Paolo Caliari, called il Veronese, was an Italian Renaissance painter of the Venetian Republic.
Son of a certain Gabriele, stonemason, he assumed the surname Caliari probably in 1555 (the year in which for the first time he signed himself in a letter).
His training took place in his native Verona, but of great importance for the influences that had on his art and on his career were also the early experiences made in the Treviso area and then in Mantua, at the Gonzaga court. He later moved to Venice, where he became known as "Il Veronese", and where from 1556 he resided almost permanently until his death, obtaining remarkable successes from the beginning of his stay in the lagoon.
In 1566 he married Elena Badile, daughter of his first teacher Antonio Badile, with whom he had five children, including Carlo (20 July 1570 - 1596) and Gabriele (1568 - 1631) who, with Paolo's brother, Benedetto, were his principal collaborators and that, after his death, they continued, with modest success, the activity of shop, now among the largest in Venice, sometimes by signing their works collectively with the words Heredes Pauli Caliari Veronensis.
Attracted by his debut rehearsals of mannerist innovations rather than the antiquesque style of his first Veronese masters, Caliari will keep his matrix firmly established even after his inauguration in Venice. In fact, while certainly drawing on the great Venetian tradition - then incarnated by Titian and the nascent genius of Tintoretto - Paolo maintained, even in the lagoon, an "other" artistic identity, "forest". In Veronese painting, in fact, the drawing will always be, with the partial exception of its extreme production, a central value, while it was not in the contemporary Venetian painting, and so the color treatment will be different from the autochthonous tradition: Veronese, in fact, it will never make the tonalism completely (another basic feature of Venetian painting of the time), but will prefer a use of clean and vivid color, with well-defined and characterized backgrounds, differently from tonal painting, by decisive cangisms.
His legacy will be important for the subsequent developments of painting in the lagoon, where in the late Baroque period masters such as Sebastiano Ricci and even more the Tiepolo will clearly take up the example.
Outside the Venetian context, the influence of the Caliari on the Bolognese Annibale Carracci was strong, and even before on the brother of these Agostino, who in association with Paolo himself dedicated himself to a successful engraving of the Veronese pictorial production. Through the Carracci the art of Paolo Caliari will become one of the important components of the Italian Baroque painting fortitude.
His apprenticeship took place in Verona in the workshop of Antonio Badile (and perhaps also with Giovanni Francesco Caroto). It is a shared opinion among art historians, however, that this initial formation had no significant influence on the future style of Veronese, while considerable importance, beginning with Vasari, is attributed to the relationship that the young Paul had with the architect and his mentor Michele Sanmicheli, who introduced him to the Mannerist innovations of both Tuscan-Roman ancestry, whose source is Giulio Romano, long active in nearby Mantua, and from Emilia, referring to the work of Correggio and Parmigianino.
Already his young works, performed in Verona, testify the early attention of Veronese to the "modern way", such as the Pala Bevilacqua-Lazise of 1548, made for the funeral chapel of the client family in the church of San Fermo Maggiore (today in the Museum of Castelvecchio), whose compositional complexity highlights the overcoming of the style of the Badile and precisely the transposition of Mannerist influences.
The same can be said of the contemporary Lamentation on the Dead Christ - considered the juvenile masterpiece of Veronese -, canvas commissioned by the Girolamini for the Scaliger church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (now also in Castelvecchio) which, by composition and use of color, is approachable to the painting of Parmigianino.
Another noteworthy evidence of juvenile and pre-Venetian Caliari is constituted by the Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine, dating back to 1547 and made on the occasion of the wedding of members of the Verona nobility.
In the following years he worked, thanks to the good offices of Sanmicheli, near Castelfranco Veneto for the Soranzo (1551), frescoing the family villa, built precisely by Sanmicheli. These paintings then were badly torn (and the villa destroyed) and the most significant remains are today in the sacristy of the Cathedral of Castelfranco Veneto. The appreciation of this test yielded to Veronese the prestigious call by Ercole Gonzaga to Mantua (in 1552) to make an altarpiece for the Cathedral depicting the Temptations of St. Anthony (Caen Fine Arts Museum), where once again the young Veronese demonstrates his full adherence to the mannerist culture, turning, on this occasion, to his Roman side and probably citing the Torso del Belvedere.
Presumably between 1560 and 1561, the Veronese was called to decorate Villa Barbaro in Maser, in the Treviso area, a new construction by the architect Andrea Palladio. The owners of the villa were the owners of the villa, the Venetian brothers Daniele and Marcantonio Barbaro (the first of whom was already met by Paolo in his professional events). Cultured and refined humanists, the two patrons were probably themselves creators of the theme of fresco decoration realized by the Veronese and his team. It is plausible that the Barbarians had drawn inspiration, for this purpose, from the Images of the Ancient Gods by Vincenzo Cartari, a lucky fifteenth-century treatise on the iconography of classical deities.
The most common interpretation of the complex cycle is that it celebrates the universal harmony propitiated by Divine Wisdom, whose allegorical representation occupies the ceiling of the main hall of the Villa (Hall of Olympus). In this same room, on an illusion loggia, placed in continuity with the fake architecture that frames the allegory of Sapienza, Giustiniana Giustinian, wife of Marcantonio Barbaro, accompanied by a nurse, faces. It is one of the most famous images of the frescoes by Maser and is a remarkable essay both of the ability to portray the Veronese, and his ability to relate the real space with the illusory one.
The dialogue between the real architecture of Palladio and the imaginary of the Veronese, in fact, is one of the basic characteristics of the decoration of Villa Barbaro, which abounds with false doors, false niches, effects of breakthrough that expand the space towards beautiful realistic landscapes or towards the empyrean skies in which allegorical representations are staged.
Much has been discussed, therefore, the failure to quote the frescoes by Palladio in the four books of architecture, where, in the description of the Villa of Maser, they are not mentioned. There are those who have deduced the lack of appreciation from the great architect of the Veronese work. In fact, however, in another passage of the Books Palladio himself praises Veronese and that, also in relation to the Villa di Maser, there is no mention of the sculptural apparatus designed by Alessandro Vittoria, an artist also appreciated by Palladio.
The allegorical apparatus of the decoration of the villa continues with the celebrations of the fruitfulness of the earth (Sala di Bacco), and of the conjugal love (Sala del Tribunale d'Amore). Everything is then completed by connecting the humanistic ideals with the Christian faith to whose celebration the decoration of the Dog Hall and that of Lucerne is dedicated.
Finally, in the Sala a Corciera stand out beautiful female figures of musicians (the "muses", defines them as Carlo Ridolfi), placed in illusionistic niches.
Among the most famous inventions of Veronese are the large choral scenes dedicated to the evangelical banquets, commonly referred to as the dinners. These are very large canvases, in which the Gospel episode is in fact the excuse to stage the sumptuous feasts of the Venetian aristocracy of the time.
The scenes are very crowded and in the foreground there are no dramatis personae of the Gospel story, which on the contrary seem almost to be ignored, but the other numerous bystanders, inserts for pure pictorial invention, without any adherence to the sacred text: servants, musicians, buffoons , spectators.
The banquet generally takes place in large galleries, framed by masterfully reproduced architectural scenes, which echo the achievements of Andrea Palladio and the treatises of Sebastiano Serlio. Obviously, even these architectural elements are completely incompatible with the sacred places where the events depicted would take place for the Gospel narration.
Everything, in these inventions of the Veronese, is full of pomp, like the refined dresses worn by the characters depicted (with the exception of the evangelical protagonists), who are dressed according to the most elegant Venetian fashion of the time, like the precious pottery that clutters the table, like the same, the refinement of the marbles and the decorations of the rooms where everything takes place. In the crowd of those present there are a lot of portraits of real people and it seems, at least on one occasion, that the author's self-portrait also appears.
The series of dinners is open, between 1555 and 1556, from the Dinner in the house of Simon (today preserved in the Sabauda Gallery in Turin), which the Veronese performed on behalf of the Benedictine monks of San Nazaro and Celso for the refectory of their convent in Verona.
Among the subsequent famous proofs is The Wedding at Cana (1563) that the Veronese painted for the Benedictines of the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice and which today is located at the Louvre.
But even more famous is the last in the series, the Convitto in Casa Levi (1573), currently at the Gallerie dell'Accademia, in Venice. The notoriety of the canvas is also due to the interest of the Inquisition that it aroused and that, as is well known, forced the author to change the title of the work (and therefore the episode depicted): from the initial Last Supper to the current Convivium in the Levi household.
Although the inquisitorial reprimand against the Veronese was very bland, it is also an eloquent sign of the times. When the Veronese, for the last time, he will try his hand at an evangelical conviviality, he will do it in a completely different way, being careful to conform to the dictates of the Counter-Reformation concerning religious painting.
This is the case of the Last Supper realized in 1585 and now preserved in the Pinacoteca di Brera. All the spectacular scenographic apparatus of the Dinners has now disappeared and the clear protagonist of the representation, as the luministic effects also underline, is Jesus. The atmosphere is collected and the intention of the author is stimulated, as the Council's indications suggest. Trent, the devotional sentiment of the observers. Finally, the accent is didactically placed on the institution of the Eucharist, a theme very dear to the Counter-Reformation.
As testified by Carlo Ridolfi, the appreciation of the Barbarians for the frescoes by Maser meant that in 1561 Paolo was commissioned a part of the decoration of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Palazzo Ducale, dedicated to an episode of the exploits of Federico Barbarossa destroyed in a fire of 1577). The prestige of the commission received from the Veronese consecrates him among the major, and most requested, painters of Venice.
The years to follow, in fact, will be years of intense activity, which see Paul and his shop engaged in countless works for the Venetian and mainland churches, for the Venetian Patriciate and for the Serious Government. In addition to the already mentioned Cene, in the seventh and eighth decade of the century, the Veronese paints a large number of large altarpieces. Of the same period are large portraits of family groups made for the Venetian nobility, nor is it neglected the production of smaller sized tables dedicated to mythological themes with clear erotic and sensual allusions.
Finally, after the devastating fire that hit the Palazzo Ducale in 1577, the Veronese is called, together with Tintoretto, to decorate the Sala del Maggior Consiglio again. On that occasion the Veronese realizes one of his most impressive masterpieces, the immense oval telero that celebrates the Triumph of Venice (set in place in 1582). According to critical judgment, it is a work that closes a cycle, that of the lavish and worldly painting by Paolo Veronese - a recognizable character also in his religious works of this period - with a lively color and a decorative taste. That painting, that is, according to Argan, makes it possible to identify Veronese: «the interpreter of the intellectual openness and the civil way of life that make Venetian society, in a time of moralistic conformism and neo-feudal involution, the freest and most culturally advanced society ".
The works that will follow in the years to come and until his death will be placed on very different registers. After all, the "moralistic conformism" to which Argan alludes will eventually arrive in the lagoon.
In addition to portraits camouflaged in the dinners or those of family groups, the Veronese also practiced the individual portrait and also in this field achieved remarkable results that place him among the greatest portraitists of his time.
Those of the Veronese are portraits of particular refinement, characterized by the frequent use of the full-length format, an aspect not common in contemporary Venetian painting. The commissions received by the Veronese in this field did not concern the State portraits of public officials of the Serbian government (an area in which Tintoretto's workshop was very active) and which are a conspicuous part of the 16th century lagoon portraiture, but derive from the highest bourgeois class. and aristocratic (Venetian and mainland) who in these paintings intended to portray his own economic well-being, his own elegance, but also the cultural refinement of his tastes. Also due to the particularity of the client and the extreme executive care that characterizes the portraiture of the Veronese, the portraits that are referable to him are relatively few, in the order of thirty (even less those of autograph relatively uncontroversial).
Already in the juvenile stage the Veronese demonstrates his skill in the genre with portraits of the Vicentine spouses Iseppo da Porto and Livia da Porto Thiene (made between 1551 and 1552 and kept the first at the Uffizi and the second at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore). Each of the two spouses is depicted in full figure in a painting in its own right, but it is certain that the two portraits constituted pendants affixed to the same wall. Probably the two paintings were separated by a window, as suggested by the specular origin of the light in each of them. The characters are placed in a false niche and are luxuriously dressed. Both Iseppo and Livia are accompanied by one of their children. Very effective is the material rendering of fabrics, furs, jewels (notable is the particular of the fake gold head of the mustela fur embraced by Livia) which, together with the psychological characterization of the characters makes these pendants one of the most significant examples of portrait conjugal of the sixteenth century.
Another noteworthy document of the portraiture of the Veronese is the portrait of Daniele Barbaro (1560/62, Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam), depicted in his study accompanied by his treatises on Vitruvian architecture, of which the Veronese also reproduces the illustrations. The position of the Barbarian on the chair and the direct gaze in the eyes of the observer are perhaps quotes from the portrait of Paolo III Farnese di Tiziano.
One of his highest tests in the genre is considered the Portrait of a Venetian noblewoman (about 1560, Louvre), known as La Bella Nani, a name that derives from the belief (perhaps erroneous) that the painting belonged to the homonymous Venetian family. Unknown is the identity of the effigy woman: some speculate that it may be the wife of Veronese, Elena Badile, others that the noblewoman of the painting can be identified in Giustiniana Giustinian, already portrayed in fresco in the villa of Maser. Regardless of the woman's identity, the portrait is a sage of the feminine beauty canons of sixteenth-century Venice, to the point that some scholars have questioned whether it is a real portrait, rather identifying you as an idealized figure. In this case, the Veronese has used a black background that gives greater prominence to the fair complexion and blonde hair of the lady. His attitude shows modesty, but the richness of his clothes and even more of his jewels, which the Veronese reproduces with skill as a goldsmith, underline the very high lineage.
The last phase of Paolo Veronese's painting shows a marked change in style and taste that in the previous decades were its salient features.
Various factors have pushed in this direction. First of all, even in Venice, even later than elsewhere, the counter-reform recommendations in the field of figurative arts, finally, are imposed and, indeed, it will be the last Veronese to be one of the greatest witnesses in the lagoon of counter-reformed painting.
Even the Venetian events of the last part of the sixteenth century make it opportune to choose different tones. In 1576 Venice, in fact, is struck by a terrible plague that reapers a significant part of the city population. At the same time more and more clear are the signs of the decline of the Adriatic power of the Serenissima due to the Turkish expansion, a phenomenon that the victory of Lepanto has only slowed down, but certainly not stopped. In this climate of mourning and disquiet the joyful painting and the vivacious color, stigma for so many years of Veronese art, has no place.
The last paintings of the Veronese, in fact, are characterized by dark atmospheres, frequent are the night scenes and by far the most prevalent are the representations of religious theme. In these works Paul fully conforms to the Tridentine conciliar indications: his paintings on the sacred theme of the ninth decade of the sixteenth century have clear edifying intentions and a stimulus to meditation on the example of saints and martyrs.
Often the choice of the theme falls on episodes of the Passion of Christ. In addition to the aforementioned Ultima Cena Braidense, a significant example of these trends of extreme production by Paolo Caliari is the great Crucifixion of the Venetian church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti (about 1580). In this work, from the deliberately simple, almost medieval, compositional scheme, the Veronese communicates all the drama of the event, highlighting the blood shed by the Crucifix and highlighting its saving function.
Even on the most strictly stylistic level the last works of Veronese mark a clear change with respect to the past that also contributes to underline the new artistic aims of Caliari: the drawing becomes less defined and the chromatic contrasts are attenuated, almost approaching late painting by Tiziano.
The last production of the Veronese did not initially enjoy particular favor, probably because in the critical imaginary the work of the Caliari was closely associated with the painting of its previous years, from the Dinners to the great secular and religious decorative cycles, also due to the recovery that of this style, with great success, Giambattista Tiepolo (called "Veronese redivivo").
Probably, just because of this initial misfortune criticizes some of his late works, such as the cycles of San Nicolò della Lattuga or the one known as the Duke of Buckingham, of which today is not even the original location (perhaps the monastery of the Giudecca), were dismembered and are divided between various museums in the world. Still for the same reason, some of his latest works, such as the Coronation of the Virgin (c. 1586), made for the church of Ognissanti and today at the Academy, were hastily considered works of the workshop. It is a judgment currently in the context of a profound revision and increasingly it is a shared opinion that the extreme work of the Veronese, even though different from his previous painting, reached equally very high results.
The last effort of the Veronese is the Conversion of Saint Pantaleon (1587), realized for the Venetian church of San Pantalon (still in situ), in which the hagiographic diligence of the representation does not make shadow to the greatness of the art of Paolo Caliari from Verona .
Shortly thereafter, in April 1588, the Veronese went out; he is buried in the church of San Sebastiano in Venice, where so much of his work surrounds him.