Nick Trend, The Daily Telegraph, March 26, 2014
The golden age of Venetian art lasted just over a century - from about 1460 until 1590. From the serene altarpieces of Bellini and the charming narratives of Carpaccio, to the intensity of Titian and the drama of Tintoretto, the city produced painters of astonishing quality, whose frescos and canvases decorated its swankiest churches and palaces, and are still some of the biggest attractions in the city.
The last in the line of these great painters was Veronese, and when you walk into the new exhibition of his work at the National Gallery in London, you get an immediate sense of why he was so loved and admired in the Venice of the time. Here was a painter who could work on the grandest of scales. His ability to create moments of pure theatre, so often composed against a painted architectural “stage”, was ideally suited to a city which itself has often been compared to a stage-set. His fetching curly-haired blondes, and detailed attention to fine fabrics and sartorial fashion, also went down well in this most sensual of cities.
Yet, as his name suggests, Veronese came not from Venice but Verona. And if you really want to get to know his work in its original context, you need to start here and work your way east. It’s a fascinating trip, taking in some of the historic cities and landscapes of the Veneto, as well as some of the greatest painting and architecture of the Renaissance. Here are some of the highlights.
Veronese, who was born in 1528, grew up in a family of local stone masons. Verona was a red-brick Medieval town which had developed among some spectacular Roman ruins, and was now in the middle of being transformed as the local aristocracy rebuilt their palazzi in the latest classically-inspired styles. The influence of that architecture, and even particular buildings, is evident in many of his paintings. Today, the Roman Arena still dominates the town, and the Renaissance palazzi, most still in private hands, still overlook the river. The key architect responsible for these marble palaces which contrast so powerfully with the medieval brickwork, was Michele Sanmicheli. He clearly recognised Veronese’s talents, and almost certainly took him to Venice in the 1550s, where some of the great Venetian families soon became his patrons. There he remained, though he did visit Verona in 1565 when he came back to marry his childhood sweetheart. Here are the key sights associated with him. Note that churches are generally open outside service times - it is best to avoid Sundays.
Veronese was born Paolo Caliari in the the artists’ quarter of Verona - the district of San Paolo, which may account for his parents’ choice of Christian name. He was baptised here and returned to marry his childhood sweetheart in about 1566. The church was bombed in the second world war, and mostly rebuilt, but his altarpiece of the Virgin with John the Baptist, probably completed in the same year he got married. It clearly shows the influence of Venetian painters (especially Titian), but the ruined architecture which forms the background, is probably modelled on the Verona Roman Arena.
San Giorgio in Braida
This 11th-century church was revamped in the 16th century by Sanmicheli and decorated with work by several key contemporary painters - there’s a Baptism of Christ by Tintoretto above the west door, for example. It is also home to Veronese’s brilliant Martyrdom of Saint George, which is currently the showpiece of the National Gallery exhibition, but which will be back above the high altar here again this summer. During his great programme of cultural looting, Napoleon stole this and another Veronese paining - The Miracle of St Barnabus - from the church. The St Barnabus was never returned (only a copy remains) - it’s usually in Rouen, but has come to London for the exhibition.
A rather lovely monastic church which used to house Veronese’s earliest known painting - The Resurrection of the daughter of Jairus (c1546) - in the Avanzi chapel. It was stolen in 1696, and has been replaced by a copy. Worth visiting though for Sanmicheli’s extraordinary cylindrical, white-marble chapel built for the Pelligrini family in 1527.
Museo di Castelvecchio
Verona’s main museum, housed in the 14th-century castle has an excellent collection of medieval and Renaissance art and sculpture, as well as archaeological finds. There are several works by Veronese including two early paintings (c1547) - a Depostition and Madonna Enthroned. The museum has also just published an excellent 112-page guidebook, Paolo Veronese - Itineraries in the Veneto (£12.50) available at the National Gallery, and in Verona.
Open 9am-7pm, Tues-Sun, entrance, 6.00 euros ( website )
It is Veronese’s contemporary the great neo-classical architect Palladio who gets most of the attention from visitors to Vicenza, since many of his greatest buildings are here. But there are a couple of key Veronese paintings too. And, an hour’s drive to the north east, in a villa among the vineyards, perhaps his most appealing series of frescos.
This 13th-century church is normally home to Veronese’s 1572 Adoration of the Magi which is currently in the London exhibition. But don’t miss also the extraordinary Baptism of Christ by Bellini on the opposite side of the church, still in its original frame.
Santa Maria of Mount Berico
Veronese’s biblical banqueting scenes are some of his most alluring and successful compositions, full of character, drama and distraction, and often populated with children, animals and other figures who don’t figure explicitly in the Bible stories which inspired them. This tendency to elaborate landed him in trouble with the po-faced officers of the Inquisition (see below). Here in Vicenza is the last of his banquet scenes to survive in situ. Despite once being vandalised by Austrian soldiers, The Feast of St Gregory the Great, still hangs in the former refectory of the monastery of Santa Maria of Mount Berico, and offers a rare unique to see how Veronese’s composition and perspectives worked in the room where it was always intended to hang. Enquire locally about up-to-date opening times.
Villa di Maser
The Villa di Maser (above) was built as the Villa Barbaro and is perhaps the greatest of the Veneto’s many grand Renaissance country villas which were built for the wealthy merchants of Venice, Padua and Vicenza. It is one of Palladio’s most refined expressions of symmetry and order, but the interior is brought to life by a series of exuberant trompe-l’oeil frescoes by Veronese which cover six of the main reception rooms. Whimsical pastoral and allegorical scenes are framed by his trademark painted architecture, while the depiction of a hunter entering the house through a painted door is clearly a portrait, and often taken to be a self-portrait by Veronese. It would be easy to spend two or three hours enjoying the views, both real and painted, and it is certainly worth making a special trip.
Opening times are complex and vary according to season, full details at ( villadimaser.it/en ). Admission 6.00 euros.
Much of Veronese’s surviving work is still in Venice, where he lived from 1553 and where his services were in constant demand until his death in 1588. Veronese’s surviving paintings and frescoes are too numerous to list, but here are some of the highlights.
This is the number one sight for any Veronese fan. The prior came from Verona, and in 1555 he commissioned the newly-arrived Veronese to begin a decorative programme, which by 1570 had covered much of the church, including the ceiling fresoes, and the sacristry. Veronese was buried here in 1588 - his plain marble tomb stands by the organ. Highlights include tableaus depicting the martyrdoms of Saints Lawrence, Sebastian, and Mark and Marcellinus.
Open Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm, admission 3 euros ( chorusvenezia.org ).
The Academia houses the single most important collection of Venetian art anywhere - a must for all visitors to the city. You can’t miss the Veroneses - they are some of the biggest canvases of all, notably his Feast in the House of Levi. Originally painted as a Last Supper, this landed him in trouble with the Inquisition, who grilled him on the extraneous characters and non-canonical fripperies he had included in the scene. Veronese responded by simply changing the title of the painting to represent a far more obscure feast from the Old Testament.
Open Tue-Sun, 8.15am-7.15pm (2pm on Mon), admission 9 euros ( gallerieaccademia.org ).
This church in a quiet corner of Dorsoduro, houses Veronese’s last surviving work, a depiction of St Pantalon, which originally commissioned for the high altar, but later relagated to a chapel, after the church was re-oriented in the 17th century. The Veronese - currently part of the National Gallery exhibition - is rather overshadowed however by the church’s extraordinarily camp ceiling (representing the Martyrdom and Glory of St Pantaleone), by Giovanni Antonio Fumiani, who died in 1710 after falling from the scaffold.
Open Mon-Sat, 10am-noon and 1pm-3pm, free admission ( sanpantalon.it )
A succession of serious fires damaged much of the palace between 1483 and 1577. This guaranteed plenty of work for Veronese, who along with Tintoretto, responded brilliantly to the vast scale required. To give an idea of the challenge, Tintoretto’s Paradise, which is behind the dias in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio is the largest oil painting in the world. Partly because of the neck-craning required, these mostly allegorical scenes are not easy to enjoy in detail: perhaps the best is the Apotheosis of Venice on the ceiling of Sala del Maggior Consiglio.
Open 8.30am-6.30pm daily (5.30pm Nov-March), admission 16 euros ( visitmuve.it ).
Exhibitions in London and Verona
Veronese, Magnificence in Renaissance Venice continues until June 15 at the National Gallery, London; admission £14, book online at ( nationalgallery.org.uk ).
Following the National Gallery show, there will be a major Veronese exhibition from July 5-October 5 in the Gran Guardia Palace, opposite the Arena in Verona ( mostraveronese.it ).
Many of the exhibits will be different from, but complementary to, the London show.
BA ( ba.com ) and EasyJet ( easyjet.com ) both fly to Verona from Gatwick, and also offer flights too and from Venice, so you could plan an “open-jaw” journey, flying into Verona and out of Venice. The best hotel in the city is the four-star Palazzo Victoria ( palazzovictoria.com ) where double rooms start from £176 b&b. Our detailed guide to Venice by our expert Anne Hanley, includes hotel and restaurant reviews - see telegraph.co.uk/venice .