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March 31, 2007

Clowns, Drunkards, Germans, Dwarfs, And Other Lewd Things

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Our friends at Pandagon have made me aware of the furor over sculptor Cosimo Cavallaro's "My Sweet Jesus", a 200-pound anatomically correct life-size sculpture of the Lord made entirely out of milk chocolate. (Here's a photo of the sacrilicious work.) Bill Donahue's comment: "This is one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever." Sadly, no one asked Donahue to rank it against Amanda's criticisms of the Church position on contraception or the purported "Anti-Catholic Atrocities" that he criticized years ago -- among them, an ad in which someone was bringing onion dip to communion for wafer-dipping purposes.

At times like this, I'm put in mind of the dialogue between Italian painter Paolo Veronese and his inquisitors in 1573. Veronese had just painted his fifth Last Supper, which you can see here, and had adorned it in unconventional ways. Thanks to the good folk at Veniceblog, I can present you with a partial transcript of the dialogue:

Inquisitors: Do you know why you are brought before us?

Veronese: No my Lords.

Inquisitors: Can you imagine why?

Veronese: I can well imagine why.

Inquisitors: Say what you imagine.

Veronese: On account of what was said to me by ... the Prior of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, for he told me he [had recently appeared before the Inquisitors] and you had instructed him to have the figure of the Magdalen inserted in the place where there is now a dog.

Inquisitors: To which picture do you refer?

Veronese: To a painting of the Last Supper ...

Inquisitors: Where is this painting?

Veronese: In the refectory of the friars of Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

Inquisitors: On this Lord's Supper, did you depict any servants?

Veronese: There is a master of the house, Simon, and below this figure I have also put a steward, and made it look as though he has come for his own entertainment to see how the feast is going. There are many other figures which I cannot recall, for it is a long time since I put up the picture.

Inquisitors:What is the meaning of the man with a bleeding nose?

Veronese: I meant him to be a servant with a nosebleed on account of some mishap.

Inquisitors: What is the meaning of those armed men, dressed in the German style, each with a halberd in his hands?

Veronese: I must say a few words here.

We painters take the same licence as do poets and madmen, and so I made those two halberdiers, one of them drinking and the other eating, next to a blind staircase, and they were put there to be ready to perform some task, for I thought it fitting that the owner of the house (who I was told was a great and rich man) should have such servants.

Inquisitors: And that man dressed as a clown, with a parrot on his fist, for what purpose did you paint him on the canvas?

Veronese: For ornament, as one does.

Inquisitors: Who are at the Lord's table?

Veronese: The 12 apostles.

Inquisitors: [What is the man three seats over from Jesus doing?]

Veronese: Attending to his teeth with a fork.

Inquisitors: Did anyone commission you to paint Germans and clowns and the like?

Veronese: No. My commission was to adorn the picture as I saw fit, for it is large and can include many figures, or so I thought.

Inquisitors: Do you do as your fancy takes you, without any discretion or judgment?

Veronese: No, my lords.

Inquisitors: Do you think it proper to depict clowns, drunkards, Germans, dwarfs and other lewd things at the Lord's Last Supper?

Veronese: No, my lords.

Inquisitors: Then why did you paint them?

Veronese: I did them on the understanding that they are not within the place where the supper is being held.

At the conclusion, the record reads:
Master Paolo should be compelled to correct and amend the picture considered at the session ... within three months ... at his expense, and under threat of penalties to be imposed by the Holy Office. And so they decreed with all due propriety.

March 31, 2007 | Permalink


a 200-pound anatomically correct life-size sculpture of the Lord made entirely out of milk chocolate. ... Bill Donahue's comment: "This is one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities ever."

Ever? More offensive than anything else that Donahue has objected to? Is he offended most especially this time because the artist used non-Lenten milk chocolate instead of a more lent-appropriate dairy-free dark chocolate?

Donahue isn't very smart, and he's a publicity whore. Neil, I'm sure if you just called up the office of his one-man operation, he'd answer the phone and be happy to go on and on about why, exactly, this is the most offensive things he's ever heard of. Then you could give him a list of other things that people have been outraged by and ask him if he finds this more or less offensive than those other things.

Posted by: Constantine | Mar 31, 2007 7:01:24 PM

When you wish to protest the war by marching, hoping to generate publicity to force a change or shout down those who don't agree with your progressive agenda...and you get results....you call it 'democracy'.

So how is this any different?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 31, 2007 7:17:48 PM

Good point Fred. The problem with Donahue is that he yells and screams about non-Lent-appropriate sculpturists but is silent about terrorists who behead people. And isn't that his problem? That he doesn't seem to think that terrorists are that big a deal, but things that one of the biggest threats to Catholicism ever is a chocolate sculpture. Did he not consider a Friday-of-Lent all-meat BBQ held as part of "morality week" to be an offense against catholicism? How about persecution against Christians (including Catholic Christians) in Darfur?

The problem, of course, is that conservatives such as Donahue and D'Souza regard liberals as a greater threat than violent muslim fundamentalists.

Posted by: Constantine | Mar 31, 2007 7:32:10 PM

I'm not sure why a naked chocolate Jesus is offensive especially to the Catholic Church?

Just put a little loincloth around his privates, make him out of wood, and he'd fit in any Catholic Church I know of.

Posted by: anon | Mar 31, 2007 8:37:55 PM

It's called democracy by the left. You like it when it serves your agenda, and you make ridiculous assaults when someone else uses the same tactics.


Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 31, 2007 9:16:33 PM

Fred, you're not making a lick of sense. Not only do you have a penchant for going wildly off-topic to grind your own axes, you're not a very good writer. Of course, the same is true of Donahue.

Donahue seems to consider the chocolate Christ more offensive to Catholicism than gay marriage. After all, he considers it one of the most offensive things ever. No problem-- if people take down the chocolate Christ, Donahue can support gay marriage. It would end up being a net win for Donahue.

Posted by: Constantine | Mar 31, 2007 9:25:53 PM

Did the dialogue between Veronese and his inquisitors catch anyone else off-guard?

I just didn't expect it, is all.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 31, 2007 9:52:22 PM

I hope (and pray, heh) that the comparison of the Veronese to a chocolate "sculpture" bring up questions other than, uh, sacrilege.

If only there were a Veronese around today to inquisitate. Sigh.

Posted by: stevesh | Mar 31, 2007 10:06:20 PM

Well, I've been awaiting an opportunity to post that thing for a while now, and I thought this was it.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 1, 2007 2:48:22 AM

I wish the National Council on Bishops were create there own ADL just so I would never hear from Donohue again.
Is it the chocolate or the anatomically correct part that he objects to? That being said, Marcotte's expose on Catholic pre-marital classes still reflects poorly on her.

I do not think onion dip will make the body of Christ any tastier. Maybe a barbeque or chipotle sauce.

Posted by: transubstati ate | Apr 1, 2007 4:39:28 AM

The problem with Constantwhine and others is that they focus on Donahue as if he is the only one offended. It appears there were many Catholics offended.

From the article:
The gallery's creative director, Matt Semler, said the Lab and the hotel were overrun with angry telephone calls and e-mails. The gallery was considering its options, he said.

"We're obviously surprised by the overwhelming response and offense people have taken," said Semler, adding that the Holy Week timing was a coincidence.

This is one of the problems with the left. They feel justified in offending Christians, but don't you *DARE* offend any of their favored groups! It's somehow different.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 1, 2007 9:38:39 AM

The gallery has been shocked by the offense taken by some to this work of art. The gallery director explained they had no complaints about the similarly anatomically correct chocolate statues of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King displayed during Black History Month. "I thought there might be some controversy at first," the director said, "but everyone agreed they were in good taste."

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 1, 2007 12:12:29 PM

Fred, or anyone else for that matter, can you explain why someone in their right mind should be offended by this? My interpretation of the sculpture is entirely pious. It contrasts the fuzzy, feel good non-Christian nature of what Easter has come to mean in America (the chocolate medium) with the brutal "reality" - I use scare quotes only because I'm not a believer myself - of the crucifixion (the anatomically and historically correct portrayal of a crucified man). The Veronese painting seems far more sacrilegious to me, and that's before we get into the hideous anachronisms.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Apr 1, 2007 12:27:35 PM

Ginger, I don't see why anyone should be any more offended by the anatomically complete chocolate Jesus than the similar King couple.

I think you're reading the Easter link into it, though. The gallery says the timing was a coincidence.

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 1, 2007 1:04:26 PM

i just think it's hilarious that Germans are listed among the "lewd things" in the painting.

Posted by: b.schac | Apr 1, 2007 1:19:55 PM

Regardless of the timing of the show, Easter and crucifixion go hand in hand.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Apr 1, 2007 2:26:11 PM

I think you're reading the Easter link into it, though. The gallery says the timing was a coincidence.

The chocolate angle only makes artistic sense with the Easter timing, though-- given the inevitable appearance of chocolate bunnies for Eastertime.

Donahue's outrage is symptomatic of the fact that it's impossible to ask him to not be outraged at this gallery's work because his salary depends on his being outraged about it. But, really, one of the most offensive thing to Catholics Ever? One wonders why the WaPo didn't confront him over that statement.

What's wrong with these people? Though I guess this is what happens when Catholics reject a Jesuit education because it's supposedly "too liberal" in favor of fundamentalist reasoning methods-- they become stupid.

Posted by: Constantine | Apr 1, 2007 3:53:14 PM

Good Friday and crucifixion do indeed go together. Easter, on the other hand, is about the resurrection. Possibly the artist was commenting on the way Good Friday has been taken over by the Good Friday Panda and the chocolate bamboo shoots that children hunt for. No doubt it was some pious thought, in any case, aided by the pure coincidence of the timing.

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 1, 2007 4:09:51 PM

Sometimes I wish we could send the professional outragers and the professional outragees off to an island to work it out between them and leave the rest of us alone. Of course, sometimes people are unfairly counted as part of the first category, or less often the second, when they're not really.

Posted by: KCinDC | Apr 1, 2007 5:12:43 PM

If Donohue is so worried about anti-Catholicism (a legitamate concern, given the history of this country), why is he making his political bed with fundies who think the Church is the Whore of Babylon? We lefties might say some things that'll cause Donohue to blush and might be against certain public displays of religiosity that breech the wall of separation of church and state by using taxpayer funded resources(*), but we aren't against his right to practice his religion in private/on private/church property or what-not. OTOH, many of the anti-choice zealots with which he, being an anti-choice zealot himself figures he's safe with which to align himself, are against a right of privacy and a wall of separation between Church and State -- and those zealots would be happy to come after the likes of Donohue and what they consider to be the Whore of Babylon once they're finished with us. Hasn't Donohue heard of a famous bit by a feller named Niemoller?

It's kinda like reactionary Jews -- they get upset by the slightest indication of prejudice from the left yet they are totally blind to the people who, in their "support" of Israel, seek to have us all killed at Armeggedon. I understand holding the left to a higher standard -- after all, we're the ones who claim to be un-prejudiced, but what kind of person is deahtly offended by to the point of fearing some moonbats yet is happy to do things that advance the agendas of those who would charge "Papist" priests with high treason and who would have all but a few thousand Jews killed at Armeggeden?

I understand fear of anti-Catholicism: but being so afraid of it you end up supporting the most anti-Catholic elements of our body politic? Now that just don't make sense.

* and if Donohue has a right not to be offended by anti-Catholic things, don't I, as a Jew, have a right not to be offended by symbols linked to holidays (e.g. Christmas) which were, at one point, mainly celebrated by killing Jews?

Posted by: DAS | Apr 1, 2007 6:05:13 PM

Where is the outrage at the director of the museum?

Why aren't the left holding him accountable. He could have continued the show. There was no law being broken. Nope, you hold him harmless and blame the Catholics solely.


Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 1, 2007 7:21:36 PM

And what did Veronese do after the discussion with the Inquisition? NOTHING. He simply changed the title from "The Last Supper" to "The Feast of Levi."

Posted by: philgoblue | Apr 2, 2007 12:06:36 AM

Possibly, Fred, because we're reluctant to tell people what they can and cannot do in the face of death threats, especially ones given veiled support on national TV. You really are an ass, sometimes. Nobody's blaming "the Catholics". They/We are blaming Donohue and the people who followed his lead and threatened the artist and the gallery.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Apr 2, 2007 2:25:30 AM

Nobody's blaming "the Catholics". They/We are blaming Donohue and the people who followed his lead and threatened the artist and the gallery.

Mmmm...those would be the Catholics.

I really enjoyed the comment comparing MLK to Christ and wondering why no outrage there. Speaking of asses.....

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 2, 2007 8:40:00 AM

I fail to see how Fred's assumption that *people making death threats* are Catholic is not...uh..demonstrating a serious hatred of Catholics. I can't think of any catholic aquaintance who would call up and make anonymous, or even personal, death threats to another person under any circumstances--let alone in defence of non-chocolate representations of jesus. What happened to "turn the other cheek" which jesus himself espoused?

I also don't get fred's point about MLK and jesus. I thought fred's point was that we *should* be outraged about a chocolate mlk because mlk, like jesus, is iconic for some people and we shouldn't offend people's ideas of their icons. Its not outrageous to compare *any* person to jesus except to those darn trinitarians who insist on the divinity of jesus--there are plenty of christians who aren't sure about his full divinity but are sure of his humanity, and there are, of course, plenty of us who don't care at all about his divinity and are not interested in a particular sect's blasphemy laws or outrage-o-meters.


Posted by: aimai | Apr 2, 2007 11:23:18 AM

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