1902 Encyclopedia > Paolo Veronese

Paolo Veronese
Italian painter of the Venetian school
(1528-88)




PAOLO VERONESE, (1528-1588), the name ordinarily given to PAOLO CALIARI, or CAGLIARI, the latest of the great cycle of painters of the Venetian school, was born in Verona in 1528 according to the best authorities (Zan-etti and others), or in 1532 according to Ridolfi. His father, Gabriele Caliari, a sculptor, began to train Paolo to his own profession. The boy, however, showed more propensity to painting, and was therefore transferred to his uncle, the painter Antonio Badile. According to Vasari, he was the pupil of Giovanni Carotto, a painter proficient in architecture and perspective ; this statement remains unconfirmed. Paolo, in his early years, applied himself to copying from the engravings of Albert Diirer and the drawings of Parmigiano ; and, having in a singular degree the gifts of facility, retentiveness, and amenity, he made rapid progress. He did some work in Verona, but found there little outlet for his abilities, the field being pretty well occupied by Ligozzi, Brusasorci, Battista dal Moro, Paolo Farinato, Domenico Riccio, and other artists. Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga took him, when barely past twenty years of age, to Mantua, along with the three last-named painters, to execute in the cathedral a picture of the Temptation of St Anthony; here Caliari was considered to excel his competitors. Returning to Verona, he found himself exposed to some envy and ill-will. Hence he formed an artistic partnership with Battista Zelotti, and they painted together in the territories of Vicenza and Treviso. Finally Paolo went on to Venice. In this city his first pictures were executed in 1555 in the sacristy and church of St Sebastian, an uncle of his being prior of the monastery. The subjects on the vaulting are taken from the history of Esther; and these excited so much admiration that thenceforward Caliari, aged about twenty-eight, ranked almost on a par with Tintoretto, aged about forty-five, or with Titian in his eightieth year, and his life became a series of triumphs. Besides the Esther subjects, these buildings contain his pictures of the Baptism of Christ, the Martyrdom of St Marcus and St Marcellinus, the Martyrdom of St Sebastian, &c. As regards this last-named work, there is a vague tradition that Caliari painted it at a time when he had taken refuge in the monastery, for some reason now unknown. He entered into a com-petition for painting the ceiling of the library of St Mark, and not only obtained the commission but executed it with so much power that his very rivals voted him the golden chain which had been tendered as an honorary distinction. At one time he returned to Verona, and painted the Banquet in the House of Simon the Pharisee, with Jesus and Mary Magdalene, for the refectory of St Mazzaro,—a picture now in Turin. In 1560, however, he was in Venice again, working partly in the St Sebastian buildings and partly in the ducal palace. He visited Rome in 1563, in the suite of Girolamo Grimani, the Venetian ambassador, and acquired enhanced elevation of style by studying the works of Raphael and Michelangelo, and especially the antique. Returning to Venice, he was overwhelmed with commissions, almost transcending the resources even of his own marvellous assiduity, fertility, and promptitude,— qualities in which no painter perhaps has ever surpassed him. He was compelled to decline an invitation from Philip II. to go to Spain and assist in decorating the Escorial. One of his pictures of this period is the famous Venice, Queen of the Sea, in the ducal palace. He died in Venice on the 20th (or perhaps 19th) of April 1588, and was buried in the church of St Sebastian, a monument being set up to him there by his two sons, Gabriele and Carlo, and his brother, Benedetto, all of them painters.
Beyond his magnificent performances as a painter, the known incidents in the life of Paul Veronese are (as will be perceived from the above account) very few. That he was prosperous is certain, and that he was happy is an almost necessary inference from the character of his pictures, on which the joy of living is ineffaceably stamped. He was honoured and loved, being kind, amiable, gener-ous, and an excellent father. His person is well known from the portraits left by himself and others : he was a dark man, rather good-looking than otherwise, somewhat bald in early middle age, and with nothing to mark an exceptional energy or turn of char-acter. In his works the first quality which strikes one is the palatial splendour—grand architecture, stately vistas, personages of easy and affable dignity in sumptuous costumes, the crowded assemblies.

the luxury of environment, the air and light, the graceful and abundant poise of action and of limb, the rhythmic movement, the sweet and lordly variegation of tint. The pictorial inspiration is entirely that of the piercing and comprehensive eye and the magical hand—not of the mind ; for Veronese yields none but negative results to the touchstone either of exalted and profound imagina-tion or of searching and constructive common-sense. The human form and face are given with decorous comeliness, often with beauty. He constantly painted his figures and faces from the life, thus securing range and precision of character ; but of individual apposite expression there is next to none, and of reasoned realistic contact with the professed subject matter—whether in general disposition, in costume and accessory, or in attitude and effort of mind—there is frequently no trace at all. In fact, Paolo Veronese is pre-eminently a painter working pictorially, and in no wise amenable to a literary or rationalizing standard : you can neither exhibit nor vindicate his scenic apparatus by any transcription into words. He enjoys a sight much as Ariosto enjoys a story, and displays it in form and colour with a zest like that of Ariosto for language and verse. As we have already indicated, he was supreme in representing, without huddling or confusion, numerous figures in a luminous and diffused atmosphere, while in richness of draperies and trans-parency of shadows he surpassed all the other Venetians or Italians. In gifts of this kind Rubens alone could be pitted against him. In the moderation of art combined with its profusion he far excelled Rubens ; for, dazzling as is the first impression of a great work by Veronese, there is in it, in reality, as much of soberness and serenity as of exuberance. By variety and apposition he produces a most brilliant effect of colour ; and yet his hues are seldom bright. He hoards his primary tints and his high lights, like a rich miser who knows how to play the genial host on occasion. A colossal spon-taneity, to which a great result is only a small effort of faculty, is the chief and abiding impression derived from contemplating his works. He very rarely produced small pictures : the spacious was his element.
Of all Veronese's paintings the one which has obtained the greatest world-wide celebrity is the vast Marriage at Cana, now in the Louvre. It contains about a hundred and twenty figures or heads—those in the foreground being larger than life. Several of them are portraits. Among the personages specified (some of them probably without sufficient reason) are the Marquis del Vasto, Queen Eleanor of France, Francis I., Queen Mary of England, Sul-tan Soleyman L, Vittoria Colonna, Charles V., Tintoretto, Titian, the elder Bassano, Benedetto Caliari, and Paolo Veronese himself (the figure playing the viol). It is impossible to look at this picture without astonishment ; it enlarges one's conception of what pic-torial art means and can do. The only point of view from which it fails is that of the New Testament narrative ; for there is no more relation between the Galilean wedding and Veronese's court-banquet than between a true portrait of Lazarus and a true portrait of Dives. This stupendous performance was executed for the re-fectory of the monastery of S. Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, the con-tract for it being signed in June 1562 and the picture completed in September 1563. Its price was 324 silver ducats ( = £160), along with the artist's living-expenses and a tun of wine. There are five other great banquet-pictures by Caliari, only inferior in scale and excel-lence to this of Cana. One of them is also in the Louvre, a Feast in the House of Simon the Pharisee, painted towards 1570-75 for the refectory of the Servites in Venice. A different version of the same theme is in the Brera Gallery of Milan. The Feast of Simon the Leper, 1570, was done for the refectory of the monks of St Sebastian, and the Feast of Levi (St Matthew), 1573, now in the Venetian academy, for the refectory of the monks of St John and St Paul. In each instance the price barely exceeded the cost of the materials, so different were the conditions under which an artist even of the first celebrity, as Veronese then was, worked in Italy in the 16th century from the conditions prevailing at the present day. The Louvre contains ten other specimens of Veronese, notably the Susanna and the Elders, and the Supper at Emmaus. In the London National Gallery are six examples. The most beautiful is St Helena's Vision of the Cross, founded upon an en-graving by Marcantonio after a drawing supposed to be the work of Raphael. Far more famous than this is the Family of Darius at the Feet of Alexander the Great after the Battle of Issus—the captives having mistaken Hepha?stion for Alexander. It was bought for £13,560, and has even been termed (very unreasonably) the most celebrated of all Veronese's works. The principal figures are portraits of the Pisani family. It is said that Caliari was ac-cidentally detained at the Pisani villa at Este, and there painted this work, and, on quitting, told the family that he had left behind him an equivalent for his courteous entertainment. Another picture in the National Gallery, Europa and the Bull, is a study for the large painting in the imperial gallery of Vienna, and re-sembles one in the ducal palace of Venice. The Venetian aca-demy contains fourteen works by Veronese. One of the finest—it is indeed a singular and choice masterpiece—is a comparatively small picture of the Battle of Lepanto, with. Christ in heaven pouring light upon the Christian fleet and darkness on the Turkish. In the Uffizi Gallery of Florence are two specimens of exceptional beauty—the Annunciation and Esther Presenting her-self to Ahasuerus ; for delicacy and charm this latter work yields to nothing that the master produced. In Verona St George and St Julian, in Brescia the Martyrdom of St Afra, and in Padua the Martyrdom of St Justina are works of leading renown. The draw-ings of Veronese are very fine, and he took pleasure at times in engraving on copper.
The brother and sons of Paolo already mentioned, and Battista Zelotti, were his principal assistants and followers. Benedetto Caliari, the brother, who was about ten years younger than Paolo, is reputed to have had a very large share in designing and execut-ing the architectural backgrounds which form so conspicuous a feature in Paolo's compositions. If this is not overstated, it must be allowed that a substantial share in Paolo's fame accrues to Benedetto ; for not only are the backgrounds admirably schemed and limned, but they govern to a large extent the invention and distribution of the groups. Of the two sons Carlo (or Carletto), the younger, is the better known. He was born in 1570, and was the favourite of his father, who sent him to study under Bassano. He produced various noticeable works, and died young in 1596. Gabriele, born in 1568, attended, after Carlo's death, almost en-tirely to commercial affairs; his works in painting are rare.. All three were occupied after the death of Paolo in finishing his pictures left uncompleted.
See Ridolfi, he Meraviglie dell' Arte, &c.; Dal Pozzo, Viie de' Pittori Veronesi,
&c.; Zanetti, Delia Pitlura Veneziana, &c; and Lanzi. (W. M. R.)







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