1. Framed by a well-worn, wooden windowsill, we peer down on Purgatory from our hotel perch high above the restless shores of Lake Como. Behemoth slabs of marble hang in limbo: rough-hewn bodies awaiting their savior — the divinely appointed sculptor to chisel away the sins of their world. Reflected in the window’s wavy glass, the ghost of Michelangelo glides past — an aging slave to Beauty — humming an Italian hymn to Venus in syncopated rhythms. He whispers that the stone comes from Carrara, carved out of ragged mountainsides, carried down muddy, makeshift roads, crated onto misshapen barges, then barreled down the Arno River. Last stop: Firenze. 2. In his hands, marble beams as the body of the beloved, draped in splendor and light, draped in radiant form — form of the sculptor, not the sculpture; of the Master, not the slave. Beneath the rock-rough surface of his métier, his soul struggles to emerge from stone, rising in rapture toward the Divine, rising on wings of Beauty, rising on wings of desire. In his hands, marble melds into a mirror of the making mind. He levitates, an embodied Ideal, rising higher, ever higher, toward his immortal beloved — yearning to be made real, to be made flesh, the “coarse and savage bark” of the artist’s first art. 3. We come late to all high lofty things, he wrote. And so we peer at the pit of Purgatory, into its dissonant, disturbing discovery that Art cannot save, that Art cannot rightfully claim the artist’s life, that Art cannot breach the infinite reach of Divine Love. What happens is what is real; but what is real is what we make happen. The only choice, then: to go down, down, down into stone; down into the blood-stained marble; down into the rough-cut corners of regret. Inconsolable, sculpture crumples into dust. First, the patina falls away, then appendages and organs — everything but the sightless sea-surge of skin; the seamless sanctuary of pagan heroes and gods.
4. The Ideal — immensity, enormity, infinity — ignites in unrequited desire. The heart strains in vain to bear the weight of stone. In Purgatory’s pit, the Master stumbles: Art cannot save him. The body of his beloved crumbles. Chiseled above his tomb: Ripeness is all.