Mental Floss

What's In a Name? Paolo Veronese

Andréa Fernandes

Today, my younger sister flew off to Italy for a semester in Florence. As a send-off to her, today's "Feel Art Again" features one of the great painters of the Italian Renaissance, Paolo Veronese (1528-1588).

1. Before becoming well-known as Paolo Veronese, the artist was known as Paolo Caliari. While all sources agree that the "Veronese" is due to the artist's birth in Verona, there is less agreement about whether Caliari was his family's last name. At least one source contends that his very first surname was Spezapreda, which means "stonecutter;" Paolo's father was a stonecutter and sculptor. As he became an established artist, Paolo changed his name to Caliari, the surname of a leading aristocratic family in Verona.

2. "Feast in the House of Levi" (shown above) is one of Veronese's most famous paintings, in part because it resulted in Veronese's testifying to the Inquisition in July 1573. The painting was commissioned as a Last Supper scene to replace a Titian depiction of the Last Supper that had been destroyed in a fire. Measuring more than 5 meters high and more than 12 meters wide, the painting contains many extraneous figures such as dogs, cats, midgets, Huns, and "drunken revelers." It was the inclusion of such "indecorous details" that brought Veronese before the Inquisitors. He argued, "Mine is no art of thought; my art is joyous and praises God in light and color," and that "painters take the same liberties as poets and madmen." Nonetheless, the Inquisitors were not pleased with the painting, and so Veronese changed the name to the less religious "Feast in the House of Levi."

3. After painting the decorations of the Church of S. Sebastiano in Venice, Veronese became established as rivaling the painters Tintoretto and Titian in skill. This was quite an accomplishment, as Veronese was only about 28 at the time but Tintoretto was 45 and Titian was already 80. Veronese began his work on S. Sebastiano in 1555 and continued to work on it off-and-on for the next 15 years. The church is such a display of Veronese's talents that some sources refer to it as the "Pantheon of Veronese." Upon his death in 1588, Veronese was buried at the church as well.

4. One of Veronese's other well-known works is the enormous "The Wedding at Cana," which spans nearly 10 meters. The contract for the painting dictated that it should be at least 66 square meters and that only premium quality pigments and colors be used, such as blues containing lapis-lazuli, a precious mineral. Additionally, Veronese was to include as many figures as possible. He managed to squeeze in 300 portraits, which include depictions of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese himself.

5. According to sources, Veronese "was one of the first painters whose drawings were sought by collectors during his lifetime." Today, many of his drawings are on display in museums, including the Getty Museum.

A larger version of "Feast in the House of Levi" is available here. Fans should check out the transcript of Veronese's testimony before the Inquisition; his allegorical works and their explanations; and the Veronese galleries from the Web Gallery of Art, the Art Renewal Center, Art in the Picture, and the Royal Collection. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at artist suggestions, with details of current exhibitions, or for sources or further reading.