Baptism of The Zonzotti Addendum
“Beyond a first mover exists an augmenting of creation.” Dr. Tera Nadi, Notebook 3
My role in exposing the story of creation began pathetically enough with my weeping in front of Piero della Francesca’s The Baptism of Christ in London’s National Gallery. I had recently walked away from an unsatisfying career in finance and been released from a fallow 27-year marriage, leaving me job, friend, family, and dogless. The halcyon days before the great pandemic clashed with my defeated state.
The Baptism took me back to my eighth-grade field trip to Manhattan’s Frick. The class stood in front of a sunbaked, white-fork-bearded St. John the Evangelist and I shouted, “Check out that heavy metal mother fucker!” Mrs. La Cotta refrained from ripping out my hair and yelled “Language, Mr. Rubin!” When the disinterested group drifted to the next old painting, the Saint of the Apocalypse winked to me, which I took to mean that they would get their just rewards when all goes up in flames. I nodded that that would be cool and then we would hang beneath that calm blue sky, wearing matching crimson mantles.
My Piero della Francesca allegiance solidified decades later at the 2013 Frick gathering of the American Pieros, including the four Frick pieces, the Clark Museum’s Virgin and Child with Four Angels, the Washington National Gallery’s St. Apollonia, patron saint of dentistry, and a technicolour icon-cloaked St. Augustine flown in from Lisbon. Most of the pieces had once been part of a complex wooden altarpiece in Sant’Agostino Church in Sansepolcro that had been dismantled and sold off, and the Frick curators had re-gathered the ancient parts as from tar-pit bones. Once again, I was in the presence of St. John, now with his colleagues, and a more seasoned me noticed that they appeared disjointed, mourning their missing and lacking context, like assorted New World Chiefs dog-and-pony-showed through the courts of Europe or made to visit the White House to be gazed upon by Jefferson.
The show heightened the disorientation around an artist from the 15th century but who was not of it, and even more anomalous in the 21st. Of no school or clique, and according to the Frick’s program, Piero went unmarried, often traveling for commissions. Based on how my work and travel ruined intimacy, I assumed he had few friends and mostly transactional connections. Maybe he was lensing a world of existential isolation through painstaking perspective, carefully placing and connecting human forms on a two-dimensional surface -- that could be controlled. The magical solutions revealed ineffable meditations. One was reminded of the Zen motorcyclist who knew how the bike and all its parts functioned yet was welcome behind the curtain to emptiness.
Here in London, older and more beaten, optically tricked to genuflect for my baptism, I awaited Piero’s John the Baptist to finish with the Savior so he could thumb a cross and douse my head. Across Gallery 14, from an Adoration, accompanied by Respighi’s Trittico Botticelliano along with a chorus of my sobbing, appeared an angel drawn to my trembling. Pulchritude incarnate was experiencing me experiencing the Piero; me as art, a more attractive notion than I could have conceived. Driven by the exquisite potentialities, from metaphysical transcendent to coffee house intellectual to voluptuous gutter coupling, my concentration telescoped towards concrete next steps.
The angel approached and wiped my tears with a hsbd-iryt silk scarf, revealing she was flesh and blood with eyes matching the scarf and a silver-coloured, banged and bobbed hairdo fixed well above her chiseled sleeveless shoulders. I straightened, puffed out my chest, gently flexed a bicep, hoping the flaming hilt of my Manjushri wisdom sword tattoo became visible, and mansplained the glory of the painting: “The holy cousins stand on dry ground as despite the power of this ritual need no purification. Just look at that larger-than-life dove of the Holy Spirit! The master painted the figures to perfect the forms, only clothing them after.” This last note brought nudity into dialogue, a brilliantly subtle, low-risk gambit.
Had I crossed an ocean of despair to the banks of the ecstatic, an elation of reward far greater than Poussin’s St. Paul7 carried upward by angels? I found myself back at my hotel with the Angel on top of me while I lay on the bed, smiling like the helmsman of a bloated ship of fools, a totally disoriented imbecile. She was seemingly having a third frustrated go at me. When I finished my business, she yelled, “Februa for Calpurnia!” and slapped my flushed cheek so hard my head snapped into the backboard.
When I came to, she was bathed and dressed, mumbling with mild amusement “No awareness of the mathematics of Delft thrust angles or Germain’s 'Recherches sur la theorie des surface elastiques'”? She pulled from a wool-woven satchel a medieval looking volume with “Z30-33” gold-leafed on the spine and three notebooks labeled Tera Nadi 1, 2 and 3. “You have modest relevant writing talent, adore the master, and no one will miss you if you disappear for a time.”
“You will publish a short literary tale of our encounter that you will claim came to you in a dream.”
“A short literary tale?”
“The short tale must be published in a journal with greater than 2500 readers to place it sufficiently on record. You will then stay hidden long enough to draft what is in these notebooks – details on the forces behind the Quattrocento -- into a complete work which you will hand-deliver with the notebooks and the last remaining copy of The Zonzotti Addendum, to Stefano Campagnola, the Maestro at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma, and copies to James Peltz, the Editor in Chief at SUNY Press. You will then be free to resume your life as you see fit.”
David M. Rubin
Paintings cited above:
David M. Rubin has a Ph.D. in biology. His recent stories, poems, and essays appear in Café Irreal, City Key, Corvus, ffraid, Ginosko Literary Journal, Last Stanza Poetry Journal (2022 Pushcart Nomination for "Traumerei"), Maudlin House, The Nabokovian, The Smart Set, and others. He hopes to create connection @Six18sFoundry and @six18sfoundry.bsky.social
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