Paolo Veronese (1528 - 1588)
Paolo Veronese is the wonder and despair of modern painters by reason of the quality, facility and quantity of his work, so much of which was done so admirably and so easily as to seem incredible. Granting that he may not be so great an artist as Titian, nor so great a poet as Tintoretto, neither of them produced anything which as a downright tour de force of painting equals his "Marriage at Cana."
Christ and the Woman of Samaria
Working side by side, as Veronese did, with Titian and Tintoretto, the whole splendor of Venice is revealed in his canvases, and his decorations in the Ducal Palace immortalize the pageantry which characterized the Italy of his time.
Veronese, whose real name was Paolo Cagliari, was born in Verona, as his cognomen implies, in 1528. His father was a sculptor, and was ambitious for his son to follow in
his footsteps. But the boy early gave evidence of a marked predilection for painting, and in his early twenties executed decorations for the Mantuan Cathedral that so far surpassed those of his collaborators that he found himself the object of considerable ill-will and jealousy.
We hear of him in Venice, at work on a commission to paint a Coronation of the Virgin and other subjects for the sacristy of the Church of San Sebastiano. Such was his initial success that he was entrusted with the decoration of the ceiling of the church with scenes from the story of Esther and Ahasuerus. The impression created by this work was profound. Still under thirty, the fame of the young painter was assured. He found himself the most popular artist of the day in Venice, "acknowledged by one and all to be well-nigh the equal of Tintoretto," who was ten years his senior, and "even to rival Titian," then in his eightieth year. Titian, with characteristic generosity, was one of the first to recognize the genius of Veronese, whose progress he did much to advance.
One of his early and interesting commissions was to decorate, in conjunction with several of the most celebrated Venetian artists, the newly built Library of St. Mark's. A prize of honor, over and above the price agreed upon for the work, was to be conferred upon that artist whose work might be adjudged superior. "And after all the pictures had been well examined," writes Vasari, "a golden chain was placed around the neck of Paolo Veronese, he, by the opinion of all, being adjudged to have done the best."
His "Marriage at Cana" was painted for the Convent of San Giorgio Maggiore, and was followed by other large canvases representing similar Biblical scenes. "All these great compositions," it has been noted, "in spite of their sacred titles, were, in reality, merely reproductions of those sumptuous banquets and festive entertainments in which the wealthy Venetians took delight, and which were marked by an ever-increasing degree of state and ceremonial. The presence of Christ and His disciples are but accessories in the scene. The stately Palladian architecture and gorgeous costumes, the crowd of musicians, the buffoons and lackeys, the gold and silver plate, the silken canopies and banners, are all borrowed from Venetian life." Veronese plainly delighted in portraying such scenes. He is said to have written on the back of one of his drawings: "If I ever have time, I want to represent a sumptuous banquet in a superb hall, at which will be present the Virgin, the Savior, and St. Joseph. They will be served by the most brilliant retinue of angels which one can imagine ... to show with what zeal blessed spirits serve the Lord."