18 April 2019

Paolo Veronese – painter

Artist with a talent for using colour and painting people

Paolo Veronese: a self-portrait, reckoned to be painted between 1558 and 1563.
Paolo Veronese: a self-portrait, reckoned to
be painted between 1558 and 1563.
A leading figure of the 16th century Venetian school of painting, the artist Paolo Veronese died on this day in 1588 in Venice.

Veronese left a legacy of huge, colourful, paintings full of figures, which depicted allegorical, biblical or historical subjects. Much of his work remains in Venice to this day.

A dominant figure during the Renaissance, Veronese has continued to inspire and be appreciated by many of the great artists who came after him, in particular Rubens, Watteau, Tiepolo and Renoir.

Veronese was born in 1528, taking his grandfather’s surname of Caliari, but later adopting the surname Veronese, referencing his birthplace of Verona.

He began training as an artist at the age of 14 with Antonio Badile, whose daughter, Elena, he later married. One of his early works, Temptation of St Anthony, painted in 1552 for the Cathedral in Mantua, shows the influence of Michelangelo.

In 1553 he began working for the Venetian authorities on the decoration of the Palazzo Ducale. His skilful work on the ceiling of the Hall of the Council of Ten makes the figures appear to be actually floating in space above the viewer.

Veronese's painting, Wedding at Cana, full of figures and with beautiful colours, is one of his most famous works
Veronese's painting, Wedding at Cana, full of figures and
with beautiful colours, is one of his most famous works
His painting of a History of Esther for the ceiling of the Church of San Sebastiano in 1556 in Venice and his paintings for the ceiling of the Marciano Library in 1557 were awarded a prize, after being judged by Titian and Sansovino, establishing him as a master among his Venetian contemporaries.

Among his many triumphs are his decorations in the late 1550s for the Villa Barbaro in Maser, which was a newly-finished building by Andrea Palladio. These employed complex perspective and trompe l’oeil.

His famous work, Wedding at Cana, painted in 1562, was commissioned by the Benedictine monks for the San Giorgio Maggiore monastery across the lagoon from St Mark’s Square.   Veronese was contracted to cover 66 square metres and include as many figures as possible. The painting is now in the Louvre in Paris.

In 1573 Veronese completed his commission for his Feast in the House of Levi, although the painting for the rear wall of the refectory at the Basilica di Santi Giovannni e Paolo was intended to be a Last Supper.

Veronese's painting, The Feast in the House of Levi, was
originally commissioned as a Last Supper
Veronese’s banquet scene featured drunken German soldiers, dwarves and animals. The painting attracted the attention of the Inquisition who perceived it as heretical. The investigation later found there was no heresy, but the artist was ordered to change its title. Veronese chose The Feast in the House of Levi, which is still an episode from the Gospels, but one in which the Gospels specified "sinners" as being present.

In his biography of Veronese, Carlo Ridolfi said that The Feast in the House of Levi ‘gave reign to joy, made beauty majestic and made laughter, itself, more festive.’

In 1860, the art critic Theophile Gautier wrote that Veronese was ‘the greatest colourist who ever lived’.

Veronese died in Venice after contracting a fever in April 1588, when he was in his 60th year.  His brother and sons had him buried in the Church of San Sebastiano, which he had spent many years decorating, and they had a bust placed over his grave.

The Chiesa di San Sebastiano,
where Veronese painted for 15 years
Travel tip:

Veronese spent three periods between 1555 and 1570 decorating the interior of Chiesa di San Sebastiano in Venice. His last work for the church was the painting behind the high altar, Madonna in Glory with St Sebastian and other Saints, completed in 1570. Veronese’s tomb is to the left of the sanctuary. The church is in Campazzo San Sebastiano, a short walk from Ponte dell’Accademia, the Accademia bridge.

The entrance to the Gallerie dell'
Accademia, in Campo della Carità
Travel tip:

Veronese’s masterpiece, The Feast in the House of Levi, originally painted for the refectory at the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, is now in Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia, an art gallery in Campo della Carita close to the Grand Canal, after which the wooden bridge, Ponte dell’Accademia is named.

More reading:

Titian - the giant of Renaissance art

How Sansovino left his mark on Venice

What made Palladio the world's favourite architect

Also on this day:

1798: The death of supremely gifted painter of Venetian scenes, Canaletto

1937: The birth of chef and restaurateur Antonio Carluccio

1953: The birth of Olympic champion Sara Simeon


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