The Palazzo Taddei was a four-square building with an imposing frontage of blocks of untrimmed golden sandstone. Windowless, it loomed out of the smoggy darkness of the Via de Ginori like a fortress wall. It was eight o'clock, but even at this late hour, when most honest citizens should have been bed, a small crowd was gathered at the Palazzo's great round gate. Niccolo and Pasquale had to use their elbows and knees to push through to the front.
Niccolo had a word with the sergeant in command of the unit of the city militia which kept a space before the gate, handing over a cigar with a smile. The sergeant shook Niccolo's hand and spoke into the brass trumpet of a speaking-tube beside the gate. With a sudden arthritic creaking the dozen wooden leaves of the gate began to draw back into their sockets. A ragged opening widened into a circle. One of the upper leaves stuck, like the last tooth in an old man's jaw, and although a servant appeared and gave it a hearty shove to try and force it, Niccolo and Pasquale had to duck under it as the sergeant waved them through.
Pasquale turned to watch as the gate closed up with a rattle of chained weights that in falling recompressed the spring mechanism, regaining all the energy used to open the gate except that lost through heat or noise. Successful merchants like Taddei were in love with such devices, which signified status in the way that sponsoring an altarpiece or fresco had once done. There were tall mirrors of beaten silver on either side of the door, and Pasquale looked himself up and down before hurrying to catch up with Niccolo Machiavegli, crossing the marble floor of the sumptuous entrance hall and following the journalist through an open door into the loggia that ran around the four sides of the central garden.
There's a lot of fuss about a certain novel about Renaissance Florence that's just been published, so I thought I'd revisit one of my favourite earlier novels, Pasquale's Angel
. It's set in Florence in the early sixteenth century, a city transformed by the inventions of the Great Engineer and in the throes of a great industrial revolution. Pasquale is a painter's apprentice, fallen in with the journalist Niccolo Machiavegli and about to become entangled in a plot to steal the Great Engineer's secrets. There's a recent paperback, but I think it's mostly fallen out of print, and there's also an ebook (this link
leads to the Kindle version, but there are others). Not yet available in the US, I'm afraid, but we're working on that.