Veronese (Paolocaliari)(1528–1588)

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VERONESE (PAOLOCALIARI) (15281588), Italian painter. Paolo Veronese (alongside Titian) was the most influential painter of the Venetian Renaissance. Trained in the 1540s in his native Verona by Antonio Badile and Giovanni Caroto, Veronese moved to Venice about 1551. He brought with him an intimate understanding of both Andrea Mantegna's spatial and structural precision in painting and Giulio Romano's more contemporary decorative mode (which drew heavily on the art of High Renaissance Rome, especially that of Raphael). These influences are already at play in early works such as The Temptation of Saint Anthony (15521553, Musée des Beaux Arts, Caen). But Veronese also proved immediately responsive to local artistic tradition in Venice. His first major commission in the city (the Giustiniani altarpiece of c. 1551, S. Francesco della Vigna, Venice) was modeled directly on Titian's Pesaro altarpiece, and many of his subsequent paintings of this type continue to refer to this seminal work. A few years later Titian recognized Veronese's deferential attitude by awarding him a golden chain for his contribution to a ceiling in the newly built Marciana Library (Music, 15561557).

Veronese quickly won favor with leading families among the Venetian nobility, and it was probably this connection with the upper classes that led him to change his name from Spezapreda (stonecutter) to Caliari (the name of a leading aristocratic family in Verona). His sensitivity to the values of Venetian patricians is evident in such portraits as Giuseppe da Porto with His Son Adriano (c. 1556, Contini-Bonacossi collection, Florence), which is characterized by a restrained magnificence. About 1560 the patrician brothers Daniele and Marcantonio Barbaro invited Veronese to fresco their new country villa at Maser, recently built by Andrea Palladio. Linking his images to one anotherand also to the real space of the villaby means of fictive architecture, Veronese provided a modern reconstruction of the kind of pictorial decoration found in ancient Roman country villas. To the somewhat obtuse allegorical program of his patrons, Veronese applied his usual light touch. His imagery manages to allude to all the main cultural, social, and economic functions of the house: as place of rural retreat, intellectual contemplation, family life, and agrarian productivity. But this content is constantly enlivened by playful trompe-l'oeil effects, intimate human and animal portraits, and humorous visual asides. The overt reference to classical models of domestic decoration is constantly underpinned (although never undermined) by the painter's special understanding of Venetian naturalism.

Between 1555 and 1565 Veronese worked on a series of paintings for the Hieronymite church of S. Sebastiano in Venice. Taken together, this ensemble (ceiling paintings, wall paintings on canvas and in fresco, painted organ-shutters, and an altarpiece) represents Veronese's masterwork in the field of sacred imagery. The nave paintings, showing scenes from the Book of Esther, offer a tour de force in illusionism and perspective foreshortening, but the tone remains festive and triumphal, and despite their religious content the compositions could serve well as models for subsequent works in a secular context. Veronese himself drew on these paintings in his later work for the Ducal Palace (for example, Faith, 15751578), while Peter Paul Rubens, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and many other painters over the next two centuries used the S. Sebastiano ceiling as a model.

Veronese's confident elision of secular and sacred modes in his paintings is most evident in privately commissioned works such as The Supper at Emmaus (c. 15591560, Musée du Louvre, Paris) in which patronal portraits crowd around the sacred figures under a Palladian loggia. In The Marriage at Cana (15621563, Louvre) for San Giorgio Maggiore, Veronese produced a scene of lavish contemporary feastmaking in an idealized Palladian setting. Among the group of finely dressed musicians are portraits of leading Venetian painters: Veronese shows himself (playing a viol) as prominent, alongside the elderly Titian just to the right (playing a viola da gamba).

But such playful visual asides soon threatened to get the painter into trouble with the religious authorities. His inclusion of buffoons, dwarves, and German soldiers in the foreground of his Last Supper of 1573 (Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice) landed him in front of the Catholic Inquisition who questioned the decorum of such additions. In response, the painter merely added an inscription identifying the subject as a less important one (the Feast in the House of Levi ) and did not remove any of the offending figures.

Veronese's visual flamboyance did not markedly diminish in the 1570s, and it was only in the last decade of his life that he moved toward a more emotionally expressive approach (for example, The Last Communion of Saint Lucy, c. 15851586, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). But it was the integrated compositions of his earlier manner that were destined to be so influential on European artistic tradition over the following centuries. His sumptuous approach to picture making, underpinned by a clear grasp of perspective construction, offered a vital bridge between the scientific and naturalistic art of the early Renaissance and the decorative manner of the baroque and rococo periods. From the outset of his career, his pictorial lucidity reflected his special capacity for the absorption and integration of differing stylistic tendencies, and this gift for stylistic synthesis never deserted him.

See also Venice, Art in .


The Art of Paolo Veronese, 15281588. Exh. cat. Edited by W. R. Rearick. Washington, D.C., 1988.

Nuovi studi su Paolo Veronese. Edited by M. Gemin. Venice, 1990.

Pedrocco, Filippo, and Terisio Pignatti. Veronese catalogo completo. Florence, 1991.

Pignatti, Teresio. Veronese. 2 vols. Venice, 1976.

Tom Nichols

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Veronese (Paolocaliari)(1528–1588)

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