Paolo Veronese

Paolo Veronese was an Italian painter of the Renaissance in Venice, famous for paintings such as The Wedding at Cana and The Feast in the House of Levi. It was common for surnames to be taken from a father's profession, and thus Veronese was known as Paolo Spezapreda. When relocated to Venice, he adopted the name Paolo Cagliari or Caliari, and became known as "Veronese" from his birthplace in Verona. Veronese, Titian, and Tintoretto constitute the triumvirate of pre-eminent Venetian painters of the late Renaissance (sixteenth century). Veronese is known as a supreme colorist, and for his illusionistic decorations in both fresco and oil. His most famous works are elaborate narrative cycles, executed in a dramatic and colorful Mannerist style, full of majestic architectural settings and glittering pageantry.

Born in Verona, Veronese started his apprenticed age of fourteen with the local master Antonio Badile, and perhaps with Giovanni Francesco Caroto. Veronese's precocious gifts soon surpassed the level of the workshop. Although trained in the culture of Mannerism then popular in Parma, he soon developed his own preference for a more radiant palette. He then moved briefly to Mantua in 1548 (where he created frescoes in that city's Duomo) before arriving in Venice in 1553. His first Venetian commission was a Sacra Conversazione from San Francesco della Vigna (c.1552). In 1553, he obtained his first state commission, the fresco decoration of the Sala dei Cosiglio dei Dieci (the Hall of the Council of Ten) and the adjoining Sala dei Tre Capi del Consiglio. He then painted a History of Esther in the ceiling for the church of San Sebastiano. It was this ceiling that established him as a master among his Venetian contemporaries.

By 1556 Veronese was commissioned to paint the first of his monumental banquet scenes, the Feast in the House of Simon, which would not be concluded until 1570. In the late 1550s, during a break in his work for San Sebastiano, Veronese decorated the Villa Barbaro in Maser by the architect Andrea Palladio. The frescoes were designed to unite humanistic culture with Christian spirituality; wall paintings included portraits of the Barbaro family. Veronese's decorations employed complex perspective and trompe l'oeil, and resulted in a luminescent and inspired visual poetry. The encounter between architect and artist was a triumph.

The Wedding at Cana, painted in 1562–1563, was also collaboration with Palladio. It was commissioned by the Benedictine monks for the San Giorgio Maggiore Monastery. The contract insisted on the huge size, and that the quality of pigment and colors should be of premium quality. The contract also specified that the painting should include as many figures as possible. There are a number of portraits (including those of Titian and Tintoretto, as well as a self-portrait of Veronese) staged upon a canvas surface nearly ten meters wide. The scene, taken from the New Testament, represents the first miracle performed by Jesus, the making of wine from water, at a marriage in Cana, Galilee. Also painted between 1565–70 is his Madonna and Child with St. Elizabeth, the Infant St. John the Baptist, and St. Justina in the Timken Museum of Art.

In 1573 Veronese completed the painting which is now known as The Feast in the House of Levi for the rear wall of the refectory of the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The painting originally was intended as a depiction of the Last Supper. It was designed to replace a canvas by Titian that had been lost in a fire. Even as Veronese's use of color attained greater intensity and luminosity, his attention to narrative, human sentiment, and a more subtle and meaningful physical interplay between his figures became evident. That the subject was indeed the Last Supper, but greatly exceeded most interpretations to that time, was not lost on the Inquisition. A decade earlier the monks who commissioned the Wedding at Cana had requested that the artist squeeze the maximum number of figures into their painting, but the Counter-Reformation had since exerted its influence in Venice, and in July 1573, Veronese was summoned to explain the inclusion of what they considered extraneous and indecorous details in the painting. The tone of the hearing was cautionary rather than punitive; Veronese explained that "we painters take the same liberties as poets and madmen", and rather than repaint the picture as he was ordered to do by the tribunal, he simply and pragmatically retitled it to the less sacramental title by which it is known today.

In addition to the ceiling creations and wall paintings, Veronese also produced altarpieces (The Consecration of Saint Nicholas, 1561–2, London's National Gallery), paintings on mythological subjects (Venus and Mars, 1578, New York Metropolitan Museum of Art), and portraits (Portrait of a Lady, 1555, Louvre). A significant number of compositional sketches in pen, ink and wash, figure studies in chalk, and chiaroscuro modelli and ricordi are in circulation. Veronese was one of the first painters whose drawings were sought by collectors during his lifetime. He headed a family workshop, including his brother Benedetto as well as his sons Carlo and Gabriele, that remained active after his death in Venice in 1588.

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