Just the Right Side of Insolent
“Under the circumstances, Veronese was remarkably cool. Indeed, some of his replies seem just the right side of insolent. “In this Supper” the inquisitor asked, “what is the significance of the man whose nose is bleeding?” Veronese replied, deadpan, that this man was “a servant whose nose was bleeding because of some accident.”
Then he was asked, not unreasonably, about a “man dressed as a buffoon with a parrot on his wrist”. How had this flamboyant character got mixed up in the Last Supper? Veronese laconically explained that he had put him in, “for ornament, as is customary”.
…The tribunal ordered Veronese to change the picture at his own expense or face worse penalties.
But in the end, he just altered the title from the Last Supper into the Feast at the House of Levi. One biblical meal was obviously much the same as another to the artist (he was startlingly vague about the difference between them in his answers).”[The story of Veronese’s brush with the inquisition by Martin Gayford]
“Paolo was the product of four or five generations of Veronese painters, the first two or three of which had spoken the language of the whole mass of the people in a way that few other artists had ever done. Consequently, in the early Renaissance, there were no painters in the North of Italy, and few even in Florence, who were not touched by the
influence of the Veronese. But Paolo’s own immediate predecessors were no longer able to speak she language of the whole mass of the people. There was one class they left out entirely, the class to whom Titian and Tintoretto appealed so strongly, the class that ruled, and that thought in the new way. Verona, being a dependency of Venice, did no ruling, and certainly not at all so much thinking as Venice, and life there continued healthful, simple, unconscious, untroubled by the approaching storm in the world’s feelings. But although thought and feeling may be slow in invading a town, fashion comes there quickly. Spanish fashions in dress, and Spanish ceremonial in manners, reached Verona soon enough, and in Paolo Caliari we find all these fashions reflected, [as well as] health, simplicity, and unconsciousness as well. This combination of seemingly opposite qualities forms his great charm for us today, and it must have proved as great an attraction to many of the Venetians of his own time, for they were already far enough removed from simplicity to appreciate to the full his singularly happy combination of ceremony and splendor with an almost childlike naturalness
of feeling. Perhaps among his strongest admirers were the very men who most appreciated Titian’s distinction and Tintoretto’s poetry. But it is curious to note that Paolo’s chief employers were the monasteries. His cheerfulness, and his frank and joyous worldliness, the qualities, in short, which we find in his huge pictures of feasts, seem to have been particularly welcome to those who were expected to make their meat and drink of the very opposite qualities. This is no small comment on the times, and shows how thorough had been the permeation of the spirit of the Renaissance when even the religious orders gave up their pretense to asceticism and piety. [Berenson on Veronese]
“The text is a passage from John Ruskin’s autobiography, “Praeterita,” that relates the great critic’s life-changing experience on a Sunday in Turin in 1858. A duteous observer of the Sabbath, he had attended a service of an old, proto-Protestant sect, the Waldensians, where the preacher, “a somewhat stunted figure in a plain black coat,” sermonized “on the wickedness of the wide world” and “on the exclusive favour with God” of his sparse congregation. “Myself neither cheered nor greatly alarmed by this doctrine,” Ruskin wrote, he left the chapel and went to the municipal gallery, where in one room a Veronese, “Solomon and the Queen of Sheba”—the queen and her retinue arrive bearing gifts, the most delectable of which may be the queen herself—“glowed in full afternoon light.” As he looked at the painting, he heard, through the open windows, “swells and falls” of a military band that “seemed to me more devotional, in their perfect art, tune, and discipline, than anything I remembered of evangelical hymns. And as the perfect colour and sound gradually asserted their power on me, they seemed finally to fasten me in the old article of Jewish faith, that things done delightfully and rightly were always done by the help and in the Spirit of God.” On “that day, my evangelical beliefs were put away, to be debated of no more.” In a letter to a friend, Ruskin concluded from the event that “to be a first-rate painter, you mustn’t be pious—but rather a little wicked and entirely a man of the world.” He thus gave himself over to a principled aestheticism that through his influence (on his student Oscar Wilde, for one) would inform the substitute religions of modern art.” [Peter Schjeldahl on John Ruskin and Veronese]