D25-26 Paolo Veronese

D25 – Veronese

These next two rooms are dedicated to the artist known as Paolo Veronese (born Paolo Caliari) due to his birth city of Verona. The earliest piece here is the Portrait of Count Giuseppe da Porto with His Son (c. 1555).

Some scholars identify the Count’s son as Adriano, the oldest of Giuseppe’s children, while others believe he is the Count’s second son, Leonida, based on the dating of the portrait. These scholars believe that at the time this painting was completed, Adriano would have been much older than the age of the child depicted. Neither identification has yet been definitive.

This work is a companion piece to the Portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene and her Daughter, which depicts Giuseppe’s wife Livia and one of the couple’s daughters (now held by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore).

The identification of the daughter has also been a matter of debate, some scholars believing that she is the oldest daughter Porzia while others believe, based on the age of the girl depicted, she is the couple’s daughter Deidamia. Regardless of the identities of the children, what is interesting is the fact that they are included at all. Up until this time, portraits were typically waist high depictions of a male or female sitter, commissioned (at least in the case of the female sitters) upon the sitter’s marriage. Veronese, however, moved away from that trend and instead produced a full-length family portrait, emphasizing the sitters’ dynastic ambitions. The inclusion of the children also allowed Veronese to demonstrate his skills in bringing a sitter’s personality to the forefront. The children playfully tug at their parents’ clothing in an innocent and endearing manner, capturing their youthfulness and the spontaneity of childhood. Additionally, the children’s luxurious silk clothing matches that of their parents, testifying to the wealth of the family and their intentions of passing that wealth down through the generations. In fact, both Giuseppe and Livia’s families were involved in the silk trade. Their wealth is further displayed via the extensive amount of fur in both portraits, as well as Giuseppe’s gloves. Interestingly, Giuseppe has taken one glove off, to place his naked hand upon his child’s shoulder. Gloves not only indicated wealth and status, but also symbolized travel and distance, i.e., the exterior world, and therefore how one presents himself to that exterior world. By taking his glove off, Giuseppe is showing his interior life and the intimacy/nearness of his relationship with his son.

It is likely that the pieces were part of Veronese’s overall design for Palazzo Porto, the Count’s newly built house, which he had been commissioned to decorate. Based on Veronese’s lighting choices, scholars believe that the portraits were meant to hang on either side of a window (the extra floor space in the Walter’s portrait was a later addition; Livia and her daughter would have been lined up with her husband and son in the original version).

The clever niche that both portraits employ is indicative of Veronese’s skill in perspective (creating three-dimensional space on a flat surface), a skill which he also employs in another early piece in this room, his Annunciation (1556).

According to Christian belief, the Annunciation is the moment that the angel Gabriel announces to Mary, the mother of Jesus, that God has chosen her to bear his son. The Annunciation was a popular subject in Venetian art because Mary was Venice’s patron saint, and according to legend, the city was founded on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25, 421).

Veronese’s Annunciation held by the Uffizi is the earliest rendition of more than twelve Annunciations that he would paint during his career. This early attempt is much more reminiscent of central Italian depictions of the subject, especially due to its horizontal structure.

Whereas Veronese’s later versions adhere much more to the northern tradition (i.e. vertical, angel flying in from on high, closer and more intimate interaction between angel and Virgin, and the use of clouds as architectural elements):

In the Uffizi Annunciation, Veronese does use a typical Venetian palazzo as the setting instead of an enclosed garden for his work, signifying his desire to celebrate Venice despite the similarities to the central Italian Annunciations, although he give us glimpses of the iconographic garden through the centrally located arch. Through its placement at the center of the work, Veronese hints at the garden’s importance to the overall understanding of the iconography.

The walled garden (hortus conclusus) serves as a symbol of Mary’s separation from the material world as well as an allusion to her titles of the “Mystical Rose” and “The Rose without Thorns,” which in and of themselves allude to her immaculate conception. According to Saint Ambrose, the Garden of Eden contained roses without thorns, but upon the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, the roses grew thorns, evidencing Original Sin. Because according to Christian belief, Mary was born without sin, i.e. she was immaculately conceived, she became known as a rose without thorns. The garden in the Annunciation, then, is not just a symbol of Mary’s own purity, but a symbol of Mary as the second Eve, the mother of us all who, unlike the original Eve, will give us redemption (i.e. through her own son, Christ).

Another religiously themed work held in this room is Veronese’s Esther and Ahasuerus (c. 1560 – 1569), which depicts the moment the Jewish heroine Esther intercedes with her husband King Ahasuerus to save her people.

3. And Esther spake yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of Haman the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews.

4. Then the king held out the golden sceptre toward Esther. So Esther arose, and stood before the king,

5. And said, If it please the king, and if I have found favour in his sight, and the thing seem right before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the king's provinces:

6. For how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?

7. Then the king Ahasuerus said unto Esther the queen and to Mordecai the Jew, Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and him they have hanged upon the gallows, because he laid his hand upon the Jews.

8. Write ye also for the Jews, as it liketh you, in the king's name, and seal it with the king's ring: for the writing which is written in the king's name, and sealed with the king's ring, may no man reverse.

9. Then were the king's scribes called at that time in the third month, that is, the month Sivan, on the three and twentieth day thereof; and it was written according to all that Mordecai commanded unto the Jews, and to the lieutenants, and the deputies and rulers of the provinces which are from India unto Ethiopia, an hundred twenty and seven provinces, unto every province according to the writing thereof, and unto every people after their language, and to the Jews according to their writing, and according to their language.

10. And he wrote in the king Ahasuerus' name, and sealed it with the king's ring, and sent letters by posts on horseback, and riders on mules, camels, and young dromedaries:

11. Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey,

12. Upon one day in all the provinces of king Ahasuerus, namely, upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar.

13. The copy of the writing for a commandment to be given in every province was published unto all people, and that the Jews should be ready against that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.

14. So the posts that rode upon mules and camels went out, being hastened and pressed on by the king's commandment. And the decree was given at Shushan the palace.

15. And Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a garment of fine linen and purple: and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.

16. The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour.

17. And in every province, and in every city, whithersoever the king's commandment and his decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a good day. And many of the people of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.

Esther 8:3-17 (KJV) 

Veronese’s depiction of this moment is typical of his style: theatrical, staged, and monumental. King Ahasuerus is depicted holding out his golden scepter towards Esther, as the Biblical story recounts while Esther and her ladies are all sumptuously dressed.

Some of Veronese’s mythological pictures are also held in this room, including Venus and Mercury present Eros and Anteros to Jupiter (c. 1560).

Eros and Anteros, as their names imply, represent the opposite aspects of love, Anteros is lawful love or requited love while Eros is love without law. In other words, Eros represents bodily passion and Anteros represents divine love, a theme taken up by Titian in his work known as Sacred and Profane Love held in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Both Eros and Anteros were the sons of Venus and Mars, so it is unclear why Mercury is depicted here. Due to the fact that Jupiter is cut off at the waist, some scholars believe that this canvas was at one time part of a larger work. In other words, this work has had scholars puzzled for quite some time, and no one can agree on its meaning.

Another mythological work is Hercules between Virtue and Vice or Man between Virtue and Vice (c. 1565), a small model of the work held in the Frick Museum.

The work depicts a male figure (whom some have identified as Hercules) pulling away from the allegorical representation of vice in an effort to run away with the allegorical representation of virtue. Vice is identifiable via her dress, the back of which is unlaced, suggesting looseness, and the flowers in hair, which are cyclamen flowers, famous for poisonous love potions. Additionally, she is holding a deck of cards, a reference to the idea that the fortunes of those who live dissolute lives are apt to change (and not usually for the better). While the male figure runs away, Vice’s clawed fingers rip his tights in an effort to grasp onto him. Meanwhile, the sphinx behind Vice represents the danger inherent in allowing Vice into your life. Virtue, on the other hand, is crowned with laurel, the traditional symbol of triumph, education, and the arts. As the knife hidden behind Vice indicates, the male figure clearly chose wisely.

D26 – Veronese Corridor

In this small corridor are three religious works by Veronese, including, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, St. Louis of Toulouse and the Donors Giovanni Bevilacqua Lazise and Lucrezia Malaspina (c. 1548), which is the sketch for the Madonna and Child with Saint Louis of Toulouse and Saint John the Baptist, Angels and Donors, the so-called Pala Bevilacqua-Lazise Altarpiece, now held in the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio, Verona.

Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, St. Louis of Toulouse and the Donors courtesy of By Sailko – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93701381

This piece was commissioned for the Bevilacqua-Lazise family chapel in San Fermo as one of Veronese’s earliest prestigious works. As one of his earliest works, it reflects Titian’s direct influence on his style. In fact, it was likely based on Titian’s Madonna di Ca’Pesaro.

Veronese’s work extends the ledge that the Virgin is enthroned upon to completely separate her space from that of the saints and the donors, setting her even more “on a pedestal.” The saints depicted in Veronese’s work are John the Baptist, identifiable via his hair shirt and processional cross, and St. Louis of Toulouse, dressed in his bishop vestments. The altarpiece for which is work is the model was unfortunately extensively damaged, and therefore differences between the two are visible.

For instance, changes can be seen in the restoration of the face of the Virgin, St. Louis has a beard, and St. John the Baptist’s posture is slightly different. You will notice that the appearances of the donors on either lower corner of the final altarpiece are different from those in the model. The change in the donors’ appearances, however, was likely due to a second couple outliving the original patrons, and they likely directed another artist to change the faces after the first couple had died. There is also the addition of parakeet, but that was likely Veronese’s change, not a change due to the restoration, because the ledge had been extended to accommodate it. Parrots symbolized eloquence, loquacity, as well as the Virgin Mary. The composition also resembles his work known as The Holy Family Enthroned with Young John the Baptist and Saints Catherine and Anthony Abbot (1551), commissioned for the Giustiniani Chapel in the San Francesco della Vigna.

St. Catherine appears in multiple of Veronese’s works, including another religious work in this room, known as the Holy Family with Young St John and St Catherine (c. 1565) (although some scholars identify the female saint as St. Barbara).

Catherine’s martyr’s palm is just visible above her left shoulder. St. John the Baptist is shown kissing the Christ-child’s foot while holding his traditional attribute of a processional cross. Like the children in the da Porto portraits, the boy St. John is depicted with such tenderness that his innocence and childlike naivety is clearly visible, emphasized by St. Joseph’s hand on St. John’s shoulder. St. Joseph was, after all, St. John’s uncle and thus an important father figure in his life.

The last picture in this corridor is known as The Martyrdom of Saint Justina (1572 – 1573). St. Justina was experiencing a heyday at this moment in time because it just so happened that her feast day was the same day as the Holy League’s victory at Battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571).

St. Justina was a Christian in Padua at a time when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians. She was of noble birth, and therefore one of her attributes is a crown, which Veronese painted in this work in front of her body. According to legend, Emperor Maximian ordered her death because she was unshakeable in her vow of chastity. So, Roman soldiers took a knife to her chest.

This work is typical of Veronese: theatrical and rather staged. The two men on the right look upon the scene as though part of a detached audience. While St. Justina opens her hands to the heavens, accepting death and martyrdom.

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