The Saddest Man of The Renaissance

Will Roberts
14 min readAug 4, 2023

Canvases lay in the corner, touched but never finished. My feathered pens sit softly on top of the plethora of pages filled with drafts of my new creation. And after decades of being second best, in my own mind at least, I have done it. No more will he, or anyone else in this town, look down upon me. Okay they will because I am four-foot-nine. But regardless of my height — which by the way, does not matter, okay, I am a happily married man and I have had plenty of lovers (three) — the entire world shall know me as the greatest inventor and artist in history, superior to my rivals. Donatello? Go to hell-o. Lorenzo Ghiberti? Anyone can make a door. And Leonardo da Vinci? Once I show the world my new invention, my arch nemesis’ place will be solidified in my shadow.

“Honey, you’ve been in there for hours. Come to bed with me,” Lisa, my wife, said. Quite loudly.

“Ah! I will have you know that I have just finished what has been keeping me in here these past few months.”

“What? That little thing on your desk?”

“Little thing? I have told you many times that great things come in small packages. This is not just some ‘little thing’, it is the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, remember, I told you about it!”

“I’m sorry, what?” she pauses, “did you just say, penis” she says before a wave of laughter hits.

“Every time, Lisa. Every time! I will not stand for this buffoonery! The Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis has nothing to do with genitalia. It is a hand crafted tool designed to help young artists stay on task.”

“How does it do that?” Lisa says between laughs.

Why does she laugh? I work all day here to make enough earnings to live with each other. Why must she mock me?

“Okay, I will show you. When you’re having a hard time paying attention and you’re getting all fidgety, you simply pick up the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, grip the center with your thumb and pointer finger, and spin the outer three pieces. It’s like a spinning device for when you’re fidgety!”

“I’m going to bed now. Have fun with your little Pensis” she says as she leaves the room.

“It’s not little! And in fact, it’s actually pretty big!” I reply, forgetting afterwards that she was in fact talking about my invention.

Lisa, just like everyone else, has always disregarded my inventions. People thought that my throwable clocks (the Tempus Fugits) were a waste of time. They said my simplified Latin, called Oink Latin, would never catch on because of the name — the watchmen also hated it. But my main critic has always been Leonardo da Vinci. That pretentious motherfucker. Also, not that I am bitter, but his early work was mainly popular because of the de Predis brothers. No one would have known him. But he won’t tell you that! Now I shall be victorious. Once I show Leo what I have created with my own two hands, he will bow down and give me the respect I deserve. For once in my life, I will be better than Leo. I will be better than somebody.

I often have the same dream. I’m suddenly transported back to when I was a child. I’m carving marble in my art training classroom. Picking away endlessly. Despite being asleep, I feel exhausted. I pick, and pick, and pick, until finally the only marble that remains ends up getting blown away by the wind. To my right, stands young Leo next to his beautiful creation, accepting applause from the students and of course Andrea del Verrocchio, the mentor of Leo. And me, but he won’t claim that. In the dream, del Verrocchio, after admiring the work of his favorite, turns to me and in an instant, crushes me. With my body now marble, he turns me into a statue. He pauses for a moment, looks at Leo, they laugh, crushes me again, and turns me into a personal toilet for Leo. I wake up in sweat, wake Lisa and tell her of my troubles, and she replies the same every time:

“Cosimo, what is a toilet?”

“I’m not sure! It seemed to be a marble device that takes your urine and shit and disposes of it deep into the earth!”

“Maybe you can make that!”

“No one will ever need that! What a shitty idea,” I always reply.

Walking to the arthouse where Leo is probably creating a brilliant piece of work, which is very fitting considering he is one — oh that’s good, I have got to hit him with that one liner when I see him — I hold the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, nervously, which results in a slightly sweaty, yet still brilliant invention. He is going to lose his marbles.

I walk into the disgusting room where Leo spends most of his time. At first there are no signs of my rival, but rather dozens of brilliant paintings, stuff I could never even think of doing. There are statues all over the place. But the figure I was looking for was gone. The clean up man, who is this little old failed artist, who I was destined to become before the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, is sweeping up. I ask him,

“My friend, where is Leo?”

“Esteemed Leonardo, you mean?” he asks in a surprised tone.

“Yeah whatever. Where is he?”

“Ah! For the past month, he has come once, talked with some artists, and suddenly left. He has not been back since.”

“I don’t understand your sense of time but alright. Do you have any idea as to where he might be?”

“Young man, he comes and he goes, for where I do not know.”

“That was lame. Where is he?”

“His home”

“Timely response…oh, before I leave, check this out!” I say as I hand him the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis.

The man grabs the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, examines it. He seems amused for a second but then quickly hands it back.

“Meh. What do you call such a thing?” he asks.

“The Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis!”

“Did you just say penis?” the man says, laughing in disbelief.

I roll my eyes and leave. As I leave the art house I’ve spent years in being laughed at, I am laughed at once again. But I know that when da Vinci sees this, it is I that will have the last laugh — what a corny phrase, I won’t say it again as it will never catch on.

Why isn’t Leo at the art house? I thought I was the only one with an in-house studio. That prick probably copied me. He always has. The Divina Proportione was based on a poem I read in a back alley way to a hip crowd. But he won’t tell you that. He’ll claim that he wrote it with Luca Pacioli — who I also despise. The Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis is going to show him that I can compete with the big boys. That I can create just as well as anyone. More, it will show the world that I have value.

As I pass the crowded streets, I pause to think how lucky I am to have made a living as an artist. An unknown artist, sure, but most are. I look around to see the people on the streets, selling fruits and different items, how drastically different our lives are. I catch the eyes of a man leaned against the wall of one of Leo’s several houses, he says to me:

“Hey, aren’t you that fraud that isn’t as good as da Vinci?”

“Up yours, dipshit,” I reply, still feeling grateful.

Fuck that guy, I say to myself as I knock on Leo’s door. I almost wanted to show him the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, but I can’t risk the idea being stolen. After a bit, Leo’s strictly good and platonic friend Francesco Melzi opened the door.

“Hello strictly good friend of Leonardo da Vinci, we have met a few times, but my name is–”

“You’re Cosimo. I know. My strictly good friend Leo makes fun of you a lot. Why are you showing your face?”

“I must see Leo this instant!”

“He is not in any sort of mood to see you or anyone of the sort.”

Of the sort? What the hell is that supposed to mean? I press Leo’s strictly platonic friend Melzi a bit more until that all too familiar, arrogant, yet intimidating voice yells from a back room, “my platonic friend Melzi, let this failed man in. He nor I have a thing to fear.”

This is the first time I’ve been inside of Leo’s house. It’s as if it is a piece of art itself, with deep silk laced chairs circling around each other, the stage of conversations my mind could never comprehend. Almost that of wind-water. Wish there was a word for that. A breeze through the giant window gracefully moves the silk curtains to help a beam of sun show the porcelain vases that I am certain Leo made himself. But as I reach Leo’s room, a horrendous stench enters my nose and I see dirty clothes and crumpled paper on the floor, a confusing surprise after seeing the main room.

I walk in the door, make eye contact with the man I despise the most, but after a second, my envy and anger turns to confusion. I have never seen Leo like this before. Disheveled, shirtless, a drink to his side, of what I do not know, but I assume the worst. I stare.

“Well, Cosimo, do you have anything to say?” He asks after I forgot I wasn’t just thinking.

“Oh yes, um, are you a piece of shit? Because you’re an artwork piece,” I stutter and fail my line, shit.

“What?” Leo asks.

“I mean,” shit, I have to save this, I practiced. “You remind me of my mother, because you always showed my siblings more love and would always make me sleep outside!”

“What is happening?”

Even in his vulnerable state and with my confidence higher than ever, he still seems to put me down. I forget my rehearsed line and revert to what I came here for. To put this asshole in his place.

“Well, I see that you are certainly not doing too hot, so may I brighten your mood with presenting my newest invention, one that will–” before I can finish, Leo rises from his chair and stops me.

“Cosimo, please. For I am not in the mood to hear about inventions or creativity of any sorts.”

“And why not? Are you too good for me?”

“I am not in the mood. But usually, yes”

“Are you just afraid that little Cosimo made something great?”

“Please, no time for games. Oh, Cosimo, I have been cursed.”

“Cursed?”

“Yes! Since the curse took place, passed on from a struggling artist in the art house, I have made nothing. Nothing has come to me, no thoughts have been had. My days of artistry and brilliance have come to an end, Cosimo. An end.” he says as he starts to weep.

While the curse scares me a bit, I can’t help but think: holy shit, this is fantastic! Yet, I need a fully fit Leo to see my work in its true form.

“Oh, Cosimo. Forgive me. Forever have I been a hole of ass to you. I have treated you poorly, encouraged everyone in this town to throw their shit in your lawn, and have disregarded all of your work. Forgive me”

“Leo, it is — wait, what? My wife Lisa has been blaming the shit on me. She thinks I sneak out at night and just ire poo all over. Why would you do that?”

“Because, I used to think you sucked. But now I understand what it is like to be a fraud. I am now on the same level as you.”

Okay, fuck this guy. Same level as me? I take back every, though few, nice things I have said about him. I’m going to show him the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis and he is going to feel like my lawn!

“Oh, you poor soul. I will have you know that your apologies mean nothing to me. And in fact, I will show you my invention, you dunce!”

“Oh, please, do not–”

I reach into my bag, pull out the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, raise it in my hands, look Leo directly into his sad eyes and say:

“The Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, asshole!”

Leo pauses, and his tears seemingly stop mid face. He reaches out, grabs the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, and examines it with wonder like a child. Almost a childlike wonder. Hey, that’s a cool saying.

Leo then pinches the middle of the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis with his two fingers and spins the outer rings with his other hand. In an instant, it is as if the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis was controlling his emotions. All of his pain and sadness left his body and he was fixated on the Pensis.

“Oh my. Oh my. OH MY! Cosimo! This is brilliant. For the past few months, I have been feeling fidgety. I have not been able to focus or create anything. But now, now? I feel free. This is wonderful! And what do you call this again?”

“The Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis. And before you laugh, does it sound like penis?
“Not at all!” Leo says as he continues to spin my Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis, “say, would you be willing to hear this idea I just had?”

After a long discussion, it is understood that Leo and I shall work together on this project. The Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis will be mine, and he will publicly display how effective the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis is, fully crediting me. I leave the house, after some judgemental looks thrown by Melzi, and I, for the first time in my life, am on Leo’s side — as he is on mine. All the past drama and flags of red are like my dreams of art school. Crushed and blown away. Lisa is going to love this news. Lisa is going to make sweet love to me the second I get home.

I skip home. I am ecstatic. Sure, I won’t be able to knock Leo down a peg, but truth be told, it’s his attention and praise I have always longed for. Life is looking up for Cosimo. Life is about to change.

“Lisa, you will never believe what happened today in life,” I say as I burst in the door of our home. However, Lisa is nowhere to be seen. It is late, so perhaps she is in our bedroom. I walk up the stairs and my excitement turns to confusion. Moaning and groaning coming from the bedroom? Maybe Lisa saw me skip in and wanted to get a head start. This is it, baby. This is what Leo feels like! Creativity, sex, praise! Where has this been my whole life?

“Oh, sweet Lisa. I am pleased with what I am hearing,” I say as I open the door.

Before anything else can be said, all the motion in the sheets halts and the noise comes to a stop. I soon come to the conclusion that Lisa was not getting a head start. She was indeed with another man. She forces him out of the house. I don’t even look at him. I am in frozen eye contact with Lisa. Silent eye contact with my wife. Silent eye contact with my wife after she just fucked another man in our bedroom. After I hear the downstairs door shut, I prepare what I want to say. But before I speak, I stop and appreciate the silence. Pressing my lips together, I prevent any sign of crying. I want to speak, but my throat won’t let me. I leave it at that. I turn around, hoping Lisa would say something. Nothing.

I work so hard for Lisa, though I must admit I work for myself, but Lisa is one of the two people I need to impress. My constant need to impress her by creating and inventing left an open spot in her life that I was too busy to fill. I have little words, but big thoughts. Oh Lisa.

I have to meet with Leo tomorrow. I never would have thought that Leo would take over Lisa’s spot in my heart. In my life.

The next morning, I leave the house as early as possible. I try to forget everything. Everything except for my arch rival Leo, who seems to be my only source of anything now. As I arrive at the art house, I can see Leo through a window. Waiting, looking better than he did the day prior. This helps. I rush in, Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis in hand.

“Cosimo, same clothes as yesterday?” Leo asks, “are you alright?”

“Yes, yes. I am fine. All good. Everything is fine”

“You look like your lawn. Have you been crying? What is the matter, friend?”

Friend. Friend breaks me.

“It is not of importance,” I mutter while taking my feather hat off, putting it in front of my face as a shield”

“Cosimo, an artist must not be afraid of sharing his emotions. Please, do tell”

“Last night after my return home. I heard Lisa moaning. She had engaged in sex with another man.”

“Oh, Cosimo–wait, what did you just say?”

“Lisa, my wife, moaning, engaging, sex, another, man?”
“Yes! That!”

“What? Moaning? Lisa?”

“YES! That is it!”

“Cosimo, thank you. You have done it. You have inspired my next painting. I shall use your terrible life for inspiration and call my next piece, The Mona Lisa!”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Leave! I must paint alone!”

“What about the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis? What about our plan?”
Leo laughs. Uncontrollably. Like, a little too hard. The old man sweeping even joins in.

“You really think that I would work with you? I just needed to pass on my bad luck curse

to someone else! And obviously it worked!”

“What? Bad luck? My whole life has been bad luck. I have always been second best to

you. And you wanted to pass on the bad luck to someone who was born with it?”

“Second best is generous. And did you really think I wanted to work with you?”

“Did you even like the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis?”

“Absolutely not,” he starts to belly over with laughter. “Oh and by the way, it does sound

like penis.”

I stare at Leo like I did Lisa. Same feeling. Same silence. But this time I don’t have anyone to go to.

When I get home, I see a note. Lisa is not coming back. I’m on my own now. I drag my feet to my studio and sit in a very uncomfortable chair. I hope one day chairs get comfortable. I hope one day people will lead lives better than mine. I hope one day — my sulking is interrupted by a knock at the door. Leo? Lisa?

I open the door to reveal the man who had sex with Lisa. The man who made me lose Lisa.

“Oh hell no,” I say as I begin to close the door.

“Wait! I left my–what are you holding?”

I forgot I had been holding the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis. I was spinning it in spite.

“I invented this. Are you here to tell me how ridiculous and pointless it is?”

“No way man! I think I left something here, but that thing looks wonderful! What does it do?” The man who had sex with Lisa asks.

He thinks it looks wonderful?

“Oh. Well, whenever you’re feeling anxious or fidgety, you just pinch the middle and spin it around. Try it out.”

This man starts losing his marbles at the Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis. Spinning and smiling like I hoped Leo or Lisa would.

“What’s it called?”

“The Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis,” I reply.

“That’s a great name! This is really cool, man.”

“Well, it’s yours. Take it.”

“Truly? I’m honored.” the man says, “do you think I can just come in and grab my–”

“Absolutely not,” I say as I shut the door.

He liked it. He genuinely liked my creation. No one has ever told me that something of mine was wonderful. Sure, it’s the man who has ruined my marriage, but I don’t suppose I care who praise comes from anymore. He liked it. I created something that someone, a person, liked. I’m still holding onto the door handle, eyes focused on the ground despite the fact I’m not looking. Perhaps this is what it feels like to be Leo. Perhaps I’m not so crazy to believe that I can create. The Anxietatem Lanificam Pensis has been pushed out into the world. I am out in the world.

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