Donald Trump coined the phrase, “You’re fired!” on his reality TV show, The Apprentice. But before the Donald reveled in the firing of well-meaning folks, a young painter’s apprentice exemplified the beauty of integrity and forgiveness.
Set in Sixteenth Century Florence, Italy, Pilar Molina Llorente’s The Apprentice is yet another one of those books that I looked at with the leery eye of a homeschooling mom with three active little boys much more interested in playing Star Wars than in reciting their math facts. The language of The Apprentice is formal and sometimes archaic, the time period is foreign and difficult to relate to, and the subject (painting) is less than exciting to those who wish for The Force to be with them. And yet again, the beauty of this well-told story of truth, forgiveness and heroism caught me off-guard.
You have to first understand that my boys are, well, boys. They are the rough-n-tumble, LEGO lovin’, Nerf-gun-yielding, sons of a military man. It has been a challenge to channel their energy and testosterone toward peaceful reactions to adversity. They are much more interested in striking back than turning the other cheek.
And so I relished this story of Arduino, a teenaged boy accepted as an apprentice to aging master painter, Maestro Cosimo di Forli. Not long after arriving at the Maestro’s studio, he discovers a strange secret that most of the other apprentices are unaware of– another apprentice is being held prisoner in the studio’s attic. Donato had proven too talented an apprentice for the aging Maestro, who imprisoned the orphan rather than risk turning the boy out. Torn between the desire to see his new friend freed, and the fear of being sent back to his father’s tailor shop, Arduino cautiously maintains a secret friendship with Donato, bringing him extra food, as well as painting and drawing supplies. In return, Donato taught Arduino everything he knew of the art about which they were both so passionate– everything a new apprentice couldn’t learn through the mundane tasks he was assigned in the studio.
When a local Duke commissions an important, well-paid painting project, the sickly Maestro fights to keep his hands steady enough to create the sketches necessary to secure the commission. Arduino offers a daring solution: Donato. For nearly two years, Donato had been held prisoner in the Maestro’s attic. The dying man rightfully feared for his life should Donato be released, and was uncertain that his former apprentice, so grossly misused, would ever agree to help out the aging man. But Donato had long since forgiven the old man for his cruelness, and after a meal and bath, sets to work clarifying the master artist’s attempted sketches.
The story is not labeled as a Christian one, but one could easily insert some beautiful Biblical principals in the story. The Bible tells us that we are to forgive those who abuse and mistreat us, to not hold grudges. Vengeance is the Lord’s, and all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to forgive such blatant mistreatment, but Donato does, and is rewarded for his loyalty when, through a bizarre serious of events, he is given command of Maestro Cosimo’s studio, and makes Arduino his lead apprentice.
I tell my boys to never judge a book by it’s cover, and yet have been so guilty of mistaking these ancient classics as being too boring and too irrelevant for my modern-day elementary-aged boys. But it’s opening their eyes to history in a way that no history book could ever enlighten them. Sure, they’re learning about ancient Cathay and Mesopotamia, the battles of Alexander the Great and the riches of Kublai Khan. But through these simple and beautiful stories of young boys and girls, not so unlike themselves, they’re seeing historical societies through the lives and eyes of young people they can relate to. They can compare the differences of a 16th century boy expected to do nothing more than follow in his father’s footsteps, to the limitless possibilities of their own futures.
I hope, too, that the concept of forgiveness is not lost on their little souls. It’s something of a lost concept in this tort-focused day and age. I think even The Donald could learn a thing or two about the success that can result from the compassion and empathy of a young apprentice.