A warm welcome to author Heloise West joining us today here at Love Bytes to talk about new release “Ardent”.
Welcome Heloise 🙂
Author: Heloise West
Publisher: Manifold Press
Release Date: February 1st 2017
Genre: Historical MM Romantic Suspense
In the village of Torrenta, master painter Morello has created a color that mimics the most expensive pigment of all, the crimson red. Master Zeno, from strife-ridden Medici Florence, tells him the color gives him a competitive advantage – but Morello must be careful. Fraud is ever-present in the dye and pigment markets.
As they work together in Torrenta, Morello falls hard for Zeno’s assistant, Benedetto Tagliaferro, a young man of uncommon beauty and intelligence. Benedetto is still fixed on his old lover, the master painter Leo Guisculo, and cannot return Morello’s affections.
But when Leo dies in a terrible accident, it’s to Morello that Zeno and Benedetto turn for help. And Morello soon finds that in Florence, every surface hides layers of intrigue.
Find Ardent on Goodreads
I love research and all the roads it takes me down…
For instance, what the color red meant to the Renaissance painters and their patrons. Not only in the 15th and 16th centuries, but to artists going back 2,000 years and more. One of the things I learned was how arduous and labor intensive it was for workshops to render dyes into pigments to paint with. Not only pigments, but from the charcoal for sketches to the working of a fresco.
Authors, and especially historical authors, know how much research goes into a line or two that defines an era, historical character, or setting. I had to cut some of my lovely research from the conversation between Masters Zeno, Franco, and Morello in the first chapter of Ardent when they are discussing the color Morello has invented through Alchemy. Zeno was explaining about mordants (they helped the paint stick to cloth or wood or canvas) that Morello already knew, for the benefit of the reader and my love of research, but it still seemed a transparent trick to me, so I cut it. I’m going to post more bits about the Renaissance artist workshops and the world of Ardent.
The explanations were cut out except for this one about red, as it sufficed, in the end, to show what the process was without jerking the reader out of the narrative, and how significant it was at that time and place.
“The craftsman’s ability to convert assorted harmless ingredients into useful tools (not just lethal weapons) was widely respected and so too was the artist’s ability to convert raw materials into beautiful colours. For the painter, good reds were quite tricky to prepare from insects in spite of the fact that quite a lot of work had already been put into them even before they arrived in the painter’s studio. The vast majority of insect reds were used for dyeing cloth and painters often extracted the colour from waste cloth by dissolving it in lye. This lye was commonly made by soaking wood-ash in pots full of water. The alkali used to extract insect colours from cloth was sufficiently caustic if a fresh egg could float in it. (Another test was to see if it could dissolve a feather.) And artists timed how long the dyed cloth should be left in the alkali by chanting. Cloth was boiled in lye for one or two Pater Nosters, two or three Misereres, or for three Ave Marias according to different recipes.”
Bucklow, Spike. The Alchemy of Paint (Kindle Locations 283-292). Marion Boyars. Kindle Edition.
Rendered down by Morello, who has no patron to support him as yet, saying:
“It’s my own recipe. It’s true, I can’t afford the crimson-dyed cloth to make the pigment, though that process is far simpler than making this one.” If one could call standing over a stinking vat of lye and repeating paternosters to time the leaching of the color from the cloth a simple procedure.
This particular red Morello has copied, made from the kermes insects imported from around the Mediterranean (until the 16th century when a better red was discovered in South America. See: A Perfect Red, by Amy Butler Greenfield) was used in place of the Tyrian Purple. When Byzantium fell, the art of making the royal purple was lost. Europeans turned to kermes red to dress royalty and the pope and his staff, if you’ve ever wondered why cardinals wear red.
By the time we get to the Renaissance, the kermes and cochineal reds are prohibitively expensive. In the language of art, red has a powerful symbolic meaning as only the richest and most powerful can afford to have their portraits done with excesses of red.
To quote again Spike Bucklow: “What a colour meant inside a painting depended upon what it meant outside the painting.”
The village of Torrenta, Tuscany, June 1475
The sun thrust warm fingers into the ancient Tuscan earth. The gray-green leaves of the olive trees shimmered, and the woods beyond beckoned Morello to abandon the painters’ workshop for their cool refuge.
In the growing heat the apprentices inside settled into an afternoon nap, curled on benches in dark corners behind him. The harsh fumes of linseed oil and varnish had irritated Morello all morning, and he was unable to sleep in the miasma. Perhaps before their visitors from Florence arrived, he might escape the heat. A long tramp in the woods pulled at his bones.
He reached for the walking stick behind the door, but a horse’s whinny stopped him, and a man’s voice called out. When no one stirred within to answer, he cursed the sleepers and stomped back through the shop, thwarted. In the lane in front of the workshop, two men removed packs from their horses.
“Good day, Master Zeno!” From the doorway, Morello called to the older of the two. “You made good time!”
At the sound of Morello’s voice, the apprentices roused themselves from sleep and peered around him.
The gray-haired master raised his hand and smiled. “Good day, Master Morello.”
Master Zeno’s companion, a tall young man with flowing golden hair, took the older man’s pack for him and shouldered the straps of both.
“Take their horses to the stable and fetch Master Franco,” Morello ordered the apprentices, and they hurried to obey.
Master Zeno’s journeyman brushed dust from the sleeve of his sweat-stained linen shirt, slapped more dust from his long thighs, and ran a forearm across his brow. His smile was uncertain as his glance met Morello’s.
Donato stood at the window yawning and scratching his stomach. He shaded his eyes for a better look into the misty glare of the afternoon. “Who’s the beauty with the master?”
Donato’s fellow journeyman Primo jumped to his feet and crowded against Morello in the doorway. “Can it be? He’s brought Tagliaferro?”
Donato groaned. “The man you’ve been mooning about since you last went to Florence, Primo? You’ve only just finally shut up about him.”
Morello ignored them. His irritation over his interrupted walk had vanished. Primo’s garlic- and onion-laden breath on his neck registered only remotely. He gazed out at the man from Florence, who, in Morello’s memory, had once been a long-legged boy with a head of yellow fluff too big for his skinny body. Morello stepped out into the sunlight that appeared to pour itself over the grown man, and stretched out his hand in greeting. Maintaining frank eye contact, Benedetto Tagliaferro adjusted the packs and took his hand.
When flesh met flesh, Morello stumbled – at least, his heart did. As if the wind from the beating wings of the love-inspiring putti he had painted just that morning pushed them toward each other.
“Do you remember me?” Benedetto asked with the shadow of that boy’s grin.
Heloise West, when not hunched over the keyboard plotting love and mayhem, dreams about moving to a villa in Tuscany. She loves history, mysteries, and romance of all flavors. She travels and gardens with her partner of thirteen years, and their home overflows with books, cats, art, and red wine.