Portrait of a Man, possibly a Self Portrait
by Paolo Veronese
This person is associated with: Renaissance, Mannerism
Italian Mannerist painter from Verona.
He trained in Verona under Antonio Badile, then Giovanni Francesco Caroto.
He became famous with the decoration of the Villa Soranzo near Castelfranco at the end of the 1540s. The villa was destroyed in 1818 and its frescoes only survived in fragments.
The success of this first commission enabled him access to the wealthy patrons of Venice, where he arrived in about 1551. Only four years later, he was asked to decorate the ceiling of the room of the Council of the Ten in the Doge's Palace. This prestigious task - brilliantly accomplished - established him as the equal of Titian and Tintoretto, the other two great Venetian painters, with whom Veronese was in competition. Later he worked between 1555-65 in the church of San Sebastiano, notably by painting three canvases on the story of Esther.
Veronese's works exhibited brilliant colours. His palette was so intense that he gave his name to a colour: the Veronese Green, but the blue, yellow, and orange he used for the clothes of his characters were also bright, and - contrary to many other paintings - have still retained all their strength today. These pigments perfectly matched the lush of the Serenissima - at the time the richest city on Earth.
The Venetian nobility was besides fond of his full-length portraits underlining the aristocratic traits of the sitter. He also included representations of his patrons as donors in large altarpieces painted for Venetian churches, where many of them are still located. In addition, the humanist and prelate Daniele Barbaro ordered him to paint the inner decoration of his Villa Barbaro at Maser, on the mainland, for which he made a complex allegoric cycle in quadrattura.
Veronese was also celebrated for his impressive sense of perspective, which allowed him to paint very large canvases, among the largest ever made. Once his work at the Villa Barbaro finished in 1561, Veronese started to paint scenes of biblical banquets for refectories in convents, but he actually used the biblical scene as a pretext to display both his virtuosity and the riches of the Venetian upper-class. These immense works look overcrowded with several dozens of characters in refinement, and Christ is often barely visible in the midst of a pomp never matched since. As a result, the dimensions of these paintings broke records. The most famous of them, The Wedding at Cana, reaches 10 meters in width and 6.6m in height in order to represent 130 characters! This work and The Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee were taken from Venice by Napoleon in 1797 and hung in the Louvre and Versailles - where they remain today as the biggest canvases of both collections.
Nevertheless, The Feast in the House of Levi, Veronese's largest banquet (13m wide), required him to face an inquisition court (in 1573) because the Church did not appreciate the diversion of the Last Supper (the original title of the work) into a gargantuan party. He was finally acquitted after having changed the title and made a famous speech claiming the artistic freedom of the painter.
At the end of the 1570s Veronese produced more mythological scenes, such as his new decorations for the Doge's Palace or the famous series of the Four Allegories of Love (National Gallery, London) made for Emperor Rudolf II - his most generous patron during this period. His last important commission was however an ensemble of ten canvases of equal size depicting biblical subjects, called the Duke of Buckingham Series, after the name of its first known owner. Seven of them are now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which also hosts the best collection of Veronese's works outside Venice, as many of them precisely come from Rudolf II's collection.
Veronese could not have kept such a productive pace in his later years without the growing help of his workshop, notably composed of his brother Benedetto (1538-98), his two sons Carlo (or Carletti, 1570-96) and Gabriele (1568-1631), and his nephew Luigi Benfatto (1551-1611). They continued to run the workshop after the death of the great master in 1588, until the end of the century. They signed their works Haeredes Pauli Veronensis ("the heirs of Paul Veronese").
Finally, the painter of Venetian grandeur was rapidly overshadowed by Caravaggio who conversely favoured dark colours, strong contrast and much less pomp. However, his influence came back to the fore in the 18th century, especially thanks to the effort of Tiepolo, who tried to recreate the magnificence of Veronese in his compositions.
Richard Cocke, Veronese's Drawings, A Catalogue Raisonné, London, Sotheby Publications, 1984.
Detlev von Hadeln, Paolo Veronese, Florence, 1978.
Filippo Pedrocco & Terisio Pignatti, Veronese: Catalogo completo dei dipinti, Florence, Cantini, 1991.
Terisio Pignatti, L'Opera di Paolo Veronese, Venice, 1976.