Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste

Prologue

Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Feast or Famine

February 19, 2016
Veronese self-portrait
Veronese self-portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For hundreds of years, few words struck more terror than those calling you to appear before the Roman Catholic Inquisition. In 1573, Venetian painter Paolo Veronese was summoned to appear before the Inquisition to answer for the irreverence of his painting The Last Supper, designed to cover the entire rear wall of a Dominican refectory and one of the largest paintings of the sixteenth century.

 

 

 

The Feast in the House of Levi by Veronese (1573)

 

 

 

Center scene (Detail)

 

In Florence and Rome most large paintings, like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling and Last Judgment, were done in fresco—wet plaster applied directly to a wall— but Venice was situated on a lagoon in the Adriatic and so damp that attempts at fresco usually ended up slimy with mold and mildew, making canvas the preferred support for oil painting. Bolts of canvas could be sewn together to create immense compositions like Veronese’s 18x42 ft. painting.

 

 

 

(Detail)

 

 

In 1573 Veronese was asked to explain why his Last Supper depicted Christ in the presence of “buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs and other such scurrilities….” The reasons for this aren’t certain since many other painters took license with the Bible. Perhaps the artist was the victim of a jealous rival. Veronese was one of Venice’s most accomplished painters, a master at depicting colorful silks, brocades and the drama of Venetian life. In fact, his Last Supper appears to be a contemporary Venetian banquet with someone actually picking his teeth.

 

 

 

Man picking his teeth (Detail)

 

 

Dwarf (Detail)

 

 

 

German merchant (Detail)

 

Veronese was so concerned with his defense that he asked the city’s most famous celebrity, the renowned painter Titian, to speak on his behalf. Titian, knighted by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, was Veronese’s friend and mentor. Titian did his best to defend his colleague, but the authorities weren’t impressed with Veronese’s explanation that he had a lot of space to fill...so he filled it.

 

Veronese was given three months to change his painting, but instead he did something celebrated by artists to this very day. Refusing to alter his painting, he instead changed its name to The Feast in the House of Levi, another episode from the New Testament, but one less regulated than depictions of the Last Supper. The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 5, tells us that Jesus was invited to a banquet where “sinners” were present:

 

And Levi made himself a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of tax collectors and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them,  They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

 

The Inquisition accepted the painting’s new title and Veronese was cleared of heresy. Today, most of Venice’s great paintings hang in museums around the world and can no longer be found in the city where they were created, but The Feast in the House of Levi hangs in Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia. The next time you’re in Venice I recommend you enjoy a martini or Bellini at Hemingway’s haunt—Harry’s Bar—and then check out a masterpiece saved by something as insignificant as a name change.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

34 Comments
A rose by any other name...or in this case a painting by any other name is still a really interesting painting. The silk sheen in your closeup looks like real fabric. Amazing to me that artists can replicate such accurate textures and such onto canvas. You, of course, being an artist probably know how to do that but for those of us that can hardly draw a stick person, this is really impressive.
By: Cheryl P. on February 19, 2016
Thank you Dr. CC! Good stuff as always. Will this be on the test?
By: cranky on February 19, 2016
I'm amazed at how BIG painting were back then, of course there are probably still big painting being made, but whoa!!! And BTW the dwarf totally looks like Peter Dinklage, lol .
By: Hey Monkey Butt on February 19, 2016
thanks for the art history lesson- this painting is magnificent. Thank goodness it still survives! Have a great weekend!
By: Kathe W. on February 19, 2016
I learn such great things from you. All my years in art school and was never taught anything about this. Thanks! Oh, and I REALLY have got to get to Venice.
By: Mitchell Is Moving on February 19, 2016
Glad he didn't change the painting... The mixture of all kinds of people do imply Christ eating with sinners.
By: Sage on February 19, 2016
If only I could go to Venice to see it.
By: PT Dilloway on February 19, 2016
Fascinating, fascinating stuff. Murderous insanity in the name of God. Sadly a pretty common theme from centuries ago up to today.
By: Al Penwasser on February 19, 2016
It was magnificent to see it for real. I am so glad to see some beautiful art here on a blog as I also love art and the history behind it. I am glad he ducked the dreaded inquisition. There is so much art to see in Venice that one is overwhelmed by the beauty. This is a true masterpiece among many
By: Birgit on February 19, 2016
Thanks for the fascinating art lesson!!
By: fishducky on February 19, 2016
That was a very clever fix for him! I'm glad it worked.
By: The Bug on February 19, 2016
The pope talks a lot about helping the poor, so why doesnât he do it by selling off some of that priceless art? I hate the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, and I hate it that this pope can be so popular in the absence of actual change as well the addition of such atrocities as beatifying Serra and claiming that the Catholic Church has been forthcoming about molestation when the truth that theyâve fought it every inch of the way. How many immigrant do you think the Vatican takes in?
By: Snowbrush on February 19, 2016
Fascinating account! Alas, our Heavenly Father allowing and enabling men and women to falsely profess to act upon His authority is most definitely part of the apparent gross unfairness to life in this world. Be assured that it will be as it should be in the end, but it can sure be awful in the meantime.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on February 19, 2016
This painting reminds me of your Protest in that it holds a raft of stories and characters. Studying it one can't help but add substance and imagination to the side characters. Rather clever save he pulled off.
By: Arkansas Patti on February 19, 2016
quite brilliant
By: TexWisGirl on February 19, 2016
Interesting background to this painting. What a clever way to escape the wrath of the Inquisition!
By: Pixel Peeper on February 19, 2016
I can't help but wonder how long a painting such as this would take, and how the artist found the time and money to do it. Were they subsidized by benefactors? Did they make enough selling other paintings? I am totally ignorant of the day-to-day details involved with being an artist in 1573.
By: Val on February 19, 2016
Brilliant move, especially as it does look much more like a party at someone's home than a quiet seder meal with only a few people present.
By: messymimi on February 19, 2016
What's in a name, huh? ;)
By: Scott Park on February 19, 2016
A feast of a blog post, as usual. Thanks for sharing..I enjoy these history lessons.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on February 19, 2016
Pretty darn brilliant. Thanks for sharing and making me smarter. I wasn't expecting an art lesson today. Take care.
By: mr. Shife on February 19, 2016
Details! Details! Details in a painting and details in a name. Veronese was a very quick thinker. I would like the guy to be on my side!
By: red on February 19, 2016
Fascinating story. And fascinating painting. Thanks for another great art lesson.
By: jenny_o on February 19, 2016
Fantastic post! A wonderful "lesson" and excellent explanation. Thanks for the work in putting this out here for us!
By: Tom Cochrun on February 20, 2016
That painting is absolutely stunning! All the details are exquisite! (I love Titian, too.) So sad and aggravating about the Inquisition, a shameful time in history along with the Crusades. I'm sorry he had to succumb to criticism and change the name of his work but delighted it now hangs where people can enjoy it. Thanks for all the great pics and the history lesson! Have a lovely weekend!
By: Lexa Cain on February 20, 2016
A creative and also a crafty fellow he was!
By: Tom Sightings on February 20, 2016
I'm surprised the Inquisition let him get away with that.
By: ellen abbott on February 20, 2016
Such courage, determination, and initiative as well as being such a wonderful artist!
By: John on February 21, 2016
A bureaucracy. Deadly, but a bureaucracy, none the less. The real challenge is to out think them... I say, this man truly out thought them, leaving us with a wonderful legacy in paint. Cat
By: Cat on February 21, 2016
This is a fascinating story I've never heard about! I like his PR move. Great post, Stephen!
By: Michael Manning on February 21, 2016
It is, of course, not true that nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition - apparently they always gave good notice. An interesting post and fascinating history
By: Don\'t Feed The Pixies on February 22, 2016
Schooled once again... always in a manner that breathes life into the art, the artist and period. Merci
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 22, 2016
Fascinating story. Thank you!
By: Bouncin Barb on February 22, 2016
Every days a school day - especially when I visit your blog. This was very interesting. R
By: Rick Watson on February 22, 2016

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