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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Pope Paul III and His Grandsons

May 1, 2017
Ottavio Farnese
Ottavio Farnese

When I was an art history instructor I often told my students to check out “unfinished” paintings because they reveal far more secrets than finished ones. Like trees laid bare in winter, unfinished paintings reveal the architecture of their creation, illusionary tricks making the effects possible.

 

Titian was arguably the greatest painter in Western art, certainly the one who pushed oil and canvas beyond anything previously accomplished, so much so that his methods continue to influence artists four hundred years after his death. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know I’ve written about Titian more than any other artist.

 

In 1546 Titian, regarded as “The Prince of Painters” by his exalted patrons, was commissioned by the powerful Farnese family to paint a group portrait of the Pope and two family members. Titian had already painted the Pope and Cardinal Alessandro, and this painting would include another relative—Ottavio Farnese.

 

The Pope was not a religious man and used the papacy to increase his family’s wealth and influence. He had many illegitimate children and was constantly accused of nepotism for placing family members in positions of power. Some historians claim the two men flanking the Pope were actually his illegitimate children, and the confusion has prompted the painting to be sanitized, called by different names such as, Pope Paul III and his Grandsons or Pope Paul III and his Nephews.

 

 

Pope Paul III by Titian (1543)

 

 

 

Portrait of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese by Titian (1545-46)

 

 

Titian was a master at painting quickly and perceptively, and his portrait of Paul III and his so-called grandsons is no exception. But in this case, did the artist reveal too much, causing this unfinished painting to be abandoned, left unframed in a Farnese cellar for a hundred years? Notice the lack of details—the Pope’s hand on the table is barely sketched in and much of the red underpainting remains exposed.

 

 

 

 Pope Paul III and his Grandsons by Titian. Left unfinished in 1546

 

 

The painting has been described as a tour de force of symphonic colorism. Although universally acclaimed as a master of color, the tonal range employed by Titian is extremely limited. The artist claimed he could make a magnificent picture using only black, white and red, and here he proves it.

 

It’s understandable why the family wasn’t thrilled with the painting; Alessandro looks the dutiful cardinal, his hand on the papal chair while Ottavio bends to kiss the Pope’s foot in a traditional gesture of respect. Yet the painting has disturbed many people over the years. It appears as if Titian is making a comment about the Pope’s notorious nepotism; one grandson looking pious while the other is in a fawning pose, as if currying favor. Was the painter’s interpretation of character correct?

 

Titian wouldn’t have gone out of his way to insult these powerful people; the Pope was pushing eighty and looks frail in this version, but his eyes are keen and alert, his frail body concealed beneath clothing.

 

Although the Pope repented his nepotism on his deathbed, Titian’s interpretation might not have been accurate. Ottavio acquitted himself well over the years while Alessandro, who had Titian alter the composition by placing him closer to the Pope, was never elevated to the papacy.

 

Art often produces a reality of its own and Titian’s painting (even if it qualifies as sixteenth century “Fake News”) seems to have the last word.

 

 

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Comments

20 Comments
Art history is fascinating but I know so little about it. I had Art History in college but I struggled. R
By: Rick Watson on May 1, 2017
wow- thanks for the history lesson- so much in one painting.
By: Kathe W. on May 1, 2017
art history bored me stupid when I took it in college. perhaps if you'd been the teacher It would have been more enjoyable.
By: Ellen Abbott on May 1, 2017
If the Pope's behavior was well known, that painting shouldn't have concerned anyone.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on May 1, 2017
Using the position to increase his personal wealth and appointing his relatives to high positions? Sounds like the current occupant of the White House. Too bad Titian isn't around to do a portrait of him.
By: PT Dilloway on May 1, 2017
I loved art history and I bet I would have enjoyed taking it with you as my teacher. I still have my textbook and pull it out for reference even now, decades later.
By: Kelly on May 1, 2017
Very interesting as always from Professor CC. I'm pretty sure I once bought a used car from Ottavio.
By: cranky on May 1, 2017
I agree with the others. While I enjoyed Art History in College, I know I would have really enjoyed it had you been teaching. Of course you probably weren't born yet--minor detail.
By: Arkansas Patti on May 1, 2017
I know very little about Titian so I thank you for the lessons. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on May 1, 2017
The popes then often had their own agendas, and the artists seemed to enjoy exposing some of them. It seems human nature has not changed, has it?
By: messymimi on May 1, 2017
Tricky business, cultivating the clientele back in that age. Wonderful to have patrons, but a venal Pope would complicate your life a bit. Another insightful and fascinating post. Glad you are such a dutiful instructor.
By: Tom Cochrun on May 1, 2017
You've found all kinds of interesting history on this one.
By: red Kline on May 1, 2017
Interesting stuff. And he really did use black, white and red to great effect, didn't he?
By: jenny_o on May 1, 2017
I love Titian and his use of colours is quite breathtaking. I always felt that he captured this pope well with the eyes....they are the eyes of a devious fox and I feel bad comparing the fox to him. Titian was actually too strong to get rid of even in that time but he wasn't stupid and by putting this painting away tells me how close to the truth Titian was..er...is. I love art and wish I would have taken it in school.
By: Birgit on May 1, 2017
I know nothing about art, but I get lost in these paintings. In that first one, I can almost feel the textures of the fabrics and the wood.
By: Val on May 1, 2017
Fascinating. I wish I had you as an art instructor!
By: Mitchell is Moving on May 2, 2017
Contaminated truth... of the day.
By: Daniel LaFrance on May 2, 2017
"Fake News" - HaHa!
By: Catalyst on May 2, 2017
There is something so live in that picture - a kidn of tension and sense of meaning. It would have caught my eye if I'd seen it in a gallery. So I think there must be something in it that doesn't quite meet the eye.
By: Jenny Woolf on May 5, 2017
The Pope was not a religious man... it's amazing what you find out about history as an adult even though they taught it in school when you were a kid.
By: Pixel Peeper on May 6, 2017

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