Summary of Paolo Veronese
Regarded as something of a child prodigy, Veronese matured into one of the most famous masters of the late Renaissance. The artist belongs to the Venetian School and, though he post-dates the period by a generation, he is often grouped with the glorious triumvirate of Titian, Tintoretto and Giorgione. Veronese came into his own however as a superb colorist and painter of the elegant and grandiose - in both theme and scale - of narratives that conveyed their meanings through rich and fluid color schemes. The figures in his works are often described as having the subtle foreshortening of Correggio and Michelangelo's heroism and Veronese typically placed them against a painted architectural "stage" that was redolent of a city (Venice) that was (and still is) thought to resemble a magnificent living arena in its own right. Regardless of the often sacred nature of his subject-matter - Veronese was himself a devout Catholic - his paintings would often exude the worldly, playful atmosphere of 16th-century Venice. John Ruskin once wrote that he learned from Veronese's pictures that "to be a first-rate painter, you mustn't be pious - but rather a little wicked and entirely a man of the world." Ruskin was referring to the gayety in Veronese's paintings which did not always meet with the approval of the ruling Church bodies. Veronese was however a man of principled resilience. This was demonstrated in his defence of artistic freedoms when faced with condemnation from an executive Holy Office committee.
- Veronese is considered one of the Master colorists, sharing the company of the likes of Titian, Rubens, and Rembrandt. He is also typically aligned with the Mannerists, the name given to successors of Raphael and Michelangelo who were less naturalistic - more mannered - than the great Masters of the High Renaissance. The Mannerists produced stylistic compositions which showcased their preference for sophisticated elegance. Their style features gestural poses, unusual effects of lighting and perspective, and vivid colorization. However, Veronese was admired by many for his ability to bring a little more élan to his paintings which he achieved through his fluid harmony of tones and in his transitional rendering of chiaroscuro.
- Veronese is celebrated for his ability to produce clear narratives through complex, intelligent, compositions that brim with brio and painterly effects. As the 17th-century Baroque painter Marco Boschini observed: Veronese "mixed gold with pearls, rubies, emeralds and sapphires of the best quality, and the purest and most perfect diamonds [and] to flavor it he scattered the flowers most gentle that come from the East with all of the most beautiful things that Nature can make with its colors." In that respect his painting can be seen to reflect the cosmopolitan gala mood of mid-to-late 16th century Venice.
- Veronese was a Counter (Protestant) Reformation painter. He was committed to the promotion of Catholic culture and the need to "restage" Christian parables was paramount to his mission. His sumptuous narratives, often tinged with an air of mischief, were typically set within dramatic architectural settings and horizontal picture-planes. Veronese sought to replicate a sense of "performance" in his tableaus and his attraction to the theater would also help explain his preference for luxurious costume dramas. The writer Henry James spoke indeed of Veronese's "glorious garments" that "rustle in the air of the sea" while adding that the "sun-lighted faces" of his gayly dressed characters wore "the very complexion of Venice."
- When called on to do so, Veronese would adapt his style to promote his patron's vanity. Though they are considerably fewer in number than his theatrical paintings, Veronese produced some notable portraits of aristocratic figures. Building on the conventions of classical portraiture, Veronese would use splendid costumes and props in an attempt to build the most composite picture of his sitters. Thus, his portraits would typically feature a greater level of psychological realism which was further emphasized in the delicacy of chiaroscuro.
Biography of Paolo Veronese
The youngest of five siblings, Paolo Caliari, nicknamed Veronese after his birthplace, was born in 1528 in the Italian city of Verona, then a mainland province of the Republic of Venice. His father, Gabriele, was a stonecutter; his mother, Catherina, the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman called Antonio Caliari. He was born moreover in Verona's artists' quarter in the district of San Paolo, which may well have accounted for his parents' choice of Christian name. Paolo initially apprenticed under his father which meant he went for a time by his professional name too: Paolo Spezapreda ("Paolo the Stonecutter"). However, while working with his father, Paolo's precocious talent for drawing became apparent and, aged 14, his apprenticeship was transferred to the studio of a local master named Antonio Bandile (he would later marry Bandile's daughter). It is suggested in some unconfirmed accounts that he may have studied simultaneously in the workshops of Giovanni Francesco Caroto, from whom, he may have inherited his fascination with the application of color.
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.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Paolo Veronese
- 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
- Paolo Veronese: 118 MasterpiecesBy Maria Tsaneva