Paolo Veronese’s paintings are grandiose and magnificent visions of the spectacle of sixteenth-century Venetian life. His art is inextricably linked to the idea of opulence and splendor in Renaissance Venice. The works of Veronese are crowded compositions with theatrical effects, in which groups of sumptuously dressed characters reenact religious and secular events. During his prolific and highly successful career, Veronese produced paintings ranging from complex fresco decorations for villas and palaces to large-scale altarpieces, smaller devotional paintings, portraits, and mythological, historical, and allegorical pictures (10.189) in different formats. One of Veronese’s main biographers, the art historian Carlo Ridolfi, writing in 1648, eulogized the painter’s “outlandish and majestic gods, grave characters, matrons full of graces and charm, kings richly adorned, the diversity of draperies, various military spoils, ornate architecture, joyous plants, beautiful animals and many of these curiosities.” Another writer, Marco Boschini, described Veronese’s work in 1660: “certainly never has been seen among painters such regal pomp and circumstance, such majestic actions, such weighty and decorous manner! He is the treasurer of the art and of the colors. This is not painting, it is magic that casts a spell on people who see it.” Veronese produced beautiful and careful compositional drawings for most of his painted projects. His dazzling and effective use of color has been praised and celebrated over the centuries. Boschini also concluded that “to achieve such effects, he has mixed gold with pearls, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires of the best quality, and the purest and most perfect diamonds. And to flavor it he has scattered the flowers most gentle that come from the Levant with all of the most beautiful things that Nature can make with its colors.”
Paolo Caliari was born in Verona in 1528, the son of a local stonecutter. As a young man, in the 1540s, he trained under the artist Antonio Badile and was educated in the shadow of the antiquarian taste that was developing in those years in Verona, mainly through the architect Michele Sanmicheli. Veronese lived, however, most of his life in the city of Venice, where he moved in the early 1550s. His first documented project was the decoration of Villa Soranzo at Treville (now destroyed), followed by the commission, in 1552, for an altarpiece for the Cathedral in Mantua (Musée des Beaux Arts, Caen). His art was deeply influenced by the classical taste promoted in northeastern Italy by Correggio, Parmigianino, and Giulio Romano. As early as 1553, Veronese started to work on the decoration of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, where he worked on and off until his death. A year later, he also painted the ceiling of the sacristy of the Church of San Sebastiano, another site that was entirely decorated by the artist over the following twenty years. In 1557, he was awarded a gold chain as the prize for the best painter in a team that had decorated the ceiling of the Marciana Library with roundels depicting allegorical figures. It is likely that in 1560 Veronese traveled to Rome, as part of a diplomatic embassy. Following his return, he decorated with complex allegorical frescoes the Villa Barbaro at Maser, justly considered his masterpiece. Veronese also produced vast canvases of New Testament Feasts for refectories of several churches in the Veneto. Most famous of all is his Marriage Feast at Cana (1562–63) for San Giorgio Maggiore (now Musée du Louvre, Paris). In 1566, Veronese was briefly back in Verona, where he married Elena Badile, the daughter of his old teacher.
During the 1560s and 1570s, he produced large allegorical canvases, arguably commissioned by or painted for the imperial family in Vienna and Prague. Mars and Venus United by Love (10.189) is one of the most splendid of the series. By 1573, another of Veronese’s paintings, the Feast in the House of Levi (Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice), caused his appearance in front of the Inquisition, charged with having included improper figures in a religious composition; having wittily defended himself, he was acquitted. He produced grand independent portraits (46.31; 29.100.105), but also most successfully included family portraits into grander scenes, for example, in the Virgin and Child with Saints and the Cuccina Family (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden). Later in life, Veronese continued to paint for the Doge’s Palace and created poignant paintings, such as the Agony in the Garden (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) and the Miracle of Saint Pantaleon (San Pantaleon, Venice). He died in Venice on April 19, 1588, having caught a pulmonary infection at a religious procession near his country house at Sant’Angelo. He was buried in the church he had almost single-handedly decorated, San Sebastiano. His workshop continued under his brother Benedetto and sons Carlo (known as Carletto) and Gabriele, although it slowly declined. The enterprise was known and signed works as “Haeredes Pauli” (Paolo’s heirs).
Veronese’s art was extremely popular during his life and after his death. Prints were produced after his paintings, most importantly, by Agostino Carracci (53.600.2105). Generations of artists—well into the nineteenth century—studied Veronese’s work closely and his influence can clearly be seen on artists such as the Carracci family, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Giambattista Tiepolo, Antoine Watteau, and Eugene Delacroix.
Salomon, Xavier. “Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari) (1528–1588).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/vero/hd_vero.htm (November 2011)
Cocke, Richard. Veronese. London: Jupiter Books, 1980.
Rearick, William R. The Art of Paolo Veronese, 1528–1588. Exhibition catalogue. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1988.
Salomon, Xavier F., ed. and trans. Lives of Veronese. London: Pallas Athene Arts, 2009.