Painters, Poets and Madmen

On 19 April 1588. Paolo Caliari known as Paolo Veronese from his hometown, Verona, where he was born sixty years earlier, died in Venice. He had caught a pulmonary infection at a religious procession near his country house at Sant’Angelo.
Veronese was a great Italian Renaissance painter, famous for his extremely large historical paintings of mythology and religion, such as “The Wedding at Cana” (1563) and “The Feast in the House of Levi” (1573)
The latter was commissioned by the Dominican monks for the rear wall of the refectory of the convent of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, to replace a painting by Titian burnt in the fire of 1571. The theme, as for the previous painting, was to be that of the “Last Supper of Christ”.
The task was assigned to Veronese, even though the monks could offer a decidedly insufficient compensation for a work of the requested size. It was only after their insistent prayers that the painter accepted and dealt with this theme with his worldly and festive style, already experienced in “The Wedding at Cana” in 1563 and in his other works , in which the Gospel episode was only the pretext for staging the crowded and sumptuous celebrations of the Venetian aristocracy of the time.
But in this case the subject was the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist, and, since the canvas showed characters and situations deemed totally offensive to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, the Inquisition perceived it as heretical.
Veronese had to undergo trial at the Court of the Inquisition in Venice to answer questions about elements deemed inappropriate for a depiction of the Last Supper
For example, the painter was criticized for the presence of secondary characters considered unsuitable for the sacred theme represented, such as “German armed soldiers each with a halberd in his hand”, of a “man dressed as a clown, with a parrot in his hand” , a servant bleeding from his nose , or another whohas a fork, and takes care of the teeth.”
Veronese replied that many figures were painted for “ornament, as it is often done” and pointed out that “ We painters use the same license as poets and madmen.”

During the interrogation, Veronese strenuously defended the need for painters to be granted freedom of action in the representation of sacred subjects. He clarified that : “The task was that I would decorate the painting according to my taste” and explained that it was a large canvas, so, if there is room left in the picture, I decorate it with a lot of figures, and according to my invention”.
He concluded by saying that he “thought I would do well. I have not thought about many facts, thinking of not doing any harm. Especially since those figures of buffoons are outside the rooms where our Lord is placed.”

The final sentence was that he had to correct at his own expense indecent details according to the instructions of the Holy Tribunal . Later this was reduced to having him change the title of the work, which was transformed from the more challenging ” Our Lord’s Last Supper” to “Feast in the House of Levi” , suggesting that it could be interpreted as a banquet attended by Jesus for the consolation of sinners.

Il 19 aprile 1588 moriva a Venezia Paolo Caliari detto Paolo Veronese dalla sua città natale, Verona, in cui era nato sessant’anni prima. Aveva contratto un’infezione polmonare durante una processione nei pressi della sua casa di campagna a Sant’Angelo.
Paolo Veronese era un grande pittore rinascimentale, noto per i suoi grandissimi dipinti storici di carattere mitologico o religioso , come “Le nozze di Cana” (1563) e “Il convito in casa di Levi” (1573)
Quest’ultimo fu commissionato dai monaci domenicani per la parete di fondo del refettorio del grande convento dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo a Venezia, in sostituzione di un quadro di Tiziano bruciato nell’incendio del 1571. Il tema, come per il precedente dipinto, doveva essere quella dell’Ultima Cena di Cristo.
L’incarico fu affidato al Veronese, anche se i monaci potevano offrire un compenso decisamente insufficiente per un’opera delle dimensioni richieste. Fu solo in seguito alle loro insistenti preghiere, che il pittore accettò e affrontò questo tema con il suo stile mondano e festoso, già sperimentato nelle Nozze di Cana del 1563 e nelle sue altre Cene, in cui l’episodio evangelico era solo il pretesto per mettere in scena le affollate e sontuose feste dell’aristocrazia veneziana del tempo.

Ma in questo caso il soggetto era l’istituzione del sacramento dell’Eucaristia, e, perché la tela mostrava personaggi e situazioni ritenute totalmente offensive per la dottrina della Chiesa cattolica, l’Inquisizione lo percepì come eretico.
Veronese dovette sottoporsi a processo presso il Tribunale dell’Inquisizione di Venezia per rispondere a domande sugli elementi ritenuti non idonei al tema sacro rappresentato,
Ad esempio il pittore fu criticato per la presenza nella tela di “Soldati armati vestiti alla tedesca, ciascuno con un’alabarda in mano”, di “buffone con il pappagallo in pugno” , un servitore sanguinante dal naso, oppure un altro che “ha un piron( forchetta) e si cura i denti”.
Veronese rispose che molti personaggi erano dipinti “per ornamento, come si fa ” e fece notare che “ Noi altri pittori ci prendiamo la licenza che si prendono i poeti e i matti.”

Veronese fu in grado di difendere strenuamente la necessità che ai pittori fosse riconosciuta libertà d’azione nella rappresentazione dei soggetti sacri. Chiarì : “La commissione fu di ornare il quadro secondo secondo il mio gusto” e spiegò che si trattava di un quadro grande per cui “se nel quadro ci avanza spazio, io l’adorno di figure, sì come vien commesso, e secondo le invenzioni.”
Concluse dicendo che pensava “di far bene , o di non far disordine niuno, tanto più che quelle figure di buffoni sono di fuori del luogo dove è il nostro Signore.”

La sentenza consisteva nel correggere a proprie spese i particolari indecenti secondo le istruzioni degli inquisitori. Successivamente si ridusse a fargli cambiare il titolo dell’opera, che mutò dalla più impegnativa “Ultima Cena di Nostro Signore” a “Convito in casa di Levi”, suggerendo che fosse interpretata come un banchetto a cui partecipava Gesù per la consolazione dei peccatori.

78 thoughts on “Painters, Poets and Madmen

  1. All about Renaissance . Your blog rightly depicts about a Renaissance Painter called Paolo Veronese who was born on 19th April 1588 at Verona , a small town of Italy . Renaissance in Europe was brought about mainly by painters . He appeared to be from a Leo Nardo Vinci genre . Renaissance started from Italy and it spread through out Europe . And credit goes to those painters who brought about a sort of awakening among people which ultimately led them towards reforms in the society and in their thinking as such . Your efforts through your blogs to make us aware about all those historical facts rejoice us to a considerable extent . Thanks !

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I had the great fortune to see The Wedding at Cana when I visited the Louvre. Amazing how we all want famous painters to paint in their style, but only what we like or think should be in the painting. Thanks for the history Luisa. Have a great day. Allan

    Liked by 4 people

  3. What a piece. I was clueless about this. Artist should just be allowed to exercise their freedom of expression in art, so long as they don’t defame people with their artwork. Freedom is much needed in the field of artistic works. Glad to learn about Veronese and his wonderful painting and how its title was changed from “Our Lord’s Last Supper” to “Feast in the House of Levi”. This is interesting and attention-getting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear, Lamittan, thanks a lot for your valuable words.
      I totally agree with you on the freedom of artists, as long as they don’t defame someone
      Unfortunately, the times of the Inquisition was a dark period for the history of Catholic civilization


  4. 💜 There’s ARE many contradictions in any version of The Bible EveryOne; for example Bro Jesu asked Mary Magdalena and Mary His Mother NOT!!! to 🎶 Touch Him when Resurrected because He was Ascending to His 👋🏿 ♥️ Father 👨 👨‍🍼 ♥️ yet Doubting Thomas was invited to inspect His 👋🏿 Hands when He was actually nailed to The Cross ✝️ by His wrists…on 👋🏿 😄 😉 👏🏾 😆 😀 👋🏿 a lighter note 📝 Bro Jesu was a Drunkard (The Wedding 💑 In Canaan), Promiscuous (Multiple Sexual Partners including His Wife Mary Magdalena) and a Glutton (The Last Supper) if anyone who Studies any version of The Bible cares to Pay Attention; please 🙏🏿 💙 ❤️ 😀 😄 😊 🙏🏿 THINK!!! EveryBody 😂 🤣 😅 😆 😁 😄 😂 The Cosmic Joke


    Liked by 3 people

  5. L’Inquisizione brutto affare.
    Anche Caravaggio fu criticato per aver rappresentato i santi con i piedi sporchi, ma faceva parte del sui realismo. Non c’entra niente con il Veronese, ma avevo voglia di condividerlo con te Luisa. Buon pomeriggio 🌻 oggi il cielo è coperto, quindi cerchiamo di risplendere noi!

    Liked by 2 people

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