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Chapter Title: The Fat Woodworker
Book Title: The Fat Woodworker
Book Author(s): Antonio Manetti
Published by: Italica Press, Inc.
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1t6p879.5
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Italica Press, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Fat
Woodworker
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The Fat Woodworker
THE CITY OF FLORENCE has had some very
pleasant and amusing fellows in times past, and this is
especially true of recent times as, when in the year 1409,
a certain group of honorable men found themselves
together one night at dinner. This was a group composed
of men dedicated to the public life: some were master
artisans and craftsmen, some were painters, some were
goldsmiths, some were sculptors, some woodworkers
and other types of artisans. They gathered together at
the home of Tomaso Pecori, a very pleasant and upright
man of intellec. He was drawn to their intelligence and
skill and took great pleasure in their company.
Once they had dined cheerfully, they sat together
here and there in small groups near the fire, because
it was winter, and they discussed various and pleasant
things and conferred among themselves upon the highest
aspects of their arts and professions. While they were
chatting together one of them asked, “Why is it that
Manetto the woodworker is not here tonight?” Since he
had only one name, Manetto was often called the “Fat
One.” It became clear from what was said that some of
the group had seen Manetto but, for whatever reason,
none had been able to bring him along.
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Antonio Manetti
The woodworker had his workshop near Piazza di San
Giovanni and was at the time one of the best masters of
his art in Florence. Among other things he was famous
for making devotional tables, altar tables, and other such
things that not just any woodcarver could make. He
was a wonderful person, as were most fat men. He was
about twenty-eight years of age, and he was large and
robust; and for this reason he came to be known by one
and all as the “Fat One.”
He was actually a bit simple, but he wasn’t so very
simple that anyone other than a very shrewd person
would perceive his simplicity. Manetto the Fat was
always in the habit of being with this group, and the
reason for his absence that night became a subjec
of great speculation. But, not finding a reason, they
concluded that nothing other than some sort of caprice
on his part would have prevented him from coming.
Because they felt a little bit scorned by him – since
almost all of them were of better position and quality
than he was – they merrily contemplated how they might
avenge this injury. The person who spoke first said, “If
only we could play a joke on him and make it discreet
enough so that it could be saved for a second time.”
One of the others responded, “If only we could play a
trick on him so that he would pay for our dinner without
being here himself!”
Among the fellows of the group was Filippo di Ser
Brunellesco, a man of marvelous genius and intellec, as
most people already knew. He was at that time about
thirty-two years old, and he was on familiar terms with
Manetto and knew him well and fondly and sometimes
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The Fat Woodworker
discreetly asked favors of him. Considering this, Filippo
was somewhat upset and said, “I would give my heart
if we could play a nice joke for our revenge on the one
who did not attend tonight, on the condition that it
will give us great pleasure and amusement. If you do
not believe that we can do this successfully, I will give
you my heart. This is what I think: We can make him
believe that he has become another person, and that
he is no longer Manetto the Fat.” He said this with a
certain sardonic grin that demonstrated his great selfconfidence. Once again the group recognized Filippo to
be a great genius – how sad is the blind man who cannot
see the sun – and knew he would devote his brilliance to
this prank, since he made those things that he labored
at turn out so intelligently.
However, it happened that not everyone in the group
knew of Manetto’s simplicity, and those people judged
the prank to be totally impossible. But, as someone
who is very capable, Filippo exposed his subtle and
cautious reasonings and with an elaborate discussion he
convinced them that the plot could succeed. While in
agreement that the plan would have to be kept secret,
they concluded with great amusement that the vendetta
would be carried out. Manetto the Fat would be
convinced that he had become someone called Matteo,
whom both they and Manetto knew, but he was not
one of those intimates who gathered together to dine
with one another. They made this agreement with the
greatest laugh in the world and felt so much better and
so happy that some of them broke into song.
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Antonio Manetti
1
THE HERO OF THIS PLEASANT STORY would
not wait. Rather, on the following night, Filippo – who
knew the Fat One as well as himself – went to Manetto’s
shop at the hour of dusk, when it was usual to lock up
all the shops for this type of work. (As a friend, Manetto
confided everything in Filippo, otherwise Filippo would
not have been able to do what he planned.) There he
met Manetto, where he had found him a thousand
other times at that hour. They were in the middle of
dis-cussing something when, as planned, a small boy
arrived.
The boy, appearing very distressed, asked, “Are you
here, Filippo di Ser Brunellesco?”
At this, Filippo stepped in front of the boy and said,
“Yes, here I am. What do you want?”
The boy responded, “If you are who you say you are,
go to your house at once.”
Filippo said, “God help me! What has happened?”
The boy answered, “I was sent to find you, and the
reason is that two hours ago your mother had a serious
accident, and she is nearly dead. This is why you must
go to her at once.”
Filippo expressed great disbelief when he heard this,
recommended himself to God once again, and grabbed
hold of Manetto. As one would speak to a friend
Manetto said, “I want to go with you in case you need me
to do something or other. These are not circumstances
in which one wants to leave a person alone. I want to
lock up the shop and go with you.”
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The Fat Woodworker
Filippo in gratitude said, “I don’t want you to come
right now. We cannot be certain that this thing is very
important. But if I should need anything, I will let you
know. Wait for me in your shop for a little while and
don’t leave for any reason. Then, if I don’t send any
message after a while, go on your way.”
Filippo left, leaving the Fat One at the shop and,
pretending to go to his own house, he went secretly to the
Fat One’s house, which was near Santa Maria del Fiore.
Filippo expertly opened the lock with a knife – as one
who knows how – entered the house and locked himself
in, bolting the door shut so that no one else could enter.
Now, the Fat One had a mother, but she was away in a
villa in Polverosa for several days to do laundry, and to
salt meat, and to do many other things that the Fat One
needed. From time to time she would return, as the Fat
One thought necessary, and enter the house using a knife.
This was the reason the door was left as it was – so it could
be opened with a knife – and Filippo knew iT.
Manetto worked a little bit in his shop, and then more
deliberately to satisfy his promise to Filippo, he paced back
and forth many times inside the shop, and after a while he
said, “Things must not have gone badly with Filippo, and
he doesn’t need me.” With these words he locked his shop,
started toward his house, and arrived at its entrance.
The entrance to Manetto’s house has two great
staircases. Manetto climbed the stairs and tried to open
the door in his usual way but, after trying several times,
he was unable to open it. He realized that the door was
locked from inside, and, pounding hard on the door, he
shouted, “Who’s in there? Open up.” He guessed that
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Antonio Manetti
his mother had returned and locked the door for some
precaution, and she didn’t hear the knocking.
Meanwhile, Filippo placed himself at the head of
the stairs, and mimicking the shouts of the Fat One
– whom he wanted to imitate completely – shouted,
“Who’s out there?”
Manetto recognized that the person inside was someone other than his mother and said, “I am Manetto the
Fat.”
To this Filippo pretended that the one he heard was
that Matteo whom they wanted Manetto to believe he
had become. Filippo said, “Beh! Matteo, go on. I have
had a mountain of troubles today. Not long ago, Filippo
di Ser Brunellesco was at my shop. He had come to tell
me how his mother, a few hours before, was in danger
of death. That is why I have had a bad night.” Filippo
turned around and, pretending to speak to his mother,
said, “Do as I say. In two days you’ll have to return and
return at night as well.” And with a good many words
he scolded his mother.
Manetto listened to the person in the house scold his
mother like this, and that person seemed to him to have
not only his – Manetto’s – own voice but all his habits;
and he said, “What can I say to this? It seems to me
that whoever is in there is me. He said that Filippo was
in his shop as he was with me, and as with me he had
come to say that his mother was ill. And besides that, he
shouts like a youth and has my way of speaking. Could
I be so absent minded…?”
He went down the two large staircases and turned
around to call up to the windows when, as planned,
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The Fat Woodworker
Donatello the sculptor – whose greatness is well-known
to all – arrived. Donatello was among the group at
dinner and was Manetto’s friend. Arriving like this at
dusk, he said, “Good evening Matteo. Are you looking
for Manetto the Fat? He has only been home for a little
while. He didn’t stop to greet anyone but just dragged
himself home.”
The Fat One was astonished to hear these things. He
was even more astonished than ever to hear Donatello
call him Matteo. He was overcome with confusion, and
he tensed and turned to face Piazza di San Giovanni,
thinking, “I have been here many times before, so I should
meet someone who knows me and can tell me who I am.”
He continued, “Alas! Unhappy me! Could I ever have
been such a simpleton that I could so quickly be turned
into someone else without my ever knowing it?”
While Manetto was in the piazza, six agents of the
office of the Mercatánzia gathered in the distance as
planned. Among the agents was a messenger and a
man who pretended to be a creditor of Matteo, whom
the Fat One had begun to believe himself to be. They
accosted the Fat One, and the one who pretended to be
the creditor said, “Wait. This is my debtor. He knows
that I have been searching for him and that now I have
finally picked him out.”
The soldiers took hold of Manetto and began to lead
him away. The Fat One turned to the one who had
ordered him arrested, planted his feet and said, “What
have I done to you that you are having me arrested?
What have I gotten myself into? You have taken me by
mistake… I am not who you think I am. And you do me
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Antonio Manetti
a great villainy to disgrace me like this, since I have done
nothing to you! I am Manetto the Fat, the woodworker,
and I am not Matteo, and I do not know this Matteo
of whom you speak.”
He wanted to strike out at them since he was large
and strong, but they quickly grabbed his arms while the
creditor stood in front of him and said, “What do you
mean you don’t know me and you have nothing to do
with me? What! Don’t I know my debtors? And who
is this Manetto the Fat, the woodworker? I have you
written in my book of debtors, and it is a good thing
that I hadn’t sentenced you a year ago or more. What
do you mean, you have nothing to do with me? And
you also say that you are not Matteo. The rogue! Take
him away! This time you will have to meet payments
before you’re let go. We will see what name you will be
called then.”
And so, quarreling among themselves, they led him to
prison. And because it was half an hour before eight o’clock
and suppertime, and because it was dark already, they didn’t
meet anyone on their way who would know him.
When they arrived the notary stopped to write the
name of Matteo in the book of the debtors’ prison. The
notary put Manetto into prison and went oV to tell
Tomaso Pecori of all that had happened, since Tomaso
and the notary were close friends.
The other prisoners who were there heard the uproar
when Manetto arrived and heard him called Matteo.
Therefore, they welcomed him many times as Matteo,
and they called him by this name, which they overheard,
as they would often do without asking any further. By
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The Fat Woodworker
chance there was no one there in the prison who knew
him, at least by sight. And because he was called
Matteo by all of them, he became almost certain that
he appeared to be another person.
When he was asked why he was being held, he said, “I
have to give a great deal of money to someone, so I am
here. But I will get out very early tomorrow morning.”
One of the prisoners said, “You see, we are having
dinner. Dine with us, and then tomorrow morning
you will be free. But we are warning you well that one
always stays here a bit longer than one would otherwise
believe. Give thanks to God so that no one will interfere
with your release.”
The Fat One accepted his invitation to dine in
this dirty hovel and ate some of the scraps that one of
the prisoners gave him. One of them said, “Matteo,
make yourself as comfortable as you can tonight, and
tomorrow morning, if you get out, well done. But if
not, send for some clothes from your home.”
The Fat One thanked him and prepared to go to sleep
as best he could. Meanwhile, once he had accomplished
his task at the prison, the young man who played the
role of the creditor went oV to meet with Filippo di Ser
Brunellesco to tell him every detail of the tribulation of
the Fat One and of his arresT.
The Fat One settled into a corner of his cell and began
to worry, saying to no one in particular, “What must I do
if I’ve become Matteo? It seems to be certain now, since
there could never be so many signs as I have seen, all of
them agreeing that I am Matteo, and it not be true. But
what Matteo is this? And if I happen to send home to
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Antonio Manetti
my mother for clothes and the Fat One is there in the
house, what would they think of it? If it is true, they
will make a joke of me.”
The Fat One was left with these thoughts, affirming
himself first to be Matteo, and then Manetto, until the
morning. He got almost no sleep, but only naps whose
dreams tormented him with all their controversies. He
got up like the others and stood at the small window
of the prison exit, hoping to happen by chance upon
someone who knew him and who might help him
escape from the torment that he had begun to feel that
nighT.
Giovanni di Messer Francesco Rucellai entered the
Mercatánzia at that time. He was part of that company
at dinner and was part of the pleasant conspiracy. He
knew the Fat One well and, in fac, Manetto was making
a devotional table to Our Lady for him at that time; he
spoke with Manetto the day before for a long time at his
shop to urge Manetto to finish. Manetto had promised
to give him the finished devotional table in four days.
This fellow arrived at the Mercatánzia and stepped
up to the prison window, which was then on the first
floor, where the Fat One stood.
Manetto saw Giovanni and watched him with
a knowing and familiar smile. Giovanni saw his
expression, and looking at him as if he had never seen
him before, because he did not know Matteo, said,
“What are you smiling about, friend?”
The Fat One answered, “No… about nothing.”
Seeing that Giovanni didn’t recognize him, he asked,
“Good man, do you know of a man who is known as the
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The Fat Woodworker
Fat One, who works as a woodworker around the corner
from Piazza di San Giovanni? Tell me.”
Giovanni said, “Of course! Yes, I know him very well.
He is a good friend of mine, and soon I will go to him
to pick up a little bit of work that he has done for me.
Has he put you here in your cell?”
The Fat One said, “No, Holy Mary!” And then,
“Forgive me, but I must ask something of you in
confidence. For pity’s sake do me a favor since you have
to go to him for other reasons anyway. For pity’s sake
tell him that one of his friends is being held in the prison
at the Mercatánzia and says that he would like to have a
word with him, if he could pass by for a minute.”
Giovanni, looking him in the eye and restraining
his urge to laugh with great effort said, “Who are you
that I should say sent for him?” (He asked this so that
Manetto would confess to being Matteo and to add more
weariness to his problems.)
The Fat One said, “Never mind. It is enough for you
to tell him this.”
Giovanni said, “I will do it with pleasure, if you think
it suffices.”
Giovanni left and found Filippo, informing him, with
great laughter, of everything.
The Fat One stayed by the window of the prison
saying to himself, “Now at last I can be certain that I am
no longer the Fat One. Oh! Giovanni Rucellai didn’t
even raise his eyes to me. He didn’t know me as the one
who is at the workshop at every hour, and he doesn’t
forget people either! I am no longer the Fat One, this is
certain, and I have become Matteo. What I am told is my
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Antonio Manetti
destiny and my disgrace. What if this fac was betrayed?
I would be reviled and considered crazy, and children
would run away from me. I will have to endure many
perils. Besides this, what will I do with the debts of
someone else, and what of the intrigues and of the
thousand other errors that I have always watched out
for and that could put me in danger? Besides this, one
cannot discuss this thing with anyone else; one cannot
take counsel on this! And God only knows that I need it!
I am troubled in every way. We will see if the Fat One
comes, and if he does I will understand, perhaps, what
this all means. Could it be that he has become me?”
And so, he waited a good long time with great hope
for the Fat One to arrive. And when he did not come,
Manetto moved back from the window to give space to
someone else. He looked now at the floor and at the
cell walls, the fingers of his hands in knots.
It was on that day in this prison that a judge was
detained for a debt. He was a very skilled man who was
famous for his writing and learning, and for this reason
his name will be kept secret. Because of this fellow’s high
position he didn’t know the Fat One, but when he saw
Manetto so melancholy and with an air of such great sadness, he then wanted to know him. The judge thought
the Fat One was in such a state because of a debt of a
grave nature, such as had fixed his own case. He didn’t
want him to worry so, and since he would leave there
soon he tried to comfort the Fat One for charity’s sake (as
he did every so often) by saying, “Listen! Matteo, you are
so melancholy, it is as if you might soon die or you are in
danger of some great disgrace. Don’t worry any more.
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The Fat Woodworker
According to what you say, this is a small debt. One
shouldn’t be so discouraged by one’s fortunes. Why
haven’t you sent for some friend or relative? Have you
no one? Ah, try to pay your debt or make an agreement
in some way so that you can leave prison, and don’t give
yourself to such sadness.”
Finding himself comforted with such courtesy and
such kind words, he didn’t tell the judge that he had,
perhaps, become someone else.
“And why is it that you don’t want to tend to your
business?”
The Fat One, knowing the judge to be a good man,
decided to speak with him while he was still there and,
with every reverence to the judge, to entirely open his
case to him for his intervention.
So, turning to him from one corner of the prison
cell, the Fat One said to him, “Sir, I know that you don’t
know me, but I know you well, and I know that you are
a valiant man. The kindness you have shown me and
the benevolence that is your custom gives me reason, as I
have decided, to tell you what makes me so melancholy.
I don’t want you or anyone else to believe that I would
be so sad over such a small debt, because even without
this debt I would still be a poor artisan with much grief.
Rather, it is for another reason that I am like this, and it
is something that, in truth, has great importance to me.
It is, perhaps, something that has never before happened
to anyone in the world.”
Hearing this, the judge was quite astonished. He sat
up straight to listen with great attention.
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Antonio Manetti
The Fat One started from the beginning and toward
the end of telling what he had endured with great fatigue,
he tried to conceal his tears. He pleaded with the judge
to tell him specifically two things. First, he asked how
a person such as himself could ever speak for his own
honor. Second, he asked the judge if he could offer any
counsel or remedy.
He said, “Sir! I know that you have read widely of
many things and many stories of the ancients and of the
present and of men that have written upon facts and
events. Have you ever come across a similar thing?”
When the valiant man heard this fellow, he quickly
considered the situation and imagined that it was due to
one of two possible causes. This fellow had either lost
his senses because of some great melancholy or because
of his present debt (as might a man of little spirit), or
that truly this fat man was playing a joke upon him.
In order to understand better, the judge responded
that he had read much about it, that is, about being
changed from one person into another and that it was
not a new thing. “Not only that, worse things have
happened. There were those who were changed into
brute animals, like Apuleius who became an ass, and
Actaeon who became a stag. One can read of many
others that I do not recall right now.” He said this as
one who was trying to get himself out of trouble, because
he was speaking off the cuV.
At this the Fat One said, “Oh! I would never have
believed this. But you have given me faith that this is the
truth, because everything you say is the truth.” Then he
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The Fat Woodworker
added, “Now tell me. If I who was the Fat One am
changed into Matteo, what has become of him?”
The judge responded, “He has changed into the Fat
One. This is a reciprocal case. It is like a pair of shoes.
From what I have read and from what I have seen here,
it is quite amazing. I suppose you want me to visit this
fellow for a bit?”
“This really is something to laugh about so long as
you are not in the middle of it, as I certainly am!” said
the Fat One.
“Exactly,” answered the judge. “These are great
misfortunes, and may God watch over every man. We
are all under this threat. I had a worker to whom this
same thing just happened.”
The Fat One sighed heavily, and he didn’t know what
more he could say.
The judge added, “One can read of similar things with
the companions of Ulysses and with the other transmutants of Circe. It is the truth, from all that I have heard
and read. If I remember well, some of them have just
returned. But, occasionally it happens that the event
lasts longer, if indeed it ever resolves itself at all.” He
said this to put the Fat One into more confusion.
The Fat One was amazed to hear this. By this time it
was almost nine o’clock and he hadn’t yet eaten. The two
brothers of this Matteo now came to the Mercatánzia
They asked the notary at the desk if one of their brothers
who was named Matteo was being held there, and for
how much he was being held, because they wanted to
release him from prison.
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Antonio Manetti
The notary said, “Yes,” and pretended to search for
his name in his book. After many turns of the pages he
said, “It is for a lot.” And he told them the name of the
person who made the petition.
“It is too much,” one of them said. Then they said,
“We wish to speak with him for a little while,” and after
that they said they would give the order to pay for him.
At the prison they spoke to one of the prisoners who
was near the bars: “Go over there and tell Matteo that his
two brothers are here and that he should come over here
and speak with them for a minute.”
When the brothers looked into the cell they recognized
the judge who, by chance, had been speaking with the
Fat One, and they knew him very well.
The Fat One was made very sad and troubled by
what the judge had told him, and he asked him what
had happened to his worker. Hearing that he had never
returned, the Fat One, redoubled in his worries, went to
the bars to greet the two men.
The elder of the two brothers, always looking Manetto
directly in the eyes, began by saying, “You have such fine
habits, Matteo. You know how many times we have had
to deal with your bad ways and how many times we have
had to free you from this prison and from others. It is
no use to say anything to you, since you always seem to
manage to do worse. How we are always in good enough
condition to help you, God knows better than man, since
you have consumed nearly a fortune. And when will you
see little enough value in a thing that you will not spend
money on it? Rather, you have thrown money away and
wasted it. It goes without saying that everyone can make
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The Fat Woodworker
a joke of you for their amusement. Haven’t you halfrobbed us? We suffer the pain and also the shame that
you don’t fear at all. Rather, you do everything in your
power to shame your companions. And what do you
say when you try to justify your behavior? ‘You mistake
me for another.’ Are you a child? Are you not by now
far even from being a youth? But you should be certain
of this: if it wasn’t for our honor and for the sake of our
mother, who is old and sickly and full of sorrow because
of you, we would not even think of helping you this time
because of all the things you have done to us. But we
declare openly this time and for always, that if you ever
stumble again, it will be for you to resolve by yourself,
and it will be a good deal more trouble than you will
ever want to handle. Let this be enough for now.” But,
being a little besides himself, he added, “So as not to
be seen doing these things every day, we will come for
you this evening when the Ave Maria rings and when
there will be fewer people about, so that not everyone
will have to know our miseries and so we won’t have too
much shame because of your deeds.”
The Fat One exchanged a good many words with
them. Because they paid his debt and since they both
looked him straight in the eye – and it wasn’t dark there
– it seemed to him, almost without a single doubt, that
he had become Matteo.
These brothers said that, for certain, they would no
longer have any part in his mistaken ways and that he
should never again behave in the manner he had up until
then. They also said that if he ever again made similar
errors, he would make a joke of himself and of their
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Antonio Manetti
mother. He strove in every way to convince them that
he was Matteo, praying to God that, when the hour
approached, they would come for him as they said they
would.
The brothers left, and the Fat One turned around
and said to the judge, “As if things are not bad enough
already, two brothers of Matteo, of this Matteo whom
I’ve become, came here to see me. What can I say?” he
asked, looking the judge in the eye. “They have spoken
with me face to face and in the light so that they could
see if I were someone other than Matteo. After a long
admonition they told me that they will come for me at
the hour of the Ave Maria and release me from prison.”
He added, “Until today I would never have believed the
things you have told me, but now they are clear to me.”
Then he said, “So, that worker of yours never returned
to who he was before?”
“Never, the poor little man,” said the judge.
The Fat One let go of a sigh, and then another one,
and then said, “Once I am taken out of here, where
will I go and where will I return to? My house will not
be mine to return to, but which is my house? This is a
fine thing. Listen to me,” he said, staring at the judge.
“If it is the Fat One, whom I am certain I heard with
these ears, what can I say that I will not be considered
mad or bird-brained? Oh, you know well enough that
I will go to that house as if it were mine. By chance the
Fat One will be there, and he will say, ‘Is he crazy?’ If
he isn’t there, but returns later to find me there, what
will happen then? Who will remain there and who will
have to go?”
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The Fat Woodworker
Then the Fat One added, “Oh, you know well that
if it were not for this my mother would have done anything in the world to search me out and find me even
if I were among the stars. But losing and coming back
to oneself, this thing is not well known.”
The judge held his laughter with great effort and had
inestimable pleasure from this. He said, “Don’t go there
to your mother, but go with these two who say they are
your brothers and see where they lead you and what they
do with you. What could you lose in this? First of all,
they will pay for you.”
“This is the truth,” said the Fat One.
The judge continued, “And you will leave prison
and have yourself two brothers without a doubt. Who
knows, maybe you will do better? Perhaps they are
richer than you.”
While they spoke of these things it began to get late,
and to the judge it seemed like he had to wait a thousand
years before he could hurry away from there to laugh,
until he couldn’t, in any way, wait any longer. Those
who pretended to be the brothers of the Fat One were
there about in the Mercatánzia always laughing and
waiting for it to be time to release him. They saw the
case of the judge dispatched, and they saw him leave
with dignity, straight-lipped and restrained – trying, as
he was, not to burst out in laughter at the Fat One – so
that it appeared that he had come to speak with another
judge as he had done at other times for clients in legal
suits. In this manner they saw him leave.
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Antonio Manetti
The brothers, acting as if they had done this many
times before, met with the notary and pretended to have
reconciled accounts with the creditor and the cashier.
The notary stood up from his seat with the keys of the
prison, went to the door and said, “Who is Matteo?”
The Fat One brought himself forward and said,
“Here I am, sir,” not showing any doubt but that he
had become Matteo.
The notary looked at him and said, “These brothers
of yours have paid for you and your debts, so that you
are free to go.” He opened the door of the prison and
said, “Come out.”
1
IT WAS VERY DARK when the Fat One was let out of
prison, and it seemed to him that it was a good thing to
be out of prison without having ever taken money from
his own pocket. Because he had gone without eating
all that day he wanted to go to his house as soon as he
was let out of the prison. But then he remembered that
he had heard the Fat One there the night before, so he
changed his mind and decided to follow the counsel of
the judge and go with these brothers.
Their house was near the church of Santa Felicità
at the end of the Costa San Giorgio, and while they
were walking there in an easy way, not with the rigidity
that they had put on at the prison, they began talking.
They informed him of the displeasure he had given their
mother, and they reminded him of the promise they had
made to him that they would never tolerate this type of
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The Fat Woodworker
behavior from him again. They asked him why he had said
he was the Fat One. And they asked him if he was who
he seemed to be, or if he actually was the Fat One whom
they had taken by mistake and should leave alone.
The Fat One didn’t know how to respond to this. He
was beside himself and simply went along with them.
While half of him confessed to being Matteo, the other
half said, ‘If I say again that I am the Fat One, perhaps
they will want me and not the Fat One, and I will have
lost their house as well as my own.’
He promised them that he would never again behave
in such a bad way and, to the question about having said
that he was the Fat One, he made no response but just
stalled for time.
In this way they arrived at the house and the brothers
went with him into a ground-floor room, saying to him,
“Stay here until it is time for dinner,” as if they didn’t
want to present him to their mother so as not to give
her grief.
While he was sitting there beside the fire and near a
small table set for dinner, one of the brothers stayed by
the fire with him while the other went out to get the
priest of Santa Felicità. He was their parish priest and
a good person.
The brother said, “I have come to you in confidence
since one must go first to those who are close, and
because you are my – and our – spiritual Father. So that
you will understand everything better and be better able
to help us, let me tell you that we are three brothers living
close enough to you to be your neighbors, as perhaps
you know.”
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Antonio Manetti
“Yes,” said the priest who recognized the brother
when he entered.
The brother continued, “One of us is named Matteo.
He was held in prison yesterday for his debts. Because this
is not the first time that this has happened he has given
us all great sorrow, and it appears that he has taken leave
of his senses. He appears to be preoccupied about this
thing, although in all other ways he is surely the Matteo
to whom we are all accustomed. His problem is that he
claims to be someone other than Matteo. Have you ever
heard a more fantastic thing? He says he has become a
certain fat woodworker, an acquaintance of yours no
less, who has a shop behind the church of San Giovanni
and a house near Santa Maria del Fiore. Even with this
man we tried various ways to get this madness out of his
head, but it never helped. The reason we have released
him from prison and brought him home and put him
in a room is so that his madness would not be known to
others. As you know, whoever once begins to show these
signs and then returns to his senses, is bird-brained. Also,
if our mother became aware of this before he returns to
his senses, it might cause some inconvenience – how do I
know? Women are of weak spirit and she is sickly and old.
For these reasons we beg your mercy that you come over
to our house. We know that you are a capable man and a
good person and that you are astute enough to have discovered the cause of similar problems. For these reasons
we wouldn’t ask help of anyone other than you. And if
you do your best to draw him back from this fantasy we
will always be grateful, and later, by God, he will be of
some merit. Not to mention that you are responsible for
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The Fat Woodworker
his health since he is in your spiritual care, and you will
have to give account. Because if he loses his mind, being
in mortal sin, and dies without returning to his senses,
he might be damned.”
The priest responded that this was the truth and that
it was his obligation. He added that, not only did he
wish to help him, but that he would make every possible
effort. And this was the truth because, other than his
obligation, he was servile by nature.
The priest hesitated a bit, and then said, “His problem
might be of the type on which my effort would not
be lost. Let me be with him for a while… if it isn’t
dangerous.”
“Oh! I understand. You want to know if he is raving
mad.”
“You know well,” said the priest, “people of that
type don’t have respec for the Father like a priest does,
because to them He seems to be something other than
what He really is.”
“Dear Father, I understand,” said the brother. “And
you have reason to ask that. But as I have described him
to you, he is a person possessed by a pernicious spirit
rather than raving mad. Other than you, almost no one
would be able to perceive his problem. And truly, if he
were raving mad we would give up every hope, and we
wouldn’t ask anyone’s help, because few if any of that
type ever return. One may say that he has lost his way
a little, rather than being totally lost. And we would
prefer that our mother not know anything of this. We
hope you will let us do it this way.”
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Antonio Manetti
“If he is as you say he is, I would like to see him,”
responded the priest. “And I will make every effort with
him. Because if he truly is not totally mad, it is everyone’s obligation to help him. I know that there is a risk
to your mother, as you say, and one would prefer that
she not have such displeasure, if it is possible.”
With this, the brother led the priest to the house and
to the room where the Fat One was.
The Fat One was sitting there with his thoughts, and
when he saw a man enter wearing the habit of a priest,
he stood straight up.
The priest said, “Good evening, Matteo.”
The Fat One responded, “Good evening and good
year.”
“Now that you say so, it is,” said the priest, as it seemed
to him that Matteo was already healed. Then he took
his hand and said, “Matteo, I’ve come here to be with
you awhile.” He drew a small chair near the fire and sat
down next to the Fat One. Seeing that he didn’t display
any sign of obstinacy about being the Fat One, as he was
told, he became hopeful and gestured to the brother who
brought him there that things looked well. The brother
indicated that he would wait outside and he lefT.
The priest started by saying, “You should know this
Matteo: I am your spiritual Father and it is my duty to
counsel all of my people about the spirit and the body as
best I can. I hear that you have been in prison these days
for your debts, and this displeases me enough. But I want
you to understand that this is not something new, nor
should you think that it is. Every day the world gives both
the good and the bad, and one must always be prepared
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The Fat Woodworker
to have patience. I say this because I abhor the fac that
you have given yourself so much sadness that you have
almost become crazy. Worthy men don’t ac this way.
But, with the shield of patience and with Providence,
they protec themselves from everything as best they
can. This is wisdom.
“What foolishness is this I hear – among all the other
things you have done and do, which I despise so – that
you say you are no longer Matteo, but in every way you
wish to be another person named the Fat One who is a
woodworker? You are making a bird-brain of yourself
with this pertinacity and with your small honor. Truly
Matteo, you have much to repent that for such a small
adversity you have placed so much grief upon your heart.
It seems that you have lost yourself. And for six florins!
Oh! Is that such a great debt? Especially now that your
brothers have just paid for you?
“My Matteo,” said the priest, grasping his hand, “I
don’t want you to ac like this anymore. For the love of me
and for your honor and the honor of these two brothers
– who appear to be very upright people – promise me that
hence forward you will rise from this fantasy and attend
to your own business, as upstanding people do and other
men who have some sense. Recommend yourself to God,
because he who places faith in Him does not do so in vain.
It will follow that you will do well, and you will do honor
to yourself and to these brothers of yours and to whomever
you wish well. And you will do honor to me.
“Why do you do this? Is this Fat One so great a
master or so very rich that you wish to be him rather than
yourself? What advantage do you see in becoming him?
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Antonio Manetti
Let us presume that he is a worthy man and that he
might be richer than you, even though your brothers tell
me that he is less wealthy than you. If you say that you
are him you would not have your own dignity nor your
own wealth nor any of the other things that are yours.
“Do as I say, because I am telling you things that
you can do to help yourself. Oh, my! If you continue
with these infamous ways you will run the risk that your
brothers will leave you, among other things, and for this
you will be in trouble and loathed for the rest of your
life. And this will be what you deserve.
“I promise to report well of you to your brothers, and
to make them content. They will love you and help you
always as good brothers. Come on Matteo, prepare to
be a man, not a beast. Let go of this fantasy. ‘Am I the
Fat One, or am I not the Fat One?’ Do as I say, because
I counsel you for the good.”
The priest looked him gently in the eye. The Fat One
heard with how much love he was told these things. The
priest had used very comforting words. At that instant,
the Fat One had absolutely no doubt that he was Matteo.
He responded to the priest that he was prepared to do as
much as he could of what he was told. He told the priest
that from that point forward he would make every effort
never again to believe himself to be the Fat One, as he
had until that point, provided he did not return to being
the Fat One. He asked grace from the priest – if it were
possible – because he wanted to talk a little longer. While
the priest was talking, he surmised it would be an easy
thing to escape from this situation because, not having
met the Fat One nor spoken to him, he doubted that he
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The Fat Woodworker
had promised anything that would oblige him in the
future.
The priest sneered at Matteo’s promises and said, “My
Matteo, all this is contrary to your deeds, and again I
see that you have this confusion in your head. What
do you mean, ‘Provided that I do not return to being
the Fat One?’ I don’t understand. Do you need to talk
with the Fat One? What do you have to do with him?
Because the more you speak of this, and the more people
you speak to about this, the worse it will be for you.
More of this problem will be known and more will be
held against you.”
Using this argument, the priest tried to convince
Matteo that he shouldn’t speak with the Fat One and,
however unwillingly, Matteo consented.
When he was leaving the priest told the brothers what
he said to Matteo, and what Matteo had responded and
promised, and that with great difficulty he consented to
it all in the end. As for that part of his talk that Matteo
did not understand so well, he was not certain if he had
truly frightened Matteo into behaving properly, but he
had done all that he could. One of the brothers put a
large coin in the priest’s hand (to make the ploy credible)
and they thanked him for his work and asked him to pray
to God that He would render their brother healthy. The
priest took the coin in his hand and squeezed it. Then
he took leave of them and went back to the church.
Filippo di Ser Brunellesco had arrived in the same
house where the priest had met Matteo. In another
room far away from the Fat One, wearing the largest grin
in the world, he was told by one of the brothers of all
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Antonio Manetti
the things that had happened. He was told of Matteo’s
release from prison and of all the things he said on his
way to the house. The brother also mentioned the judge
he saw speaking with the Fat One in prison, and how
they saw him leave free. Filippo noted everything well
and committed everything to his memory along with
everything that the creditor told him.
He gave the brother a small ampule containing a
liquid and said, “While you are eating, give this to him
to drink – in his wine or in whatever way you like – so
long as he is not aware of it. This is an opiate, and there
is enough so that he will sleep well, and he will not feel
anything for many hours.” After he made this accord
with the brothers, Filippo went away.
The brothers returned to the room and ate dinner
with the Fat One, since by then it was already past threethirty in the morning. While they were eating they gave
him the opiate – which was neither distasteful nor bitter
– in such a way that he was unaware of iT.
After they ate, they sat around the fire, discussing his
bad ways. They begged him for the sake of his soul and
for the love of them and the love of their mother that he
would be content to be Matteo and abandon this crazy
belief that he had become someone else.
They told him that it was too great an error and that
he shouldn’t marvel at them if they begged this of him
because it harmed them as much as it harmed him. They
said that the day this thing happened, while they were
going to the Mercato Nuova to attend to his debts, one
of them heard someone behind them say, “Look at him.
He is the forgetful one who has forgotten who he is. He
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The Fat Woodworker
thinks he has become someone else.” Although someone
else said, “He isn’t the one, that is his brother.”
While they were discussing this, the opiate began its
work so that the Fat One wasn’t able to keep his eyes
open.
At this one of the brothers said, “It seems you are
falling asleep, Matteo. You must have slept very little
this past night.” This brother spoke the truth.
The Fat One replied, “I swear to you that I have never
been so sleepy since the day I was born.”
They told him, “Go to your room and go to bed.”
With great effort the Fat One got himself to his room,
stripped himself and went to bed. He slept deeply
because, as Filippo said, he had been given enough
opiate so that he didn’t hear or feel anything, and he
snored like a pig.
1
AT THE DESIGNATED HOUR, Filippo di Ser
Brunellesco returned with six companions – because the
Fat One was big and heavy. Among the six were men
who had attended the Pecori dinner as well as other witty
men who, having heard of this plot – because Filippo
informed all of them about everything – wanted to be
partisans in this amusemenT.
They entered the Fat One’s bedroom, where he was
lying in a deep sleep, and they put him on a stretcher
with all of his clothes. They carried him to his house –
where, by chance, his mother had not yet returned from
the villa, which they knew since they kept a close watch
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Antonio Manetti
over everything – and they put him in his bed and put
his clothes where he usually put them. But since he
usually slept with his head at the head of the bed, they
left him with his head at the foot of the bed.
Once they did this, they took the key to his shop and
went inside. They took all of his hardware and moved it
from one place to another. They did the same with his
tools, leaving the wood planes with the edges up, and
the saws with the teeth down. They did this with all the
items in the shop that they could, so that the shop was so
mislaid and in such turmoil that it seemed demons had
been there. They relocked the shop, returned the key to
the Fat One’s house, and hung it up by its strap where
he usually left it. They left the house, locking the door
behind them, and went to their homes and to sleep.
The Fat One slept deeply because of the opiate, and
he slept all night without feeling a thing. The next day
when the Ave Maria was played from the tower of Santa
Maria del Fiore, the opiate had finished its work, and
the Fat One woke to a nice morning. He recognized the
bells, opened his eyes, and saw a glimpse of the room.
He recognized his room, and it quickly cheered his
heart, because it seemed to him that he had returned to
being the Fat One and in dominion of all the things he
thought he had lost. He almost cried for joy, and nearly
jumped out of his skin with happiness.
Yet it troubled and surprised him to find himself with
his head at the foot of the bed, since he usually slept
the other way around. He recalled the things that had
happened to him and where he had lain himself down
the night before and where he found himself then. He
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The Fat Woodworker
quickly entered into a fantasy of ambiguity. Had he
dreamt before, or was he dreaming now? First the one
seemed certain to him and then the other.
He looked around the room saying, “This was my
room when I was still the Fat One. But when could I have
returned here?” He touched himself, first one arm with
the opposite hand, then the other arm, and then his chest,
affirming with certainty that he was the Fat One.
Then he said to himself, “If this is true, if I am the Fat
One, how could I have been mistaken for Matteo? I also
remember being in prison, and everyone there knew me
as Matteo. Then I was carried oV by his two brothers.
We went over by Santa Felicità, and a priest spoke with
me for a long time. Then I ate, and I went to bed over
there, and a deep sleep came over me.”
Once again he fell into great confusion over whether
he dreamt before or was dreaming now. He began, once
again, to feel sad, but not so sad that flashes of happiness
couldn’t shine through. He remembered what the judge
told him in prison, and he figured that he had changed
back into the Fat One. He remembered everything that
had happened to him until he went to bed the night before; but he didn’t worry, since he had returned to being
the Fat One, and it seemed to him that he was back on
his own two feeT.
Then he changed his mind about what had happened,
and he repeated to himself, “Who knows if I was
dreaming then or if I am dreaming now?” After some
deep sighs he said, “God, help me.”
He got out of bed as he did in the past, got dressed,
and picked up the key to the workshop. He went there,
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Antonio Manetti
opened the door, and saw everything, each individual
objec, overturned. Seeing this, while he still had those
inextricable doubts, he was assailed by new fears that
cancelled all his previous hope, as with a single stroke of
a pen. But when the memories of his problem returned,
even though he could not persuade himself to be very
sure of whether he was doing or dreaming, he returned
to the contentment of being back as the Fat One and
in possession of his own things.
The two brothers of Matteo arrived at the workshop,
and found him seemingly ill at ease. They pretended
that they did not know him, and one of them said,
“Good day, master.”
The Fat One turned around and recognized them.
Without responding to their greeting and without
having the chance to think about a response he said,
“What are you looking for?”
One of them responded, “We have a brother named
Matteo who, because he was in prison for a debt and
because of some melancholy, has gone a bit out of his
mind these past few days. His behavior has caused us
some shame, but this is the way he is. Among other
things, he claims that he is no longer Matteo, as he is
named, but that he is the master of this workshop who, it
seems, is called the Fat One. We have tried many times
to admonish him and tell him otherwise, but with all
the means we’ve used we haven’t been able to rid him of
this idiocy, or insolence, as we must call iT.
“Last night we brought to him our parish priest from
Santa Felicità – which is our parish, and the priest is a
good person – and he promised the priest that he would
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The Fat Woodworker
rise from this fantasy. Then he ate dinner with us with
the greatest appetite in the world, and he went to bed
in our presence. Then, this morning he left the house,
leaving the door open so that no one would hear him.
Where he went, we do not know. It is for these reasons
that we have come here, to see if anything has happened,
or if you have heard anything of him.”
As the Fat One understood them, these two who
earlier had taken him from prison at their expense and
had received him in their house to eat and be lodged,
no longer knew him as their brother. It seemed to him
that all these things proved that he had returned to being
the Fat One. Also, seeing them come to his shop, he
thought of playfully ridiculing them, as if their shirts did
not cover their arses. He said to them, “I would see if
he is at the Misericordia Hospital – where lost children
are kept – if he is a boy.”
The Fat One did not linger with these thoughts
because in his hand he had a small wood plane that
he had taken to put its iron back in place. Holding
the plane like this in one hand – as he had very large
hands – he stared them in the face. Because of this, the
brothers decided that the Fat One was not in the good
mood they expected, and because they were afraid he
might beat them, they decided to get out of there quickly
and retreaT.
The truth is, the Fat One did not have those intentions. Nevertheless, the brothers left. The Fat One could
not conceive of how these things had happened. He
decided to leave the shop for a little bit and go over to
the church of Santa Maria del Fiore, where he could have
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Antonio Manetti
some peace to think about his troubles and decide better
whether he was the Fat One or Matteo by hearing the
greetings of the people he encountered on his way.
Once again, because the brothers allowed him to stay
at their house but no longer recognized him as Matteo,
he was almost certain he was the Fat One. But once
again, the ambiguity began to spin in his mind: had he
dreamt this or was it true? He moved toward his cloak,
which he intended to put on, and then he forgot it and
turned toward another corner of the room. Then he
returned to it, his mind filled with daydreams.
He began to lose heart. Closing the door behind him,
he went toward the church just as he had gone toward
his cloak, advancing four steps and turning backward
for three. Finally he got hold of his thoughts and said
to himself, “This has been a strange case. Let the judge
say what he wants, I don’t know how this thing could
have happened.” Then he added, “Since everyone, not
just one person, knew me as Matteo, it must certainly
have happened.”
He tried to draw himself out of these thoughts and to
find out only if he had now returned completely to being
the Fat One. But this was a mania that was fixed in his
mind, and he wondered if he hadn’t been transmuted
into Matteo again, or even into someone else. With all of
these things traversing his mind in one stroke, he needed
to understand, to be clear, if things had happened as
the judge had told him. He didn’t care that going back
and forth as he was and being seen there by anyone who
might notice him, he might be mistaken for a wounded
lion. But since it was a work day there were few people
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The Fat Woodworker
about, and no one was watching him. It seemed to him
that this was a good place to vent his feelings to himself.
1
WHEN HE FINALLY ARRIVED at the church he
encountered Filippo and Donatello who were discussing
various things, as was their custom. They had arrived at the
high point of their vendetta, and they saw him enter.
Filippo knew that the Fat One did not realize that
he had been tricked, nor was he suspicious of them. It
seemed to them that what they had done, had been done
astutely and secretly enough.
Filippo pretended to be happy enough to see him, to
dissimulate well, and said, “Things went well enough
with my mother. By the time I got to her she had all but
recovered, and so I didn’t send for you. She has had these
accidents before. Old people do these sorts of things. I
didn’t see you afterwards. What happened to you last
night? Have you heard this story of Matteo Mannini?”
The Fat One became unhinged, and he didn’t turn
to face either Donatello or Filippo.
“What happened?” asked Donatello.
Filippo responded, “You don’t know?” Turning
toward the Fat One he said, “It seems that the night
we were together, between two and three o’clock, he
was around here in the piazza. There were guards and
messengers with him who were taking him away. I don’t
know who they were but this doesn’t matter. And he said
to them and also to his family, ‘What do you want with
me? You have taken me by mistake. I don’t have any
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Antonio Manetti
debts with anyone. I am the Fat One, the woodworker.
Do you want me?’”
To the Fat One, what Filippo was saying didn’t seem
suspicious, and it seemed natural enough that he would
know these things.
Filippo continued, “The person who ordered him
taken approached him and said, ‘Look at what you will
try to get away with. We will get the better of you. If
we don’t do this now you will waste all your money. And
we must be paid. You can’t blame us if we argue when
we don’t get paid.’
“The one who had him taken was a collector for a
creditor, and he went up to him and with a fixed look said,
‘He is pretending to be someone else, the rogue!’ Then
he looked at him very, very well, and said, ‘He certainly
is Matteo. Take him away and lock him up well this
time.’ While they were taking him away he said again
and again that he was the Fat One, the woodworker, and
he tried to prove it by saying, ‘Look, I have just locked
up the workshop,’ while showing them a key.”
This was exactly as things happened, as Filippo had
been told by the young messenger. He continued, “I
heard that there was a party in the Mercatánzia at exactly
the same time. Could it be that you’ve heard nothing of
this?” he asked, wearing the largest smile in the world.
Donatello also pretended that he had heard nothing
of this. He said, “I remember that just yesterday something was said about this at my workshop, but I was busy
and preoccupied and I didn’t listen well. But I heard
– now that I remember – the names ‘Matteo’ and the ‘Fat
One’ as well as the words ‘taken away’, but I didn’t think
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The Fat Woodworker
to ask about it because I wasn’t thinking about the Fat
One. Beh, tell me Filippo, what happened here – since
you know about it? Oh, this is certainly something to
laugh about: that is, that he was taken away and he didn’t
want to be Matteo. How could this happen?”
Filippo said, “Oh, it can’t be that the Fat One doesn’t
know. What happened to you yesterday? Could it be
that you didn’t go to your workshop? Once I heard
this story I made ten circles of Florence to find you and
tell you this. I went to your shop three or four times
to explain this to you. I waited for you there but you
never came.”
The Fat One looked now at Filippo, now at Donatello,
and he wanted to respond first to the one and then to
the other. But he cut oV his words, trying to express
first one thing and then another, so that his words had
no meaning and he seemed like a man possessed. It was
impossible to tell whether he was a bird-brain or he was
speaking the truth.
After a deep sigh he said, “Filippo, this is news to
me!”
Filippo went quickly to what he wanted to say,
holding back a smirk with great effort. “You tell me
that you’ve heard nothing of this? How could this be?”
He pulled up a chair so that he could sit and be more
at ease while he listened.
The Fat One regretted having said these words, and he
didn’t know what to do. He was completely embarrassed
because he knew when they were discussing something
seriously (as they were now) and when they were noT.
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Antonio Manetti
Just at that moment, Matteo arrived, unexpectedly
and without warning – he was also part of the vendetta,
all arranged by Filippo.
“Fortunes help us, Matteo, you could not have arrived
at a better time” Filippo said, greeting him.
The Fat One turned toward him, absolutely lost, and
managed to say, “Your brothers were just at my workshop
looking for you.” Then he restrained himself.
Filippo said, “Where have you come from, Matteo?
We have heard some things about you, and we were just
talking about you – everyone is right now.”
Donatello asked Matteo, “Have you been put in
prison one of these past nights? Tell the truth, because
Filippo tells me…”
“Is no one put in prison anymore?” asked Matteo.
Then he said to Filippo, who was staring at him, “I have
come from my home.”
“Oh,” said Filippo. “And I heard you were taken to
prison.”
“Fine. I was taken to prison. I was paid for. I was let
out. I am here. What the devil is this? Don’t you have
anything to talk about anymore but my problems? All
morning my mother swamped me with questions from
the moment I got home. And those brothers of mine
were harsh with me, looking at me as if I had grown
horns since I returned from my villa. As soon as they
found me there, they demanded, ‘What time did you
leave this morning and leave the door open?’ It appeared
to me that they had gone crazy along with my mother.
I don’t understand it. Then they said, I don’t know –
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The Fat Woodworker
something about my being arrested and that they paid
for me. Crazy, in a word.”
Filippo said, “Where have you been? I haven’t seen
you for many days.”
Matteo said, “I will tell you the very truth, Filippo.
It is true that I had a debt in good faith with a store
for six florins. I held this debt on my word of honor
because I was also owed a debt of eight florins by a person
from Empoli. According to what was last promised to
me, I should have had that money many days ago, so
I designated this money for my debt and my creditor
advanced me those six florins. I promised my creditor on
Saturday that I would pay him Tuesday, so that he would
never lack for anything, as he also promised me. He
had a judgment of the Magistrate in his favor (because
truly it was a long time that I owed him, since I was hard
up for money) so I made the decision to go away from
here to our place at Certosa, so that I would not seem
uncivil. I was there for two days. You haven’t seen me
because it hasn’t been an hour since I’ve returned. While
I was there, something happened to me that is the most
remarkable thing that you’ve ever heard.
“I went away to the villa on Tuesday after dinner
because I had no business and because it has been a
thousand years since I have been there. There is nothing
there but one bed, since all we do there is let the wines
come to vintage, as every other thing, in its own time.
I went there, idling along the way to waste time, and I
had a couple of drinks along the way in Galluzzo so that
I wouldn’t trouble our worker at the villa about dinner.
I arrived at the villa at night, and I asked the worker to
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Antonio Manetti
light a lamp for me and went away to bed. What I will
tell you now is something to laugh about. Every bit of
it seems crazy to me, but I will say it anyway, and I am
perhaps crazier than all of this.
“I dressed myself this morning at the villa and opened
a window. I will tell you the truth – I don’t know if I
am dreaming right now or if I dreamt what I will tell
you. It seemed to me that I was someone other than
myself this morning. This is something to laugh about,
Filippo. Now let me continue.
“My worker who gave me the lamp said to me this
morning, ‘What happened to you yesterday?’ I said,
‘Didn’t you see me last night?’ He said, ‘Not I, when?’
I said, ‘Forgetful! Didn’t you light the oil lamp for
me, as you know it wasn’t burning?’ He said, ‘Yes, the
night before. But last night I didn’t see you, nor all day
yesterday. I thought you went to Florence, and I was
amazed that you hadn’t said anything to me. I thought
you went there for some business.’
“Therefore, I slept all day yesterday. And I asked
the worker, ‘What day is today?’ He told me that it was
Thursday. In effec, Filippo, I find that I have slept for
one entire day and two entire nights without ever stirring. I have only slept.”
Filippo and Donatello made faces of amazement and
sat listening with attention. Filippo said, “What you ate
must have been well digested.”
Matteo said, “I am only telling you what
happened.”
“It wouldn’t be a good idea to wait to eat dinner with
you,” said Donatello.
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The Fat Woodworker
This story of having slept all this time was amazing to
the Fat One, and he said to himself, “There is no remedy
for me. I must certainly be insane. I would never have
believed this story three days ago, and yet I am…”
Matteo continued his speech, “I dreamt the craziest
things that have ever been heard.”
Said Filippo, “The empty head is like that. It needs
to eat.”
“I just encountered,” continued Matteo, “an
apprentice of the store to which I owed those six florins.
He asked me to excuse him and said that it wasn’t he who
had me taken to prison. And he said, ‘You apologize
now for your many expenses and for how much they
have added up, but from what I can see, they have been
paid.” With these words from the apprentice, I began to
understand the scoldings of my mother and my brothers,
who seemed crazy to me. As I just now told you, they
paid for my debt, but how, I don’t yet know. I wanted
this apprentice to explain, and, in effec, I found that
all of this happened during the time I believed I was
asleep. It seems that I spent the greater part of that time
in prison. Filippo, explain this to me, because I don’t
know how this could possibly have happened. It seems
that I’ve waited a thousand years to see you and tell this
to you and laugh about this with you.”
Then Matteo turned toward the Fat One and said,
“I have spent the better part of this time between your
house and your workshop. I have to laugh about this. I
find that someone has paid a debt for me of many florins
while I have slept. And while I slept I thought myself to
be another person. Oh, it is as certain as I find myself
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Antonio Manetti
here among you now. But who knows if I am dreaming
now or if I was dreaming then.”
Donatello said, “I don’t understand you. Tell me
again. I thought you said something else. Oh, you are
making me go crazy. You just now said that you were
at your villa.”
Matteo said, “You understood me well.”
Filippo said, “He wanted to say he was dreaming.”
Then Matteo said, “Filippo understood me.”
The Fat One didn’t say a word. He was like a person
possessed, and he listened very attentively to understand
if he was Matteo during that time. Filippo was like a
scratching piglet. Every so often, one of them would
break away and go to the choir of the church when he
could not help but laugh a little at the transfixed Fat
One.
Filippo took the hand of the Fat One and said, “Let
us all gather together in the choir and don’t anyone go
away, since this is one of the best stories I have ever heard
in my days, and I want to understand it well. Tell me
more of this story Matteo, and you will hear it from me
again in another place and time, because it will be retold
throughout the land. The rest of this story beckons
because it is not yet complete.”
They all sat down in one corner of the choir so that
they could see one another easily. The choir was, in
those times, between two large columns in the front
as one entered the tribune. They sat there awhile not
saying anything because Filippo waited for Matteo to
start speaking while Matteo was waiting for Filippo to
starT.
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The Fat Woodworker
Filippo spoke first, and he turned more toward
Matteo – who was playing his part well – than toward
the Fat One – who was not yet broken – and said, while
laughing, “You hear what is being said around Florence.
I have just now told you all as it was told to me, and
you will hear it again since you want me to be the one
to speak first. It is said that Tuesday night you were
held in prison.”
“Me held?” said Matteo.
“Yes,” said Filippo. “For your debt. What do you say
about that?” Turning toward Donatello he said, “You
see, something has happened.”
Donatello asked Matteo, “And where were you when I
found you knocking on the door of the Fat One’s house
the other night?”
Matteo said, “When? I don’t know if I would ever
knock on his door.”
“You never knocked on his door?” said Donatello.
“Didn’t you speak with me at his door?”
Matteo made an expression of pure amazemenT.
Filippo continued with Matteo, “While you were being
dragged away to prison, you said first to the messenger
and then to those who held you, ‘You have taken me by
mistake. You have seized me by mistake. You don’t want
me.’ And you defended yourself as much as you could
by saying that you were the Fat One here. Now, you say
you were in your villa and, according to what you declare
and what we hear, you were in bed asleep.”
“Say what you will,” said Matteo, “but you mock me.
I was at the villa as I have told you, so as not to be arrested,
since that was something I truly feared. And as to what
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Antonio Manetti
Donatello just said, I would swear on a consecrated altar
that I would not now nor would I ever knock on the door
of the Fat One’s house. You must understand that these
things that have happened are so very strange.
“I sent my friend, who lives in Palagio, to a notary to get
a legal pass for me so that I would not be arrested for my
debt. He had it sent to me at the villa, and until yesterday
he believed that I had it. The notary wrote me a note early
this morning and sent a messenger to give it to me. The
note said that the magistrates had not convened but were
away in their villas. Since they had no other important
business, those gentlemen did not want to return just to
write passes. He added that I should stay at the villa for
a few days and wait for the pass. Yet, I did return, under
cover, but since I have been paid for, everything is fine.
Filippo, Donatello, this is the very truth.
“But the dreams I had during that time are truly
something to laugh about, Filippo. I am not teasing.
I don’t think I ever dreamt so, the dreams seemed so
real. I seemed to be in his house,” he said, touching
the Fat One. “And it seemed that his mother was my
mother. I spoke comfortably with her, as if she were
my own mother, and I ate with her and talked of my
business to her, and she answered me. I remember a
thousand things she said to me. I went to bed in that
house, and I woke up and went to the workshop of the
woodworker. It seemed to me that I wanted to work, as
I have seen the Fat One work a thousand times before
when I visited him in his shop. It didn’t seem to me
that there was a single tool in the shop that was in good
order, so I fixed them all.”
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The Fat Woodworker
The Fat One looked on as if crazed. Even then he
had tools in his hands.
Matteo continued, “I tried to work with them but
they didn’t serve me. They all worked the same way so
I decided to put them anywhere other than where they
used to be, keeping in mind where they were so that I
could put them back when I had the time. I took the
others away, and I handled all of them in one way or
another. It occurred to me to answer anyone who came
by to ask of things as if I were really him. It seemed to
work. I went out to eat, and at night I locked up the
shop and went home to bed. The house seemed to me
to be truly as it is and as I have seen it. So, truly, here
you are with the Fat One, as you know.”
The Fat One sat dumbstruck for an hour because he
didn’t think it was worthwhile to say anything in front
of Filippo who knew and saw everything, down to the
hair on the egg. But hearing this dream took away every
doubt from the Fat One, who could not be better tied
in one inextricable tangle. To hear this dream of one
day and two nights seemed to him to take as long as all
the time of his troubles.
Filippo and Donatello expressed the greatest wonder
in the world at hearing this dream. Then Filippo said,
“From this it would seem that neither you nor Matteo
were arrested. And you say as well that you were paid
for and that you were at your villa. This is a knot that
even Aristotle would not be able to untangle.”
The Fat One, thinking of what Matteo had said – that
he thought he was the Fat One – and remembering what
the judge had told him in prison, decided to speak.
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Antonio Manetti
Pressing his lips together and leaning his head forward
he said, “Filippo, these are strange things, but I hear that
these things have happened before. Matteo has spoken
and you all have spoken and I would also like to speak,
but I would, perhaps, say too many things for which you
would hold me crazy. I need to keep quiet. Filippo, oh,
don’t discuss this anymore.”
It seemed to the Fat One that the judge had clearly
told him the truth. Since what had happened to him
fit exactly with Matteo’s dream it seemed certain that he
had been Matteo at that time, and Matteo had been him.
And the Fat One thought that since Matteo had been
sleeping, he was less tormented by what had happened,
and it wasn’t as important to him, nor as troubling. It
also seemed certain to him that he had returned to being
the Fat One since he heard the story of Matteo and saw
that Matteo was no longer the Fat One.
The Fat One’s mother had not yet returned from their
villa in Polverosa. It seemed to him that he would have
to wait a thousand years to see her and ask her if she
had been in Florence these past days, and ask who had
knocked at her door, who was in the house with her, and
who had opened the workshop during that time.
He took leave of them. They didn’t try to hold him
back with anything other than light and courteous
pressure because he hadn’t yet taken offence, and because
they wanted to give vent to their laughter, which they
couldn’t hold back any longer. Filippo said, “It would
be nice if we could dine together one night.” At this
point the Fat One left without responding.
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The Fat Woodworker
1
ONE CANNOT BE SURPRISED if Donatello and
Filippo laughed so much. Anyone who saw them or
heard them would think them more crazed than the
Fat One. Donatello and Filippo carried on without
restraint. Filippo laughed uproariously, looking from
one person to the nexT.
The Fat One decided to go to Polverosa to find out
for himself what had happened. He found his mother
there and learned that she had not been in Florence in
those days, and she told him the reason she was delayed.
Because of this, while thinking and rethinking about
what had happened to him and how he returned to
himself, he concluded that it must have been a prank.
He did not yet understand, however, the reason why.
But it appeared to him to be just so, because his mother
was not in Florence and his house was empty during that
time. As much as he tried he could not find a reason for
what happened, and he didn’t have the heart to defend
himself from being put in such mockery and from being
so deceived. But mostly it bothered him that Filippo
had taken such an interest in this, and it didn’t seem
possible to him for Filippo to make amends.
For these reasons he decided to go to Hungary, where
he had once been invited. The person who invited him
had been his friend and companion when they both
worked in the intarsia shop of Maestro Pellegrino in
Via Terma. This friend had gone to Hungary many
years back and had done very well there with the help
of Filippo Scolary, who is called the Spano.
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Antonio Manetti
This Spano, a citizen of Florence, was Captain General
in the army of Sigismund, the king of Hungary, and the
son of King Charles of Bohemia. Sigismund was a very
wise and cunning king who was elected emperor in the
time of Gregory XII, and he was crowned Caesar by
Pope Eugenio IV. The Spano had compassion for all the
Florentines he came across, whether they had intellectual
or manual skills, because he was a very upright man who
loved the nation as much as the nation loved him. And
he did good things for many people.
In the past few days, the Fat One’s companion had
come to Florence to see if he could bring but one master
of the Fat One’s art to Hungary, because he had so much
work that had to be done immediately. He discussed
this many times with the Fat One, begging him to come
to Hungary and showing him that in a short time he
could make riches for himself.
After he returned to Florence, the Fat One ran into
his companion, and because of what had been done to
him he said, “You have tried many times to convince
me to go with you to Hungary, and I have always said
‘No.’ Now, by chance, a certain problem has occurred
with my mother, and I have decided to go, if you still
want me. If you do, I must leave tomorrow morning,
because if I stay longer I will not be able to leave.”
His friend replied that it would be very costly to him
to leave the next morning because he had not yet finished
all of his business, but if the Fat One needed to leave
Florence he should go to Bologna and wait for him, and
he would meet him there in a few days.
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The Fat Woodworker
The Fat One and his friend agreed upon this and the
Fat One left feeling content. He returned to his shop
and took some tools and trifles to bring along and took
any money that he had. He left a letter in his house
addressed to his mother that said he guaranteed her, as an
endowment, what was left in the shop, and that he had
gone to Hungary with the intention of staying for many
years. When he had done this he went to Borgo San
Lorenzo to wait for a coach going to Bologna, without
saying a word to his family or anyone else, as if he were
game and had hunters behind him.
He went around Florence on horseback to see what
little he could of the city in the brief time that remained,
and he dismounted in some places where he heard his
case being discussed, each person laughing and making
jokes about it. In this way he heard from someone that
it had been a prank. He also heard what he had said to
the men who arrested him and to the judge he spoke
with in prison, because the judge met with Filippo and
recounted all that had been said. When he learned that
it had been a joke, the judge had the greatest laugh of
all.
It was generally said around Florence that the prank
had been played on him by Filippo di Ser Brunellesco,
and this very much convinced the Fat One because he
knew Filippo all too well. Realizing that he was being
scoffed at, he knew that it must have started with Filippo.
All these reasons gave him great comfort in his decision
to leave. In this way he left Florence, and when he met
his companion in Bologna, they went to Hungary.
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Antonio Manetti
1
THE GROUP FROM THAT DINNER met again,
as it was their custom to meet from time to time. The
first time they gathered together again it was in the same
place, in the house of Tomaso Pecori. They met so they
could talk about the prank and laugh about it all together.
They invited the judge who was with the Fat One in
prison. He accepted happily because he wanted to meet
and know everyone, and to hear every detail about the
prank, and he knew that they wanted the same. They
asked the young messenger to come, as well as Matteo
and those two brothers who led him from prison to their
home and hearth. They wanted the notary at the prison
to attend, but he was not able to come.
The judge heard with great pleasure how the prank
grew. He told them about the Fat One’s questions and
how he replied to them by speaking of Apuleius, Circe,
and Actaeon, and of his worker, to make things seem
more realistic. He also said that if anything else had
occurred to him, he would have told him.
They had the greatest amusement from this, jumping
from one instance to another according to what they recalled. Seeing how things had happened, with the judge
and with the priest and everything in general, they knew
how much Fortune had helped them. The judge said
that he never remembered, in all the times of his life,
being at a banquet where he had eaten better food or had
greater quantities of it. He said that he had never had
such a good time at the tables of kings and emperors, as
he did at those of minor princes and private men such as
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The Fat Woodworker
they were. And there was no one who could say that he
could have defended himself better than the Fat One had
the joke been played upon him, such was the caution
and planning of Filippo.
1
ONCE THE FAT ONE and his companion arrived in
Hungary, they gave themselves over to their work and
they met with good fortune. In a few years they became
rich, considering their rank, thanks to the Spano. He
made the Fat One a master engineer and called him
Maestro Manetto da Firenze. The Fat One had a good
reputation with everyone, and the Spano took him to
the field with him when he went on military exercises.
He received good commissions, sometimes by rich and
beautiful women who, by chance, had need of him.
The Spano was as liberal and magnanimous as if he
were born of a king. He was this way toward everyone,
but especially toward the Florentines, who came to
Hungary happily, knowing that he would support and
favor them. The Fat One could do his every bidding,
and he worked with his companion when he was not
working in the field.
The Fat One returned to Florence more often and
for longer periods of time as the years passed. On his
first return he asked Filippo the reason for this game
in Florence. Quickly, and without conferring with his
friends, Filippo told him this story. The Fat One smiled
while hearing this story. He smiled at the thousand
wonderful things within the story and within himself.
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Antonio Manetti
He smiled at his confusion about whether he was or
was not the Fat One, and whether he was dreaming or
remembering dreams when he thought of the past. And
he smiled about things that no one else knew abouT.
Filippo never before laughed about these things with
such good heart as he did this time. The Fat One looked
him in the eye and said, “You know better than I, that I
am much scoffed at in Santa Maria del Fiore.”
Filippo said, “Let them do so. This will give you
more fame than anything you have ever done with the
Spano or Sigismund. People will be talking about you
for a hundred years.” Filippo laughed, and so did the
Fat One, no less so this time.
As time went on, the Fat One was never found to be
with anyone other than Filippo, even though he was
certain that Filippo was the instigator of everything.
Filippo teased him whenever he was with him saying, “I
knew at that time that I had to do this to you in order to
make you rich. There are very many people who wanted
very much to have been the Fat One, and to have had
these jokes played upon them. You have become rich,
you and your family and friends, by the graces of the
emperor of the world, and the Spano, and many other
great princes and barons.”
These comings and goings of the Fat One gave him
opportunities to meet with Filippo and examine the
prank; to mince every particular detail given by the judge
or the messenger or the others. The funniest things
about the prank remained, it was said, in the mind of
the Fat One.
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The Fat Woodworker
From these meetings arose the idea that the story
could be kept more complete and with more minute
detail if it were written down. Filippo repeated the
story again, sometimes with great detail, and those who
heard it passed it on to others. But, whoever heard it
from him affirms that it is impossible to give every detail
as to how the story went, so that many pleasing parts
that Filippo recalled and that were true do not survive.
After Filippo died, it was recalled by some who heard it
many times from him, such as the one called Antonio
di Matteo dalle Porte, by Michelozzo, by Andreino da
San Gemignano who was his disciple, by the Scheggia,
by Feo Belcari, by Luca della Robbia, by Antonio di
Migliore Guidoti, by Domenico di Michelino, and by
many others.
Although the person who first wrote this might have
found something written in his time, it could not have
been a third of the event, and in many places it must
have been fragmented and full of mends. And perhaps
he has done well in writing this, so that it would not
be wholly losT.
Thanks be to God. Amen. 222
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