L’oggetto che Parla (The Object That Speaks)
The cool dark interior of the antique shop is a welcome respite from the summer sun. As the door closes behind me an insistent voice whispers inside my head, ‘Come to me, I want to tell you a story.’ I turn around, expecting someone behind me. No one. I dismiss it as my overactive imagination.
The shop, housed in an old building, is cavernous and every sound carries throughout. I hear voices from several aisles over.
Strolling through the aisles, I stop from time to time in some of the rooms to look at an unusual item. I am attracted to the uncommon religious icon, the bizarre shrunken head, the extraordinary example of an African beetle under glass.
Halfway through, I turn the corner to the next aisle and there is the voice again but much more insistent. ‘Come to me, I want to tell you a story.’
I stop in my tracks, listening, asking my senses to guide me.
Sitting on a rickety and worn table in the back of a dusty room is a small court jester figurine with a monkey at his feet. Standing 10″ high, coated in a bronze finish, he has a look of beseeching curiosity on his masked face. I am intrigued as he seems out-of-place;out of time. He doesn’t belong among these country quilts, cast iron skillets, and butter churns.
“Yes, I am the one who called you. Come closer.”
Shaken, I turn to walk away.
“Wait. Please. I have a story to tell you. You claim to be a writer, yes?”
“How I know is not important right now. But you are going to want to hear my story.”
I pick him up and he is heavy;the weight of him is warm, comfortable, somehow familiar in my hands. I turn him over, look for markings. 2007 Veronese on the back of the piece with Veronese imprinted on the black velvet covering the bottom. At that precise moment, a man who works in the shop asks if he can take it to the front for me. Reluctant to loosen my grip on him, I finally allow the man to take him. “Yes, please. My name is Linda.”
I continue wandering through the store, paying no attention to my surroundings. My thoughts, racing with explanations, searching for plausible answers. Did that actually happen? A figurine in the guise of a court jester spoke to me?
Once home, I gingerly unwrap him, and place him on my desk.
He enters my head once again in his whispering voice. “You wear a cross.”
“Yes, yes, I wear a couple of them. They are comforting, I like to touch them throughout the day and say a prayer. “
“I do. I know there is good and evil in the world and a higher presence who helps to guide us along our way. Which are you?”
Ignoring my question, he says “Aah, I see. Are you familiar with the Italian artist Paolo Veronese?”
“I have heard the name but other than that, no. I see the name Veronese is printed on the bottom of you, a supposed lifeless figurine that is now speaking to me. “
“He is an important part of my story. Would you like to hear it?”
“First, I need to know. Do you believe in God?” I cannot believe I am asking an inanimate object if it believes in God. I must be crazy.
I hesitate, but then “Very well”.
The figurine that speaks begins.
“The European Renaissance was a period of great cultural change and achievement that began in Italy during the 14th century and lasted until the 16th century. Its roots started in Tuscany and centered in the city of Florence. It later spread to Venice where the remains of ancient Greek culture were brought together, providing humanist scholars with new texts. Quite a few talented artists became well-known in their own right. Renaissance artists and architects applied many humanist theories to their work. One such artist was Paolo Veronese. Veronese created a unique line of large-scale pieces of art. Each were lavishly detailed altar paintings of biblical scenes in which Christ sits down to a meal. It did not matter to Veronese which meal he portrayed as long as he had the opportunity to create a scene filled with diverse subjects.
One such painting , gigantic at 17′ tall x roughly 39′ wide was at first titled, The Last Supper. The scene, containing Jesus, the Twelve Apostles, Blackamoors, a man picking his teeth with a fork, dogs, cats, a man whose nose was bleeding, a dwarf jester with a parrot on his shoulder, as well as German Guards armed with halberds, caught the attention of the Inquisition
. At the time, the Catholic Bureau of Investigation was in charge of subduing heresy in any form. They summoned Veronese to appear before them on July 18, 1573.
The inquisitors asked many questions, and demanded to know why he had trivialized an event that was fundamental to the Christian faith. If Veronese was found guilty of heresy, it was a crime punishable by death.
Among the various requests, they asked that he replace the dog with Mary Magdalene. Veronese refused to do so, stating he did not think it would be good for the composition of the painting.”
I hold up my hand. “As I see it, this is all immensely interesting, but I am guessing the story has been told many times. Why are you telling me this?”
“Please, you will understand in due time.”
He pauses, continues. “The tribunal demanded that he repaint the offending parts of the scene within three months. Once the trial was over, Veronese devised an alternate plan: he renamed the painting The Feast in the House of Levi, which appeased the tribunal because they ceased their pursuit. He was never questioned by them again.
He paused. “I know why Veronese put all the subjects that he did in the painting. What Veronese failed to divulge to the members of the Inquisition during questioning was that Jesus himself had come to him in a dream and told him what he wanted depicted. Had he done so, he would have been sentenced to death.”
Wide eyed, I ask “And how do you know Jesus came to him?”
“Because I am the soul of the dwarf jester with the parrot on my shoulder which he depicted in what is now known as The Feast in the House of Levi
He peers at me searching my face; trying to decide whether or not to go on.
“When I was a child I was kidnapped, and fed a combination of dwarf elder, knotgrass, daisy juice and roots mixed with milk to stunt my growth. I was turned into an ‘artificial dwarf’ and sold as a court jester. Keeping dwarfs and others with abnormalities at the courts was viewed as a way to contain their magical capacity for evil. It was believed that the touch of a dwarf could cure and fend off illness.
I missed my true family and refused to forget them. I used my quick wit and humor to cloak my sorrow. In truth, I was defeated.
Veronese noticed me at one of the lavish dinners he attended in Venice where he lived. He saw through me and how I portrayed myself; treated me with kindness.
He asked me to be a model for him. He had been commissioned to do a very large painting depicting Jesus and his disciples at their last supper. Would I consent to be a part of the feast goers? Shocked, I agreed.
I was very aware of Jesus, as I was a believer that he was indeed the Son of God sent to redeem us all. I prayed to him every night to be returned to my family. I was honored to be in his presence, if only in a painting. During the course of the sittings, I confided to Veronese my fervent hope to someday be reunited with my family.
Veronese in turn, confided in me that it was Jesus himself who told him to make me a part of the painting. I asked him, ‘But why?’
Veronese replied, “Jesus loves all beings, regardless of their place in life. He particularly loves those who have suffered. And because you have suffered, he has requested I put you in a place of prominence in the painting. You will not only be remembered for the controversy this caused, but also for other important reasons that in time you will understand. He wants you to know he will answer your prayers. You and your family will once again be together.
It may not be exactly when you want or in the way you hope for or expect but yes, it will happen. He has given you his word.”
Staring at my court jester I tentatively ask, “And were you ever reunited with your family?”
“No. At least not until today when you walked into the antique shop and heard my voice.”
Linda Lee Lyberg