- The Lives of the ArtistsBy Giorgio Vasari
- VeroneseOur PickBy Clare Robertson
- VeroneseOur PickBy Xavier F. Solomon
- Paolo VeroneseBy Alessandra Zamperini
- Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance VeniceBy Virginia Brilliant & Fredrick Lichman
- The Secret of Paolo. The Life of the Renaissance Painter Paolo Veronese in Venice
Important Art by Paolo Veronese
Shortly after arriving in Venice, the 25-year-old Veronese accepted a prestigious commission from the Prelate, Bernardo Torlioni, to work on the San Sebastiano ceiling. His painting shows an early point in the biblical story of Esther as she is crowned Queen by the Persian King Ahasuerus. Esther went on to save the Jewish people (from the evil Haman pictured in the lower-right of the painting) and this deliverance from destruction became the Jewish religious celebration of Purim.
Ceiling paintings like this, the function of which was to provide the Church with historic narrations, iconographic images and decorative motifs, were not intended to be viewed at eye level. De Sotto in su ("from below to above") describes a Renaissance painting technique which requires the foreshortening of figures with the effect (when seen from the ground up) that the figures are suspended in air. The "floating" figures here are complemented by Veronese's brilliant coloring which helps intensify the sacred nature of the painting and its decorative impact. Art historian Carlos Ridolfi saw this early work as emblematic of Veronese's style in the way it displayed the "kings richly adorned, the diversity of draperies" against a stage of "ornate architecture". Veronese's contract with San Sebastiano was renewed several times between 1558 and 1561 making it a most fitting building for his own funerary monument.
Amongst Veronese's early patrons was the Barbaro family who commissioned him to decorate their villa - the Villa Barbaro - near Maser. Indeed, Veronese's ability to adapt his work to satisfy his patron's intellectual tastes is well displayed in Muse with Lyre. To complement portraits of the Barbaro family, Veronese painted figures (or Muses) drawn from antiquity. The Muses were typically the Greek goddesses of the arts and sciences and they were often depicted with musical instruments including, but not limited to, the lyre.
Art historian Clare Robertson writes that these paintings would utilize a "pictorial language" to breathe "life into abstract personifications" though Veronese's painting displays an unusual level of realism. Despite his more contemporary approach - the Muse is less idealized here - the figure is nevertheless depicted in accordance with classical architectural motifs which helped to solidify the Villa Barbaro's lineage with Classical Greek civilization. As a medium fresco, the work required a very quick execution but Veronese rose to the challenge as evidenced through the Muse's radiant drapery; something of a rarity in a genre that typically appears paler than oil on canvas. At the same time, this work is an excellent example of the terraferma style which combined Venetian coloring with references to antiquity.
The Wedding at Cana was commissioned by the Benedictine monks of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice to hang in their new refectory designed by Andrea Palladio. The terms of Veronese's commission stipulated that he produce a painting of the wedding feast large enough to fill the entire refectory wall. It took Veronese 15 months to complete, probably with the help of his brother, Benedetto Caliari. The masterpiece is based on the Biblical story of Christ's first miracle, though the spectator is asked to work to find that particular parable within the bustle of this multi-layered, modern, painting. As Deanna MacDonald described it: "All this imaginative grandeur swirls around a single miracle. With this image Veronese achieves a delicate balance between worldliness and piety, placing the Son of God amidst the fashionable sophistication of Venetian society."
Along with Mary and a few Apostles, Christ was invited to a wedding in Cana in the city of Galilee. During the course of the festivities the supply of wine is exhausted and, responding to Mary's request, Christ asked the servants to fill stone jars with water (here, depicted in the right foreground) and offer them to the master of the house (sitting in the left foreground) who discovers to his amazement (and joy) that the water has been turned to wine. This story is also a precursor to the Eucharist, which is alluded to by the servant sacrificing the "Lamb of God" in the upper tier just above Christ (who sits next to Mary at the centre of the vast banquet table).
Veronese freely mixes the biblical with the contemporary. As one would expect, Jesus and Mary are surrounded by luminous auras. They are joined however by no fewer than 130 figures, and while some are clothed in biblical dress, others, in the words of MacDonald again, look "as if they had just walked in from Piazza San Marco." Indeed, featured amongst the "supporting players" - these include servants, jesters, dwarfs and even a parrot and cats and dogs - are Venetian nobles, and distinguished foreigners identified through their exotic dress. Figures including Mary I of England, Suleiman the Magnificent (the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire) and Emperor Charles V are all featured amongst the guests. As MacDonald suggests, "Veronese's lush, vivacious style would at first seem inappropriate for such a pious subject." She points to fact that his preference for luminous color schemes was "designed to delight the eye" while there was always the hint of eroticism in his "supple, sensuous fabrics [that] suggest the body beneath." Veronese's willingness to push these conventions points to a sense of daring that comes through his desire to underscore the sacred with the profane.
Though the story cannot be verified, it has become part of the painting's legend that the musicians in the centre foreground are none other than Veronese (in white with a viola da gamba). He is flanked by two other Venetian Masters, Titian and Bassano, while the figure examining the wine glass (to his left) is the poet and author, Pietro Aretino.