Fragment of the Petrobelli Altarpiece: The Dead Christ with Angels, c. 1563
Paolo Caliari (called Veronese)
oil on canvas
222.3 x 251 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 3336)
Around 1563, the cousins Antonio and Girolamo Petrobelli commissioned this painting for a church in Lendinara. It depicts them, at left and right respectively, with their name Saints Anthony and Jerome presenting them to the Archangel Saint Michael, who simultaneously weighs a soul in balance and vanquishes the Devil. Above them, angels present the Dead Christ for contemplation. The whole painting in its entirety is a meditation on the individuals’ relationship with Christ and his sacrifice, and leading a virtuous life. Commissioning such a painting would have been seen as an act of virtue, as well as an assertion of status. Members of the Petrobelli family were buried in the church, close to the altar on which this painting was installed. The town of Lendinara is closer to Paolo Veronese’s native Verona than to Venice. While Paolo had moved to Venice by this date, he was evidently keen to consolidate his growing reputation on the Italian mainland as well as in the vibrant artistic and mercantile hub of Venice.
While a painting of this scale would involve the participation of studio assistants, technical examination of the fragments and the overall quality of handling indicate that this work can be firmly attributed to Paolo. At the drawing stage, a variety of approaches were employed in setting the initial design: perspectival mapping of architecture, accurately transferred life-studies, along with free-hand work and adaptation. The painting was commenced firstly at the top half, then at the lower tier, but finished as a whole. The upper section, further from the viewer, is painted more loosely with bolder strokes. The range of pigments used on the painting is rich for paintings of the period: Venice was a city of trade, and a greater range of types of canvas and painting materials was available to its artists.