Mattia Carneri, Bust of Paolo Veronese, San Sebastiano Church, Venice
Photo: Chiesa Cattolica Italiana - Patriarcato di Venezia
Verona, Italy, 1528
Venice, Italy, April 1588
“We painters take the same license the poet and the jesters take.”
Paolo Veronese was undeniably one of the artists of the Venetian school, along with Titian (1485-1576) and Tintoretto (1518-1594), who most deeply influenced the Italian Renaissance. His altarpieces, frescoes, portraits and majestic theatrical compositions attest to an unequalled talent for colour, light effects and illusionism. His harmony of colour and fine handling of pigment influenced a great number of artists such as Velasquez, Rubens and Cézanne. Eugène Delacroix, a 19th century painter, even named his palette of fifty-two colours in honour of Veronese.
Paolo Veronese, also known as Paolo Caliari, was born in Verona in 1528. His father was a stonecutter; unusually for the time, his son did not follow his profession. Instead, Paolo was apprenticed to Antonio Badile (1518-1560), a minor painter. He soon surpassed his teacher, and seems to have set up on his own around 1544 when he was in his mid-teens. Thanks to the help of Michele Sanmicheli, a celebrated architect, Paolo was introduced to important patrons and his career soon flourished. He settled in Venice itself around 1553. The arts flourished in the city, but Veronese had few rivals and his paintings were avidly sought after by Church and State, as well as private patrons. His body of work includes frescos, oil paintings, and a remarkable range of drawings.
Demand meant that Paolo soon required a workshop to help him. Painting was often a family business. Veronese’s earliest collaborator was his brother Benedetto, who would remain with him throughout his life. Paolo himself had married Elena Badile, the daughter of his former master. Later, their two eldest sons Gabriele and Carletto would work alongside their father and uncle. After Paolo’s death, his sons and brother continued to work together, drawing upon the rich imaginative legacy he had left them.
Veronese was considered by his peers to be an artist who paid as much attention to colour as to drawing. Designo is considered as a rather intellectual activity, whereas colorito is defined beyond colour in itself and expresses rather the ability to use colour to depict the surrounding world. By succeeding in combining both, Veronese managed to translate the opulence and realism textures like fabrics as well as vividness of colour while giving the drawing great importance in his creative process.
Veronese’s creative freedom - captured in the quotation above - caused him some trouble with the Inquisition, the court of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for ensuring all religious doctrines were carefully respected. In 1573 Veronese was brought before this court and accused of heresy because of a painting created for the refectory of San Giovanni de Paolo in Venice. The work was meant to depict the Last Supper, Christ’s last meal in the company of the apostles. Of the approximately fifty figures illustrated, more than thirty did not belong to religious history, such as buffoons, dwarves, animals and various individuals deemed profane. In order to counter the wrath of the Inquisition and avoid condemnation, Veronese was forced to change the title of his painting. From that point on, the painting carried the name Feast in the House of Levi.
Paolo Veronese died in 1588, at the age of sixty. His body now rests beneath the organ at the Church of San Sebastiano, for which he had painted a great many works.
The National Gallery has three important paintings by the artist, representing different aspects of his mature work: The Repentant Magdalene, The Dead Christ Supported by Angels from the Petrobelli altarpiece, and The Rest on the Flight into Egypt. Learn more about these works and Veronese's creative process from this website.