Veronese the Profane
22nd september 2004 to 30th January 2005
The Luxembourg Museum is once again organizing a major exhibition on one of the great masters of the Cinquecento. After Raphael and Botticelli, thirty-one paintings and eleven drawings of Veronese are on show in Paris this fall.
‘Un grandissimo pittore’, my old professor used to say of Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese, and the exhibition at the Luxembourg museum is solid proof of this. Even if the show is dedicated to his profane subject matters, his particularly sensitive touch and human warmth reach out to imprint themselves for ever on your memory.
And while it is true that his achievement is mainly as a supreme decorator of festive splendor with an enormous output, it is also Veronese's portrayal of life that is so real, vibrant, sensual and wholesome, even in a mythological picture. It is almost the same earthly sensitivity that you see appear, so many years later, in a Courbet, the same sensuality that centuries later becomes the hallmark of Renoir. His range of influence seems to be infinite.
His personality as an artist comes out mostly in his figures and portraits and distinguishes itself from those of his peers. These portraits are unique in the real sense of the term. In all of them the distinction of each person’s character is masterfully modeled, while the subject’s spiritual quality is captured as if in a karmic snapshot.
I cannot forget Adriano’s little face (portrait of Iseppo da Porto and his son Adriano). Those playful eyes of his show childish marvel at life mixed with a sort of contentment radiating like the warm feeling of a well-loved child under the protection of a cherished father. Here you cannot talk of technique or effect, but of art in all its significance. Everything in the picture goes hand in hand to show the privileged relationship of the father and son, from the sturdy and powerful figure of the father, to the play of their hands and the originality of the pose. The echoing expression on their faces communicates their mutual attachment, a close blood relation. The refined craftsmanship in the costumes gives you a true appreciation of Veronese as both an artist and an artisan who did not sacrifice one in favor of the other.
The way he managed to integrate so intensely such delicate and fugitive expressions with those realistic details of the costumes that make his personages live in such a realistic manner has the mystery of a photo produced by some magical alchemy. But a photo of these people, had photography been invented in the 1600s, would probably make them look like ‘shadows of the past’, not real living people capable of moving you with the poignancy and complexity of their expression.
And then you have this other masterpiece of portraiture, a portrait of a young woman called the ‘Bella Nani’. If Leonardo's Gioconda (Mona Lisa) holds an enigmatic secret about her, the Belle Nani has this rare gift of femininity, this extreme sweetness or ‘dolcezza’ in the subdued, melancholy eyes, and the held-back emotions in the silent lips. Veronese seems to like to contrast the extreme femininity of his women to the virile, powerful and aggressive figures of his men. They are as complementary as night and day far from the ambivalent sexuality of Michelangelo’s figures. Veronese painted real people in an ideal world, the world of the sophisticated Venetians of 16th Century Europe.
These are not official portraits. They are often entitled anonymously e.g. ‘portrait of a man or a woman’. But they are most likely commissioned by the wealthy Venetians who posed for him, hence his preoccupation with the detailed accuracy of their luxurious garments. It is thanks to the portrait of Francesco Francheschini that Veronese became well known. But his fame was not just local or contemporary: he went on well beyond his own century to influence 18th Century portraiture, particularly the work of Van Dyck.
Apart from the portraits, his other ‘profane’ works were mostly connected with decoration of palaces, villas or mansions. These are mythological or allegorical subjects executed largely in his mannerist style influenced by many contemporary or old masters including Dürer, Correggio, Parmigiano and Michelangelo or Giulio Romano.
Exhibited here are his ‘Temptation of Saint Anthony’1552-53, the ‘Rape of Europa’ of 1579, ‘Venus and Mercury, Anteros and Jupiter’, ‘Venus, Mars, Love and horse’, ‘Cephale and Procris’, 'Apollo and Daphne' all sharing the same interest in the portrayal of erotic themes in which love appears as the attraction of the opposites, or a celebration of contrasts, almost a constant combat. The feminine figure, is invariably painted like a mature fruit, blond and light-skinned seeming to blush with pleasure. Whether in a mythological scene or appearing in an allegory, it is the same woman, his same ideal of beauty, far more charged with desire than grace. Even in his ‘Venus and Jupiter’, one of the four decorations of a piece of furniture, the grandiosely pillared interior is provocatively animated by the naked Venus sitting on Jupiter’s knees.
In the allegorical themes, his painting is more mannerist, less voluptuous and joyful, in the manner of Michelangelo. Here people are symbols of a philosophical theatre: ‘Fortune and Ambition’, ‘Universal Harmony’, ‘Vice and Virtue’, ‘Allegory of Venice’, ‘Allegory of the Arts’, ‘Allegory of Justice’, ‘Allegory of Hope’. These are perhaps too cerebral in theme for him who was an osmosis between the physical and the spiritual, a symbol of which appears almost in every painting, the feminine figure of his physical desires adorned with the shine of the spiritual pearl that she holds within.
Together with Titian, Tintoretto and Bussan, Veronese was one of the 16th century’s greatest exponents of Venetian art.
His native Verona enjoyed a greater artistic independence than Rome in the beginning of the 16th century. Hence the coexistence of many artistic schools in and around Verona, such as those who followed Mantegna, Bellini or Giorgione, or the mannerist painters who followed Michelangelo or Raphael. Famous amongst the latter were those from Parma (Correggio and Parmigiano) or Giulio Romano who later worked in Mantova.
Born in Verona in 1528, through his father, a sculptor and a stone cutter (‘spezzapreda’ according to the registered annals) Veronese was soon introduced to the artistic trade. With close ties that existed amongst architects, sculptors and painters, who often worked together on a site, Veronese found and followed his own natural inclination at an early age.
In 1541 he entered into apprenticeship in the studio of Antonio Badile. Some important works by him date only a few years later and constitute his ‘Verona period’. These were religiously inspired scenes painted for family chapels or to celebrate special occasions for his patrons in Verona. The ‘Mystical marriage of Saint Catherine’ for the Pindemonte family dates from 1547. Equally, he painted the ‘Madonna amongst donating saints’ of 1548 for the altarpiece of the Bevilacqua-Lazise family’s chapel. Other examples of his early paintings are ‘The Baptism of Christ’ (1548-49), the ‘Lamentation’ made for the sacristy of ‘Gerolamini’ church, and ‘Burial of Christ’ for the Church of Corpus Domini of Vicenza.
In 1551, along with other young painters he worked under the architect Michele Sanmicheli. Belonging to this period is ‘Holy family with John the Baptist’ for the San Guistiniani chapel of the church of San Francesco della Vigna, his first Venetian commission. At the same time, he was commissioned to decorate ‘Villa Soranzo’ in Treville in Castelfranco Veneto, that was in fact a villa built by Sanmicheli.
1552-53 he painted the temptation of St. Antoine for one of the lateral altars of the Mantova cathedral that had been renovated by Giulio Romano in the Renaissance manner.
In1553 he returned to Venice for the ‘Dieci’ hall of the Doge's Palace where he produced four main paintings for the ‘sala d’Udienza’, amongst which ‘Jupiter chasing away the Vices’ is one of the four main paintings. The others include ‘Junon throwing donations to Venice’ and the ‘Triumph of Virtue over Vice’. After the Sala d’Udienza he moved on to paint the ceiling of the Bussola with themes inspired by ‘good governance’ of Daniele Barbaro. Amongst other rooms decorated by Veronese was the Sala Tre Capi with the ‘Triumph of Virtue over Evil’ and ‘Triumph of Nemesis over Pedie’.
1555: After finishing the commission in the ‘Dieci’ halls, Veronese started work at the church of San Sebastiano, beginning with the ceilings with a ‘Coronation of Mary’, and then made the series of saints Mathew, Marc, Luke and John. His work for San Sebastiano church spanned 20 years. This included other contracts such as the decoration of the ceiling of the nave for which he painted ‘Repudiation of the Vasti’, ‘Esther Crowned by Assuerus’ and ‘Triumph of Mardoch.
In 1556 Paolo was hired with six other painters to decorate the ‘Sala d’Oro’ of Marciano Library near San Mark’s square of Venice with 3 medallions representing ‘Honor’, ‘Astronomy’, ‘Harmony, Lies and Music’.
1558: Frescos for the nave of the church of San Sebastiano in Venice. Here he painted ‘San Sebastian reprimanding Diocletian’, ‘Martyr of San Sebastian’, ‘Annunciating Angel’ and ‘Virgin Mary’, ‘Archer and the wounded Sebastian’ as well as decorating an ‘organ Case’.
1558: Executed three scenes in the church of Santa Maria dell’Umiltà at Zottere including an ‘Assumption’, an ‘Adoration of the Magi’ and an ‘Annunciation’. These were later transported to the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. He also decorated two little doors of the organ of the old church of Saint Geminiano, now in Galerie d’Est of Modena after the destruction of the church.
1560: From this date Veronese initiated his large canvases with themes from the New Testament, amongst them a series of ‘Last Suppers’.
1560-1561 The important decorative work at the Villa of Daniel and Marcantonio Barbaro at Maser near Asolo was undertaken by Veronese. This villa was built in 1558 by the sculptor-architect Andrea di Pietro da Padova (Palladio), and the two artists must have found a lot of rapport in their love of grandeur and magnificence. Although Palladio did not mention Veronese in his influential ‘Four books of Architecture’, their collaboration is evident from the way the paintings marry the Vitruvius-inspired architecture. In Villa Maser Veronese’s decoration included: ‘Sala d’Olimpo’s Ceiling’, ‘Guistiniana Giustinani with her governess’. Paolo also decorated the first floor of Villa Maser, including ‘Stanza di Bacco, as well as the ‘Stanza dell’Amore Coniugale’. The villa Maser is impregnated with the culture and the personality of it’s owners, an erudite mix of religious faith and humanist culture based on Empedocles. Veronese made astonishingly beautiful landscapes in this villa, famous amongst them being the ‘Landscape with dog’ and the ‘Landscape with Port’. He also decorated the ‘portico’ of the villa with paintings of musicians in niches that look sculpted, and a false door through which a little girl is entering. The ceiling was decorated with the allegory of ‘Fortune defending abundance and triumphing over fraud’. In the cornices he painted the ‘Holy Family with saint Catherine and little John the Baptist’.
Another room decorated by Veronese was the ‘Stanza della Lucerna’ that he adorned with his beautiful allegories: ‘Allegory of Faith and Charity protecting Christians’; ‘Allegory of Strength and Prudence’; and ‘Virtue resisting Passion’. ‘Stanza Nymphea’ was decorated with the ‘Allegory of Peace’.
1562: In Verona’s church of San Giorgio he made ‘Martyr of Saint George’ as well as ‘Saint Barnabas healing the infirm’ later transferred to France.
1562-63: His ‘Wedding Feast at Cana’ was made for the Convent of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, also built by Palladio. In 1797 French troops took the painting to Paris, which explains it’s presence in the Louvre today. In this work he uses his mastery at portraiture having for models Titian, Tintoretto, Jacopo Basano and himself as musicians.
1564: He painted the altarpiece of the church of San Zaccaria in Venice, representing ‘Madonna and Child with young John the Baptist, Saint Joseph, Saint Jeremy and Saint Francis’.
1565-70 Back at the church of San Sebastiano, Veronese made two large paintings in the presbytery representing ‘Saint Mark and Saint Marcelin’ as well as a ‘Martyr of San Sebastian’. Another painting dating from the same period is ‘The family of Darius before Alexander’ which was made for the Pisani Moretta family.
1565: Working still for the church of San Sebastiano in Venice, Veronese made a ‘Madonna in Glory adored by Saint Catherine, Saint Elisabeth, Saint Sebastian, Saint Peter and Saint Francis’. In this period he also made many small paintings, mostly of mythological themes, now in Boston.
1570: He painted ‘Meal at Simon’s house’ for San Sebastiano’s convent now kept in Brera near Milan.
1572: Four other canvases date from this period with episodes from the life of Jesus, such as ‘Presentation of the Cuccina family to Virgin Mary’ (now in the Gemäldegalerie of Dresden).
1573: Finished his ‘Last Supper’ (later renamed ‘Feast at the House’ of Levi due to problems with the Inquisition) for the Santi Giovanni e Paolo Church in Venice in replacement of a work by Titian that was destroyed by fire in 1571 (now in the Gallery of the Academy in Venice).
1573: Painted the ‘Marriage of Saint Catherine’ now in Venice’s Gallery of the Academy. Two versions of ‘Adoration of the magi’ date from this year, one for the church of San Silvestro of Venice (now in National Gallery, London) and the second for the church of Santa Corona of Venice.
1574: Painted the ‘Martyr of Saint Justine’ for the basilica of Padua.
1575: Series of four allegories on the theme of love, including ‘Infidelity’, ‘Deception’, ‘Respect’ and ‘Happy Union’, executed perhaps at the occasion of a wedding, and now in the National Gallery, London. From the same period was a collection that previously belonged to Emperor Rudolf II in Prague and later got dispersed, among them ‘Wisdom and strength’ and ‘Hercules between Vice and Virtue’ (in the Frick Collection), ‘Venus and Mars united by Love’ (in the Metropolitan of New York), ‘ Mars undressing Venus’ (in the National Gallery of Scotland), ‘Venus and Adonis’ (in the Seattle Museum) and ‘The rape of Europa’ (in the Doge's Palace Venice).
1575-1580: In October of 1575 the Doge's Palace was partially destroyed by fire, and after its speedy reconstruction, Veronese was once more commissioned to decorate the ceiling of the ‘Collegio’. The chosen theme being good governance, similar to his paintings in San Sebastiano’s church such as ‘Faith and Virtue’. He also decorated the coffered ceiling, ‘Robur imperi’ on ‘Mars and Neptune’, ‘Nunquam dereticta’ and ‘Republica Fondamentum’ on ‘Faith and Religion, and ‘Custude Liberatis’ on ‘Venice, the dominator with Peace and Justice’. The three central divisions were then surrounded by T- and L-shaped canvases, six figures of Christian Virtue, and six other monochrome paintings depicting episodes of the Great history with reference to ‘Virtue’ through symbols: ‘dog’ for fidelity, ‘lamb’ for humility, ‘ermine’ for purity, ‘dice’ and crown for recompense, ‘eagle’ for moderation, ‘spider’s web’ for dialectic, ‘crane’ for vigilance and ‘horn’ for prosperity. In the same room is the ‘Allegory of the battle of Lepanto’, thought to be a joint work by Veronese and Tintoretto of the resounding success for the Christian world that was the triumph, in the Gulf of Patras, for the Pope's Holy League under the command of Don Juan of Austria, over the Turkish fleet in October 1571.
After another ducal palace fire in December 1577, Veronese was commissioned once more to decorate the oval ceiling of the Sala Maggiore del Consiglio with a major work on the theme of the ‘Apotheosis of Venice’.
1576-1584 After several devastating fires and outbreaks of plague, with the Turkish menace still unchecked, Veronese embarked on a series of mostly religious paintings, less festive and more sober, and animated by drama rather than joy.
The first cycle consisting of 11 canvases was for the church of San Nicolo dei Frari, also called San Nicola della Latuga. Three of these (‘St. Nicolas recognized as bishop of Mira’, ‘St. Francis receiving the stigmata’, and ‘Crucifixion’) are now in the gallery of the Academy in Venice. One (The Adoration of the Magi) was moved to the church of Santi Giovanni and Paolo. Another large and important canvas, ‘Baptism and Temptation of Christ’ is now in Brera. Two ‘monochrome’ paintings depicting prophets are now in the Cini Collection Venice.
Seven paintings of the second cycle of 10 large paintings on themes of the Old and New Testaments (known also as the Earl of Buckingham XVII series) are now kept in the Kunsthistorische Museum of Vienna, one in the National Gallery, Washington, and two are in Prague.
1582 The ‘Pietà’ for the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo is now kept in the Hermitage of St. Petersburg.
1583 ‘Christ in the Garden’, now in the Pinacoteca of Brera, was made for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.
1584 ‘The Crucifixion’ once kept in ‘Lourdes’, now in the National Museum of Budapest, was painted for the church of San Sebastiano and the church of san Lazzaro dei Mendicanti of Venice.
1585 A series of ‘Last Supper’ paintings for the church of Santa Sofia of Venice is now kept in Brera.
1586-87 ‘Assumption of Mary’, an altarpiece for the church of Ognissanti of Venice, is now kept in the gallery of the Academy, Venice. Another painting with the same theme painted for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore is now in the gallery of the Academy, Venice.
Another altarpiece representing ‘St. Jeremy’ executed for the church of Sant’Andrea della Ziroda is now kept in the gallery of the Academy, Venice.
Other paintings such as ‘Young man in between Vice and Virtue’ now in Prado, ‘the Good Samaritan’ now in Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, and Lucrecia of the Kunsthistorische Museum of Vienna, date from this period. The last work known from him is the ‘Miracle’ altarpiece for the church of San Pantalon.
1588 Death of Paolo Veronese ‘on the job’ at the church of San Sebastiano.
His brother Benedetto (1538-98), nephew Alesio del Friso (1544-1609), sons Gabriele (1568-1631) and Carletto (1570-1526) continued his work.
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