I ended up visiting the Veronese exhibition at the national gallery twice. The National gallery had sourced a good selection of his major works from around the world to show alongside there own Veronese collection.
Paolo Callari (1528-1588) was known as Veronese even in his life time. He was one of Veronese proudest exports along with silks and marbles that can be found depicted in some of the paintings by way of a symbolic signature by the artist. Veronese was one of the most celebrated painters of the 16th century. He lived and worked in Venice Italy during the Renaissance period from 140o-1700 c. His style is credited as Renaissance Mannerism. The Mannerist movement, started in Italy around Veronese time and spread out across Europe. Urban or courtly scenes with posed exaggerated, idealised figures and stylised trimmings such as luxuriant fabrics typify this style. The pallets also are well thought out. The most expensive rare hues where often used to show the wealth of the patrons.
Subject matter was typically Myths of the ancient gods, depiction’s of religious fables or heavenly scenes . Also Courtly portraits or crowd scenes with the portrait of the patrons included in the tale being told by one still image.
The Mannerist took there lead form ancient Greek marbles such as ‘Laocoon’. Admiring the statue for its idealised perfection of the human form coupled with exaggerated pose enhance the muscular beauty depicted. The subject of this sculpture is a Greek fable which are used widely by painters of the high Renaissance as a platform to show there skills and honour beauty above all. Eventually Mannerism gives way to Baroque and artists such as Caravaggio, Paolo de Matties and Rubens continue where the mannerist leave of.
Michelangelo is largely credited with developing this style although he himself is not lumped in to the Mannerist group. They come just after him.. Michelangelo passed away when Veronese was in his 40’s. Also Raphael had passed when Veronese was an infant so both of these grate artist would have influenced his working style. Evidence of this is in the paintings as well as documented. Not forgetting Titian and Tintoetto whom also lived and worked in Veronese life time. Titian about 20 years his senior and Tintoetto around a decade older. Veronese is known to have greatly admired Titian as an artist. Although a Mannerist he sometimes favoured a more naturalistic style attributed to Titians influence.
This superb early painting from Veronese is said to show an admiration for Michelangelo as it echo’s his exaggerated muscular form in the bulging back of the devil who holds a jaw bone aloft. His intent is obviously to bludgeon the saint. This strong visual langue shows how the devil tried to brake the saint mentally. The bare breasted female represents other temptations endured by Saint Anthony Abort as he strove to live a holly nomadic life in the desert. the artist has given the beautiful maiden talons on instead of fingernails on the hand that clasps the saints fingers. This is our only clue that the maiden is really a demons working for Lucifer. The saints very real visions are shown to us as flesh and bone figures. They are both large and powerful as they loom over the Saint. The exaggeration of the muscles on this exquisite back show the powerful figure to be that of more than man. Only the gods, or a devil would have this physique.
Saint Anthony’s leg, face and hands are all we really see of him. The rest being shrouded under his robe. From there few anatomical eliminates we can see although old he is fit and lean. A rather handsome old man in fact. This is characteristic of Veronese paintings. His old men are always virile, knowable and strong looking. He tends to paint over and glamorise the frailty of old age. This promotes a feeling of respect and admiration from the on looker to these life sized, some times larger than life figures.
It is worth mentioning that Ruben’s (1577 -1640) who was borne a few years before Veronese death in 1580 took influence from the venetian painter. The torso of the devil in this painting to me screams Rubens. I’m sure he must have be greatly impressed by this work and adopted the ultra muscular look in for his own work.
I cam across this beautiful earlier drawing for the temptation of saint Anthony. Here we can seethe artist working out ideas for the composition. Here the figures are afforded more space. In the finished painting the very close composition making the figures appear almost two big for the canvas which seems to heighten there grander through a sense of scale is a technique favoured by Michelangelo. Here again we see his influence over Veronese.
In this drawing we see the devil is more easily recognised as such as his face is that of a demon and he has horns. Perhaps Veronese decided to make his devilish status more subtle in the final painting to show how Saint Anthony Abbots visions where set to deceive him in to temptation.
Sadly this drawing was not part of the exhibition. No drawings where. Only the grand gigantic paintings which where enough.
As his old men are strong and handsome his women are beautiful. Unlike the muscular, masculine women that Michelangelo favoured. Veronese follows Titains example sowing his female figures as beautiful, voluptuous and composed. They do seem always to be in their physical prime. I can’t recall any old women in the paintings on show but that may just be my poor memory. They certainly where not figures of importance at any rate if they where repressed at all. These young beauties are more often than not in a state of undress.
Saint Helena how ever has been afford the dignity of keeping her kit on. This has to be a favourite of mine. Although it is very hard to pick as each painting is equally masterful and exquisite. I think precepts this one acts as an oasis of calm for the eyes in amongst all the drama, lust ,violence or grader present in works by Veronese. The pallet is delightfully soft and soothing. Helena appears to peacefully sleep.
This is Veronese first version of the subject which shows Saint Helen hanging a vision of an angle showing her the cross that Christ was crucified on. The angle urges Saint Helena to pilgrimage to the holy land to find the relic. Which she indeed went on o do. The second version painted around a decade later shows Helena in far more opulence with bedside crown and expensive white gold silk dress. He posse is different also. Still sitting but this time we see her front on. Instead of angles flying by he window just one heavenly messenger is dragging the cross to her feet.
This original version is by far my preferred one. Of course the later is as exquisitely painted as all of his work is but this one has so perfectly captured the peace of sleep. Veronese based the pose of saint Helena on a Raphael drawing that he had seen an engraving of thinking it to be the perfect depiction of a woman at rest.
From this painting you can really see how the Pre-Raphaelites took there inspiration from the Renaissance Mannerists. Especially Donta Gabriela Rosette who’s strong exaggerated beauties nod to both Veronese and Michael Angelo.
The four Allegories of Love:
Veronese painted a large number of Mythologies and Allegories often with a moral message. These where painted for international clients to adorn there grand houses. The four Allegories of Love show an example of these commissions. the four are supposed to be seen together. they are thought most likely ceiling panels, perhaps for a bed chamber. The patron of these master works is unknown but thought to be an Italian. The subject also is not documented but they are now thought to represent four aspects of human romantic love.
They are as a series exquisitely beautiful. I thick Veronese is really showing of his talents here with interesting perspective, perfection of human beauty and opulence of costume. All four panels are painted from the point of view of the painters eye level being below the figures. This would involve a knowledge three point perspective and careful thought when fore shortening the figures.
For me these paintings represent the artist at his peek. He produced countless huge paintings in his 60 odd years. With 50 of his most celebrated work all in one place I’m glad I went twice. Inspiring and humbling stuff.
Booklet from National Gallery