewing with pleasure as I slid my fingers between her pussy, the juices smearing around the grooves at the top of her legs.

She worked me up into a proper ferment, releasing all my girly passions in a beautiful body to body masturbation, as her lips smooched my ear lobes.

I picked up the nozzle, which gave my lover a nice opportunity to play with my swollen pussy lips for a second or two and then we showered in the hot water, kissing under the spray. I worked the soap into her lovely bottom, kneading the flesh between my fingers and not resisting the temptation to go all the way under. She was a fit of squirms and giggles as my fingers glided over her perineum and into her puckered little star. Our breasts were making their own soapy lather as we squashed together. I squeezed the soap over our breasts, and we played booby tennis with the sponge as Elizabeth’s and my nipples became stiff and erect.

We rinsed down, scarcely able to leave each other alone as we stepped back into the room, wrapped in our towels. We dried our hair and then Elizabeth made me lie on the bed. She trotted over to her suitcase and pulled out a little tub and came back, giggling.

“What’s that?” I asked.

She beamed, turning the label towards me, which showed a bee hive with buzzing bees.

“Honey? Do you always take honey on holiday?”

“Not unless I have a beautiful blonde bombshell to entertain.”

“Hmmm… well entertain away,” I said.

Elizabeth popped open the flip top cap and drizzled a line of the sweet golden nectar between my breasts and down my belly. She placed the tub to one side, wrapped a band around her hair and lay on the bed on her side. Her tongue began to tickle and lick my skin, beginning with my breasts. She circled around each nipple flicking each one playfully until they were stiff and coated with her saliva. She moved to the space between my boobs and lapped up a portion of honey and moved up to me, kissing me on the lips, sharing the sweetness with me. It became a lovely warm goo, as her tongue and mine massaged each other, lovingly. We continued the smoochiness before she returned to my belly, proceeding to hoover up the honey, inch by inch. Her tongue lingered, licking my front, seeking out those little erogenous places that drive a girl wild.

Eventually she was at my soft underbelly. Her lips cuddled my flesh, moving inexorably down to my own pot of honey, where she could share one gift of God with another. She made soft sounds as she gently and lovingly kissed my mons pubis, gradually arriving at my waiting cleft. Her tongue parted my opening, making me shudder before she teased me, easing her mouth up and down, her tongue coming within a cat’s whisker of my clitty.

Her sexy treat was becoming too much and the thoughts of her sweet, sexy dew overwhelming. I caught a hand around the back of her knee and she straddled her legs across my body before lowering her bum towards my face. I nestled myself into the pillow as my tongue found her pussy. She was delightfully wet and I delved into her lips as she began to lick my pussy.

My pussy and my body was aching for her. In the shower, she had primed my sex for what was to come, taking me close, but not quite. Now, in our sensual union of pleasure, we were giving everything to the other. To say Elizabeth was hot was an understatement. Her pussy was like a little cauldron, enrobing my tongue as I delved into her inner velvet; stroking her chamber of love. She had a beautiful sexy aroma, sweet and yet exotic - a perfect perfume of love.

My body slowly gyrated, involuntarily beneath her. Her tongue was driving me wild, making me pulsate with the energy of my pre-orgasm. I worked her clitoris with my fingers as I rubbed my nose and my tongue into her now soaking wet pussy. We were both murmuring, half sobbing little moans of delight as we explored our carnal delights, taking each other closer to the edge. Elizabeth knew me and she knew how slaps and rubs on my clitty was the last straw. She alternated between tongue and fingers, causing my body to tremble, my hands drew up the sheets into little white dollies. I pressed my head into the pillow as I came, unable to hold back any longer as I squealed with ecstasy. I was beside myself with the total fulfilment of orgasm.

Elizabeth turned round with the face of the girl who had done a good job and kissed me deeply, before snuggling beside me on the bed.

“Phew! Elizabeth!”

“Good eh?!”

“Fantastic!”

I pulled her close and gave her the longest, sexiest kiss I could give. Our naked bodies were squished together, legs interlocked, unable to part even if we had wished. We kissed and cuddled in the warmth of our room before it was time for a bed time drink and a film. Thank goodness for satellite TV.

********************************

Sunday, being a day of rest, we did exactly that. We had walked enough the day before, so we decided to lie in and take a late breakfast. I showed Elizabeth St. john’s Basilica and the museums that she had missed plus a couple of new ones to both of us. We idled some time in one of the little parks but didn’t stray too far from our part of town.

Elizabeth phoned work, saying that there had been a dispute with one of the local baggage handlers and she would be delayed by a day. I’m not sure if they believed her, but who knows?

I think Sundays were meant to be lazy and in Rome it felt special. Like you didn’t really have to do anything at all and not feel guilty about it. No boss phoning to remind you about something or other; no shopping because you had to work on a Saturday; nothing to worry about. Just life, beauty and love.

*******************************

The Monday began with some rain but it had abated by the time I received the text from Elanora. We took a taxi, rather than walk. All the way there, every scenario went through my mind. Elanora was so hard to read. She would make a perfect poker player. Surely if it had have been bad news she would have given me a hint, maybe let us down gently. I guessed the results were inconclusive. That was it. So near and yet so far. It wasn’t the worst outcome, but it would take the shine off everything. But then why call in this expert, Giorgio? I had butterflies in my stomach but put on my best face for Elizabeth.

Within fifteen minutes, we were standing on the street outside the Art Institute.

“Are you ready?” I asked.

“Yes, if you are.”

We entered through the front doors and this time it was Elizabeth’s turn to stand and stare as I had a few days earlier.

“Signorina! Buongiorno,” said the uniformed man on the desk.

“Buongiorno,” I replied. "I have a friend this time.”

He raised his cap and smiled charmingly at Elizabeth.

“Elanora again?”

“Yes, Elanora.”

He nodded and waved us in.

“Are all the buildings amazing?” asked Elizabeth, rhetorically.

“Just about,” I confirmed.

Despite our pressing engagement, Elanora was taken with the various pieces of artwork along the way. There was an alcove on the first landing with what at first sight looked like a miniature statue but was in fact a painting.

“How do they even do that?!” exclaimed Elizabeth. “I want to touch it!”

“I know! It’s what is known as trompe-l'œil . ”

“Tromp what?”

“Trompe-l'œil. It’s French - deceive the eye. It was a popular thing in the middle ages.”

We worked our way along the corridor and knocked on the Elanora’s door. She let us in and showed us to a part of her office, which was all shiny surfaces and cutting edge instruments. She introduced us to a very Italian-looking man, who had long dark hair and a black goatee.

“You must be Elizabeth,” said Elanora, taking my friend’s hand. “This is Giorgio Principe. He is scholar of Michelangelo. Well, I’ll let him tell you.”

We shook hands with Giorgio and he began to speak in good English.

“Signorinas. I have studied Michelangelo for twenty years. He is, as you say… an obsession. When Elanora did the first test of the paint, she told me, right away.”

“Yes,” said Elanora. I didn’t tell you before, but when Giacomo, the Director of the Institute saw the painting, he said to fast track the tests. He would like to have been here, but he is in Milan.”

“Oh, sorry for interrupting,” said Elizabeth. “So he thought my painting was special?”

“Indeed. Your painting is drawing a lot of interest at the Institute.”

“Really!” said Elizabeth.

“Yes.”

We both made appreciative giggly noises at the news, but Elanora brought us back to business.

“So, I will explain how we came about the investigation. It is important, I think, for your understanding.”

Giorgio stepped in and pointed to some areas of blue around the robe of the Madonna. Elizabeth and I leaned in.

“I would like to draw your attention to this area,” he said.

“The blue?” I asked.

“Yes, this is very important.”

Elanora took up the story. Elizabeth looked at me anxiously and held my hand.

“I took a sample from here. I expected it to be lapis lazuli. It was the most popular pigment of blue at the time that the painting was made, both alone or as a mixture.

“Ah, okay,” I said. “I’ve heard of that.”

“Yes, so we took a sample. It is a very delicate operation. Unlike the carbon dating, we need to take from the painting itself. So, it is surgically precise.”

“I see.”

“And?” asked Elizabeth.

“The paint was not lapis lazuli.”

Elizabeth looked at me and frowned.

“It’s not?” asked Elizabeth.

“No,” said Elanora. So to be one hundred percent, I took a second sample.”

“And?” I asked.

“Our tests show that the paint is ultramarine.”

“Ultramarine?” Elizabeth and I asked in unison. I confess I had never heard of it, but then I had never studied pigment, only style and influence of the art itself.

Giorgio intervened.

“Ultramarine was a very, very expensive pigment. In the world of painting, it was like gold. No ordinary painters used it.”

“Oh, right, so what does it mean?” I asked.

Elizabeth stood closer to me and her fingers touched mine.

Giorgio continued. “In this period, only three artists were known to have used ultramarine.”

“Yes…”

“Leonardo da Vinci, Titian and Michelangelo.”

Elizabeth interjected, “As in the Michelangelo?”

“Yes, signorina.”

Giorgio looked at us and rubbed his beard, before speaking with gravitas.

“Having studied the painting in great detail. In observing the particular strokes of the brush, the idiosyncrasies of the artist, and with the evidence that this blue colour is painted in ultramarine, I have no hesitation in stating that it was painted by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarotti Simoni.”

I turned to Elizabeth as tears filled her eyes.

“It’s him Elizabeth,” was all I could say.

I wrapped my arms around her and held her tight as my own tears rolled down my cheeks. I was trembling and so full of emotion I couldn’t speak.

Giorgio laughed heartily but kindly, tapping my arm.

“Congratulations. It is a wonderful discovery.”

I still couldn’t speak.

“Of course, it will need the final seal of approval by Firenze scuola d'arte, but I think it is a formality.”

“Thank you, so much,” said Elizabeth, still full of emotion.

“Prego Prego.”

“It’s just like the one in the Sistine Chapel,” I said.

“Yes, I believe this was a ‘sketch.’ A sample, as you say, prior to making the main painting, which you describe.

“What happens now?” I asked.

“Well, it is up to you, but we can keep in the safe here. Then – it will be after Christmas we will despatch to Firenze for the final… accreditamento.”

“Accreditation?”

“Si.”

Elizabeth ran her hands through her hair and puffed out her cheeks.

“Well, I guess we just have to wait,” she said.

“Yes,” said Giorgio. “I suggest you go and have a really good Christmas and wait for us to contact you.”

“I’m just… it’s almost too much to take in. I’ve been sitting on a famous painting all this time!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“It is truly a wonderful discovery,” said Elanora.

We were left a little stunned and went out and had a huge piece of panettone and coffee to celebrate.

“I know about counting your chickens and everything, but I wouldn’t worry about going back to work,” I said, munching on the sweet cake.

“No, it’s not me,” said Elizabeth. “I won’t let them down more than I have to. But we’ll have a nice meal and a bottle of Champagne tonight. On me!”

We clinked coffee cups and watched the lunchtime trade enter the café as we talked of Christmas and family. The future held uncertainties now, but they were all nice ones. It would be nice to take a pause from all the craziness that had ensued and come back to Italy in the New Year.

To be continued

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