It started with a piece of marble. Not a bright, webbed, polished orb- just a vein of dusky marble buried in the roots of the cliffs outside of Florence. Eventually the vein was tapped, picked, and the chunks of it carted by miners out of the hills and into Florence. The pieces were fired and buffed in the workshops of the city’s stoneworkers, then distributed throughout the country.
The pieces would all become famous sculptures; Schiavonni’s “The Arachnid”, which suffered two broken-off limbs as it was dropped by movers in Paris and then renamed “The Insect” in 1799. The “Madonna of Bruges”, stolen by the Nazis and rescued by George Clooney in 1945. The statue of David, which would meet its fate via flash photography in 2022, as one shocked tourist forgot to change his camera setting and accidentally flashed the statue to pieces.
But one work never saw the worldwide fame of the others. It was shipped to a dying sculptor in Verona in 1402, where it was fashioned after a prominent citizen of the city. Hour by hour, the block of stone was slowly transformed into a flawless bust of an emotionless man. Upon finishing the sculpture, the artist managed to inscribe in its base, “Dedicated to Lord…” before he dropped dead of Renaissance Disease, a malady consisting of starvation and broken-heartedness.
Three months later, the artist’s landlord came round to the apartment, responding to other tenants’ complaints of “a sinful reek” on the third floor and also wondering why he hadn’t been paid rent in ages. It was dark and stuffy as he entered the apartment, groping blindly along the walls in the palpable, fetid odor. He stumbled over something in the dark, a loose rug maybe, and only just caught himself by grasping a hard object in front of him. He stood, running his hands over the object. He felt eye sockets, a clammy nose, cold lips. Wild panic seized him for a moment before he realized he was holding a bust of a head. An idea popped into his head as he thought he could take the sculpture as rent payment. Whistling, he strode back out of the apartment, again tripping over something on the floor as he left.
He sold it in Verona’s market to a merchant who immediately displayed it for twice the price. Before long, a voice in the crowd called out, “Oh, darling look! This looks just like you!”
At the same time, another voice from elsewhere in the market exclaimed, “Why, husband, I think that sculpture might be of you!”
Two women emerged from the crowd, rushing toward the merchant’s stand. One was tall, beautiful, and olive-complexioned… and also severely pregnant. The other was stout and matronly, but her only baby was a cannoli at every meal. Their husbands came beside them. The first was a lord of the city and head of the Montague household. His eyes were drilling and his words powerful. The second man was also a lord and patriarch of the Capulet family. He was known far abroad. For his temper.
They tried arguing with each other for the sculpture, they tried bribery, haggling, reverse psychology, inverse psychology, but both couples were recalcitrant. A few grabs were made for the bust, but the merchant hugged it to his chest with a gleeful grin as the proud couples’ offers went up. Finally, the bidders challenged each other to a couples’ duel, a fight to the death in which all spouses participated. Holding her jiggling baby bump with one hand, and throwing haymakers with the other like it was 1399, Lady Montague socked the Lady Capulet in the chin, dropping her like an under-stuffed doll.
The husbands both had their fists out like they were holding invisible snakes, making a few tentative punches now and then. “Hit ‘im, Gary!” Lady Montague yelled to her husband as she throttled Lady Capulet. Lord Montague tried, but he hurt his knuckles on Capulet’s jaw. Lord Capulet responded with the dreaded backhanded slap.
Before the duel could progress any further, the young Prince of Verona rushed to the fight and shouted, “Halt! I just decided that citizens aren’t actually allowed to kill other people!”
“But we’re winning!” Shouted Lady Montague.
“No you’re not! We’re winning!” Lady Capulet yelled from beneath the baby bump.
“If you don’t stop, I’m throwing all four of you into the dungeons!” replied the Prince.
The couples grudgingly relented, and the Capulets rose and fled, smashing the bust from the merchant’s arms as they ran. It cracked into fist-sized chunks as it hit the ground. “I’ll get you for that!” Lord Montague shouted. “I always get my man!”
And this is how the feud between the two most influential families of Verona really started.
Week II, Group III