The Day Laid on the Altar

Written by Adria Bernardi
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Three artists weave the fabric of sixteenth century Italian artistic life in Bernardi’s intriguing novel: Bartolomeo, a peasant farmer who collects shards of colored glass, hoping to create his life’s work, a many-paneled mosaic; Martin, who leaves the mountains to become an artisan in Florence; and Titian, the famed Italian Renaissance painter, brilliant, haunted, and surrounded by a quarrelsome household. Surely each is as committed to his art as the other, and just as surely, each is burdened and limited by those burdens.

Bernardi moves from artist to artist, beginning with Bartolomeo and ending with him, in circular fashion. Yet it is not the personalities of these artists that are the driving force of Bernardi’s story – it is art itself. It is the preparation of frescoes and the making of colors and the artistic methods which Titian and his studio developed. In the midst of plague and poverty and family dissension, it is the lasting nature of art which drives the artist. It is the need to create which defines him.

This is a beautiful, sparse book, lyrically written with plenty of Italian subtext. Although the novel contains neither a plot nor characters in the traditional sense, it is a rewarding read because of Bernardi’s ability to capture poetically this place and time.