Paolo Veronese was one of the most celebrated painters among the Venetian painters of the High Renaissance. His works were of the same level as those of Titian and Tintoretto whose artistic achievements paved the way to attain the pinnacle of Venetian art and culture. Like most Venetian painters, Paolo also attended the Venetian School of Painting and there he developed his unmatched skill in coloring and painting Biblical narratives.
Paolo Veronese started as a colorist and then absorbed the Mannerist style of his contemporaries and masters, which was the emerging trend during the 16th century. However, the mannerist period didn’t last long with Veronese as he shifted his style to naturalist which art scholars believe was influenced by Tiziano, co-founder of the Venetian School. Today, he is celebrated for his paintings entitled Leda and the Swan, La Bella Nani, Virgin in Glory with Saints and The Vision of St. Helena.
Paolo Caliari was born in Verona in 1528, from which his surname Veronese was derived. His father, Gabriele, was a stonecutter and his mother, Catherina, was a child out of wedlock of a nobleman and painter named Caliari. Paolo had known of his mother’s family history thus he decided to take the name “Caliari” in 1550’s before changing it to Veronese later on.
Paolo had spent most of his teenage and adulthood years in Venice, where he worked as a painter. He went to Venice at the age of 14 to apprentice for Antonio Badile (1518-1560) and Giovanni Francesco Caroto (1480-1558). One of his earliest tasks was when he assisted Badile with painting an altarpiece in 1543. At a young age, he showed exceptional coloring skill that he was able to exceed his masters.
After a successful assistant work for Badile and Caroto in 1544, Paolo decided to go to Parma to study Mannerism and then moved to Mantua to start a professional career. In 1548, he was contracted to paint frescoes for the Duomo in Mantua.
In fact in 1551, Paolo had already been receiving commissions by the Giustiniani family to paint frescoes for them. It originally was an altarpiece for the Church of san Francesco della Vigna where he also worked alongside Jacopo Sansonivo who was there to rebuild the said church.
Paolo’s next project was related to decorating the walls of Villa Soranzo in Treviso. In there, he had met Anselmo Canneri and Giovanni Battista Zelotti; both were Veronese, too. The trio ended up successfully that this helped stand a chance in becoming an in demand painter a few years after. Additionally, in 1552, Paolo was yet again called upon by Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, the uncle of the Duke of Mantua, to create an altarpiece for the Mantua Cathedral. He executed the painting in situ, while spending quite some time studying the works of Master Giulio Romano. The said master was popular for his brilliant paintings in the ceilings of various churches in the city.
In 1553, Paolo Veronese went to Venice to continue doing frescoes for his art patrons over there. What he didn’t realize was he will be staying in Venice for the rest of his life, which is definitely un-regrettable on his part. His first commission work as a Venice-based artist was to fresco the ceiling of Sala dei Cosiglio dei Dieci and the next room Sala dei Tre Capi del Consiglio both can be found in Doge’s Palace.
His primary work was to decorate the said rooms that were destroyed by fire in 1547. He began with painting a panel depicting Jupiter Expelling the Vices. This was followed by another series of frescoes such as the History of Esther (1556-57) in the church of San Sebastian and the ceiling paintings for the Marciana Library in 1557. His stint at the Marciana Library brought a higher level of success to his name because he was recognized by Titian as one of the esteemed painters of his fellow Venetian artists. Needless to say, Paolo’s paintings of that time were a reflection of his mastery in painting figures and ceiling frescoes.
While taking a break from decorating San Sebastiano church, Paolo Veronese attended to designing the interior of Villa Barbaro in Maser. It was owned by the Barbaro family and was built by a renowned architect, Andrea Palladio. Paolo managed the painting of religious frescoes, including some portraits of his art patron. Meanwhile, he painted the ceiling with heavenly firmament and mythological characters but what made his works outstanding was his ability to apply complex yet logical perspective and an eye-deceiving technique in painting the figures against the background to affect poetic meaning.
The previous collaboration of Palladio and Veronese generated praises from their contemporaries that it resulted to another feat together. Paolo painted the Wedding at Cana from 1562 to ’63 with Andrea Palladio at the helm. This project was contracted by the Benedictine priests of San Giorgio Maggiore Monastery where the painting would be established. The painting had a measurement of 66 square meters and the colors used were made of highest quality and with that size, the two artists were to paint as many figures as they can.
The Wedding at Cana was a story from the New Testament, Book of John 2:1-11, that tells a story of how Jesus Christ performed a miracle. This was when He made wine from plain water in celebration of the wedding in Cana, Galilee. The painters decided to draw the most number of figures on the foreground, in which the colors are more refined and vibrant while the background is filled with more characters standing behind a terrace and a tower and a blue and cloudy sky.
In 1565, Paolo Veronese became the husband of Elena Badile, daughter of Antonio Badile. The couple had four sons and a daughter and eventually lived a comfortable life. In 1570, he completed a Madonna-inspired painting entitled Madonna and Child with St. Elizabeth, the infant St. John the Baptist, and St. Justina. This art creation is now located at the Timken Museum of Art in San Diego.
After a series of successful stints in Venice, mainly frescoing for secular groups of people, Paolo tried to raise the bar higher in painting figures in larger canvases and added a bit of controversy into it. It can’t be helped that as an artist, he wanted to express his own interpretations of the text and this is about his particular work, The Feast in the House of Levi which depicts the Last Supper scene.
Paolo Veronese began painting The House of Levi in 1573 for the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo as a wall decoration of the church’s refectory. His patrons wanted a Last Supper painting to replace the Titian’s version of it that had been destroyed by a fire. House of Levi painting measured five meters in height and 12 meters in width.
While the scene in the painting is indeed high in celebration and festivity, what had intrigued those people was the inclusion of comic dwarves, German military men and various animals. Nevertheless, the painting appeared to be very much alive with Paolo’s great execution of luminous colors and he provided a deeper breadth by applying complex perspective.
Paolo Veronese’s Last Supper interpretation through painting was not ignored by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1573. He was called upon by the religious court to expound on his decision of including extraneous and erotic details in the art work.
Paolo was cooperative with the investigators, answering all of their questions yet in a cautious manner. In the end, he expressed that “we painters take the same liberties as poets and madmen” suggesting that he wouldn’t want the painting to be revised. Instead, he revised its title to what it is now today to make it less sacramental and avoid any sacrilegious claim on his work by the Roman Catholic institution.
Throughout Veronese’s professional career stint, it had been mostly frescoing the ceilings and walls of various churches and villas. The latter part of his life had been spent on creating altarpieces and portraits of mythological characters and people, from 1561 to 1555. He also did some sketches in ink, pen and chalk but little of these works had been able to survive over time.
At the last decade of his life after surviving the controversy, he established a family workshop with Benedetto, his younger brother as his co-founder. He worked alongside his sons Gabriele and Carlo and nephew Luigi dal Friso. In his studio, he had taken care of would-be esteemed painters such as Giovanni Antonio Fasolo, Anselmo Canneri, Giovanni Battista Zelotti and Sigismondo de Stefani.
This endeavor made him active for ten years before he met his death in 1588 in Venice. After his death, his family did not stop from promoting his works and they later on published a monograph of Veronese in 1888.