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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The Duccio Block

April 10, 2015

 

Michelangelo’s David (1501-1504) is arguably the most famous statue in the world, but the task of creating this towering 14.2 ft. masterpiece is even more astonishing when you consider the flawed material with which the artist had to work.           

           

The city of Florence had paid a fortune for this gigantic block, carved from Carrara marble and transported to Florence. Master sculptor Donatello was to carve a statue of David, to be hoisted to a pedestal on the roofline of Florence’s Duomo (cathedral). But Donatello died and the assignment was handed over to his assistant, Agostino de Duccio. Duccio hacked away on the block for months, badly damaging it. He carved deeply into its left side, obliterated the corners, chiseled severely at its base. The gigantic block of marble proved too much for him, and he finally abandoned it.

           

The block was left in the mud in a quarry beside the cathedral, where it weathered for twenty-five years. From time to time, other sculptors attempted to create something from the block, but they always gave up, claiming it was impossible to work with and nothing good could possibly come from it. Some suggested the damaged block be cut in half and used for smaller sculptures, or cut into pavers for the floor of the cathedral.

           

When Michelangelo was twenty-six, he returned to Florence, having just completed his Pieta in Rome. Few people from his hometown had seen his Pieta. Michelangelo was an unknown without his own workshop, but he convinced a committee of officials he could create a fabulous statue of David. The committee was convinced enough to give Michelangelo the job, but they specified in the contract that Michelangelo had to carve his statue from the “damaged” Duccio block. Michelangelo accepted the challenge, convinced he could succeed where all others had failed. For months he studied the stone and made sketches, and then spent two years carving his masterpiece. He’d planned his statue so perfectly that an aerial shot of the statue reveals a tiny uncut edge from the weathered stone.

 

           

So recognizable is this statue that most people ignore its disproportional elements. The head is large for the body, as are the hands, but many people have commented on one aspect of this statue—David’s penis. Few men would be happy if their manhood was this unimpressive. Art experts have differing explanations for this. Since the statue was commissioned to be placed high on the cathedral, the perspective would emphasize the statue’s lower half, reducing the size of the head and hands, and the penis would appear more heroic. But Michelangelo was a genius and knew his David would never be hoisted into the air. No method of erecting a six ton statue (heavy as three cars) existed at the time, and no platform on the cathedral could be built to support it. The humble size of the penis probably reflected Greco/Roman attitudes toward youthful perfection, or it could have symbolized the boyishness of Goliath’s killer as recorded in the Bible; large heads, hands and feet are typical of growing teenagers.

 

 

Was it possible to lift David this high? Doubtlful.

 

************************

           

On a related note, my mother made a European tour in 1978. My dad stayed home. When she returned I asked what she thought of Michelangelo’s David.

           

“It was alright,” she said.

           

“Was it bigger than you thought?” I asked.

           

“Well, if you took it down from its pedestal, it was smaller than your father.”

           

I laughed. “Mom, dad is five feet ten inches tall, and the David is over 14 ft. tall.”

           

“You’ve got your facts wrong. The David is normal size.”

           

I figured she was confused, perhaps had seen a different David, but she insisted she’d seen the famous one in Florence. So I ask you, if my father was fourteen feet tall, why am I only five feet eight inches?

 

 

Yep, same size as Dad.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

26 Comments
Maybe your mom was talking about just part of the statue. I've said it before, but if you were teaching art history again, I would sign up. I love your stories, but think a book on art history would also be great. I would buy a copy for sure, so there you are, guaranteed sales!
By: cranky on April 10, 2015
I guess it depends on what part she was talking about. And can you imagine how big a Goliath would've been?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on April 10, 2015
I suppose if your father's genetic makeup was similar to the David... large except for his manhood. Your claim to fame might be your mancave.
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 10, 2015
Thanks for the info. The history of the statue is amazing. So much there I didn't know. Plus, seeing the picture of the guy on the scaffold really puts David's size in perspective. I understand it takes a lot of waiting in a long line and the payment of a bunch of money to get a glimpse of him over the heads of a crowd. Like so many great attractions it makes me wonder if I'll ever want to fight the fight to enjoy the experience.
By: Leenie on April 10, 2015
pretty neat history on that block!
By: TexWisGirl on April 10, 2015
A heroic penis? Sigh...if only MINE had super powers.
By: Al Penwasser on April 10, 2015
I think the pieta is his masterpiece but David is a VERY strong second!!
By: fishducky on April 10, 2015
It's an amazing work, and i carried around a picture postcard of it as a bookmark for years.
By: mimi on April 10, 2015
You have treated us to another marvelous art history lesson. I've seen the David, but was unaware of that backstory. It is an extraordinary work. And I love the cartoon at the end of your post.
By: Tom Cochrun on April 10, 2015
I guess he's pretty buff for the day. I'm always amazed by how both women and men of old time periods were painted as chubby, pot-bellied and weak-chinned. None of that here. Just a little johnson. lol
By: Lexa Cain on April 10, 2015
There's a fake Michaelango at an antique store in Chico. It's ugly but priced at $2800. I almost knocked it over, when George told me to be more careful. He took some photos of me touching it's butt; I should post those pictures. Anyway, sorry. You reminded me of that. Your comment on my blog is the best! Kudos!
By: Robyn Engel on April 10, 2015
PS Ignore the apostrophe in "its", please. I hate when people do that, and I just did.
By: Robyn Engel on April 10, 2015
That's a great story. I wonder what the discussion was at the time the sculpture was finished.
By: red on April 10, 2015
oh hahah Your Mother was obviously focused on the little head not the oversized head. Once again you have given us a great art history lesson...not to mention another peek into your mother's way of thinking.!
By: Kathe W. on April 10, 2015
Once again, you have captivated us with an artistic tale. I wish I could make an educated observation, but my movie-minutia-self says, "Duccio? Wasn't he the best friend in Pretty in Pink?" At least that's keeping my thirteen-year-old self from snickering, "Heh, heh. Not many people had seen Michelangelo's Pieta!"
By: Val on April 10, 2015
"I saw the angel in the marble and I carved till I set it free."
By: Cherdo on April 10, 2015
What an interesting post about an incredible piece of sculptor. Your Mom made me laugh, I can just imagine the scene when you were talking!
By: John on April 11, 2015
I remember, way back, that David had been moved or in repair when we were in Florence; somehow he was not where we thought he'd be. A replica, much smaller, was on view somewhere else(?) and was probably about your Dad's size. No part of him was very impressive. Glad I saw the real David years later. Still not impressed with one part, the rest is heart stoppingly beautiful. JO
By: Jo Barney on April 11, 2015
LOL at your mother! And LOL at Robin Engel's fake Michelangelo and taking pictures of her touching his butt...maybe she should have touched another body part!
By: Pixel Peeper on April 11, 2015
Have you checked out the art history courses offered for free online by Khan Academy? I am currently trying to absorb as much as I can from their computer programming courses.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on April 12, 2015
I remember the first and only time I saw this statue years ago and it does exude health and masculinity and is a very compelling piece I did find the size of the hands distracting, but loved everything else. It size does not convey when you are so close...I will have to pull out my Italy photos again!
By: Tabor on April 12, 2015
Interesting as always, Stephen. The statue was mentioned in an old Burt Reynolds film called "The Man Who Loved Women", where he played the role of a sculptor.
By: Michael Manning on April 12, 2015
This is a fascinating piece of history. Good work Stephen. R
By: Rick watson on April 12, 2015
Genetics are a wondrous thing. And so are your history lessons. Thanks!
By: Mitchell is Moving on April 15, 2015
The reason that David is out of proportion is because it's carved with the viewer's perspective in mind. Michelangelo created the sculpture for the Piazza della Signoria (not il Duomo, although the city may have decided to try and move it there later), and it was to stand where the reproduction stands now. He knew that people were going to be looking up at it from the base in the Piazza. Michelangelo knew that David's head and shoulders would appear small if he carved the statue in proportion to itself. Instead, Michelangelo carved it so that David's head would appear in proportion with the rest of the body when you gaze up from the statue's base -- which is why David's head and shoulders are so large, and, um, other parts are so small. It's not really meant to be displayed as it is in the Accademia in Florence, viewed at a distance as you walk down a hallway -- it's meant to have a large building behind it with other sculptures around and people walking next to it, as the reproduction is in the Piazza della Signoria. And this is mostly likely why your mom thought the statue was smaller than it is.
By: Kevin on August 21, 2016
I dont remember staring at his penis. I saw him a few years ago and managed to go behind get a seat and stared at his gorgeous glutes. Well worth the long wait in summer heat just to see this beautiful sculpture
By: Felicity Pitcher on November 29, 2016

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