Paolo passed his days in the church of Saint Sebastian. He planned and painted. He put his heart into this project: His personal “Sixtine Chapel”. Paolo had just finished his last project in the Doge’s Palace, when this major project of the builder and prior Bernardo Torlioni, a fellow countryman, blew in.
Word had it that Paolo had insulted a nobleman: Thus he passed all his days and all these years painting day and night in the church of Saint Sebastian. The work gave him a valid reason to pass his time there and use this religious shelter to protect himself from the vengeance of the nobleman.
Naturally, it was only gossip and is considered a legend today.
But another, real, argument was waiting for Paolo Caliari, who became famous as the “Veronese”, with the most feared institution of the 16th century: The inquisition.
The reason for the interest of the inquisition in Veronese was one of his paintings created in 1573.
Here you can find a high resolution version.
The observer looks on a pompous Renaissance ambience that is enframed by 3 arches, similar to a triumphal arch or a portico. The staircase indicates however that the scene is set in a pompous villa looking outside. Under the vaults of the triumphal arch we find a table that stretches several meters from left to right and is seamed by richly dressed men.
Who are these men in the painting?
We can see the landlord on the right handside at the stair watching, it seems, a jester of short stature and a young coloured servant. Looking close, the landlord is though watching his guest sitting in the middle of the painting from the corner of his eye. Left of the jester, a man walks down the stairs suffering from nose bleeding (He still holds the bloody handkerchief in his hand!) whilst other coloured servants bring more food and wine. Above, Muslim men with turbans are climbing the left wall.
Two soldiers are standing on the right stair, holding their spears. It seems that they are there for security reasons, but looking close we can see that they are participating in the banquett. These soldiers do not originate from the Italian peninsula (The Italian Republic didn’t exist at that time!), but according to their clothes they are German pikemen.
Also the fauna doesn’t miss in this painting
We can see a big dog right in the centre of the painting in front of the table, another one behind the seat of a church dignitary and a cat sprawling on the floor below the table in the centre of the painting.
There is even a parrot. Can you find it?*
The guests are jovial: One of them is even poking around in his mouth with a fork. Can you find the man with the bad manners? **
That’s not all: Veronese was a real marketer! In this painting he is praising Venetian craftsmanship: Just have a look at the wonderful wineglasses, the wine jug made out of glass and the precious fabrics. „Product placement“ at its finest: „References to specific brands or products are incorporated into another work with specific promotional intent.“
Very smart, isn’t it?
Now, could you guess the theme of the painting or would you have considered this painting a „Last Supper“?
Probably not. The inquisition had the same impression and asked Veronese why a jester of short stature and a man suffering from nose bleeding were within this important (!) religious event, the Last Supper. Not to mention the German pikemen: Not even 10 years had passed after THE important Council of Trent that took measures against the Reformation movement coming from German speaking countries and now Veronese dared to paint Protestant pikemen in a Last Supper. “Are you out of your mind?“, probably thought the church dignitaries.
And Veronese? Paolo answered calmly that artists are like fools and poets and follow their own inspiration. To solve the problem with the inquisition, Veronese simply renamed the painting and called it „The Feast in the House of Levi“.
*On the arm of the jester
**Have a look at the second column from the left: On its right you can see one of the apostles using a fork as a toothpick.