The Magic of Veronese
No artist expressed the splendour and opulence of Renaissance Venice with greater panache and richer colour than Paolo Caliari [1528-88], named Veronese after his native city. Dominating the Venetian School with his great contemporaries Titian and Tintoretto, he painted Biblical and Classical themes for ecclesiastical and lay patrons, sumptuously adorning churches, patrician palaces and public buildings across Venice and the Veneto region.
National Gallery’s Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice, presenting 50 masterworks from collections worldwide, is the first-ever comprehensive UK showcase of his oeuvre. Its accessible format is broadly chronological: Early Works [1545-60], Portraits [1555-65] and Altarpieces & Paintings for Churches [1560-70] to Theatricality & Magnificence [1565-80], Art of Devotion [1570-80], Allegories & Mythologies [1570-80], then Late Works [1580-88].
The sheer richness of his theatrical-scale scenes is almost disconcerting. Handsome figures in lush silks and fine velvet, amid luxurious furnishings and tapestries in soaring edifices, enact in vivid tableaux and carefully posed crowds, religious and mythological episodes. All by visual implication celebrate the wealth of the Venetian Republic - but the religiousthemed ones also affirm a Catholicism resurgent after the Council of Trent [1545-63] launched the Counter-Reformation. Resident in Venice from 1553, Veronese won many Church commissions, mainly for altarpieces, fresco cycles and ceiling canvases for churches and religious institutions.
From his 1548 Conversion of Mary Magdalene, with Christ and penitent in deep encounter, and contemplative mid-1550s Virgin and Child with St Peter, to his 1583 Agony in the Garden, its exhausted Christ cradled by an angel, Veronese created works - usually for private chapels - with intense devotional focus. Yet his religious paintings are typically celebratory, rather than mystical or deeply spiritual.
His Risen Christ veritably dances from the tomb; on their Flight into Egypt, the Holy Family picnics among smiling angels and happy animals; the two great Adoration of the Kings, for Venice and Vicenza churches, visually praise the infant Christ.
The Supper at Emmaus [c.1555] is his most remarkable celebration of faith triumphant. Gazing heavenwards, the central figure of Christ at a simple table, with two disciples and two waiters, blesses the bread - and does so amid a finely-dressed family group including 10 children, a black servant, two dogs and a cat. In this pictorial revolution, blending Biblical scene with contemporary-era people, Veronese proclaims with joyful reverence the Risen Christ bringing newness of life to all humanity. It was probably the focus of family worship in a Venetian palace.
Veronese powerfully imaged the re-affirmation of the role of the saints in personal piety and public worship, a key Counter-Reformation theme. The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine [c.1570] for the eponymous convent in Venice, celebrates the saint in magnificent brocade gown, with child Jesus putting a ring on her finger as angels circle above. This work and its contemporary Martyrdom of St George compositionally delineate earthly and heavenly realms as distinct yet spiritually close.
Often setting portraits of patrons in his religious works, he yet created few independent ones: Portrait of a Lady [c.1565], ‘Bella Nani’ is the most famous, her reticent gaze contrasting with her luxurious velvet gown and gold jewellery.
Renaissance Venice was at the forefront of rediscovering the Ancient World, not least Greek mythology. Following Titian, Veronese won reputation for largescale allegorical paintings, often in dramatic or theatrical mode. Perseus and Andromeda , its flying hero about to slay the ultra-ugly sea monster and save the chained heroine, is the most striking example on show, while Four Allegories of Love  is a morality cycle, on holy and sinful love.
Showcasing a supreme Venetian painter, deemed in his time “treasurer of art and colours”, this hugely enjoyable Old Master exhibition is a ‘must-see’. Brian Cooper