Verona is famous for Romeo and Juliet and its Roman ruins. 60 miles to the east, is Venice, the city that produced such artists as Bellini, Canaletto and Titian. In 1553 at the age of 25, Paolo Caliari from Verona moved to Venice and acquired the nickname Veronese and now a monographic show of 50 of his works are on display at the National Gallery.
I chose to take the Art of Death option over the Venetian Art module, so my knowledge of art from the region is basic. Venice is automatically associated with Titian and the use of bright colour. All I knew of Veronese before the exhibition was his famous incident with the inquisition in 1573 during the counter-reformation, where the artist had painted a version of The Last Supper filled with acrobats, dwarves and monkeys. This was of course deemed to be unsuitable and Veronese was ordered to change his image, however he refused and simply renamed the painting The House of Levi, thus managing to satisfy everyone. Unfortunately this painting was not in the exhibition, though what is included is far from disappointing.
The show is very different to any exhibition at the National Gallery I have ever been to before. The reason for this is that there is absolutely no wall text or image labels apart from the spontaneous quote from an art critic written on the walls. When entering the exhibition you are handed a booklet. Normally these give a rough guide to the exhibition or summarise each room. I don’t normally look at it until after the show. When I entered the first gallery it took a few minutes to realise that the wall text was missing, I was too busy looking at the beautiful paintings. My companion however alerted me to the absent labels and informed me that these were in the booklet.
Having to look in the booklet for image descriptions did not bother me. In fact I didn’t bother to look. This is because, not only is the exhibition different for its lack of wall text. There are also no drawings, and nearly all the images are large-scale paintings. This is an exhibition made up of 50 masterpieces. 10 are from the National Gallery’s collection with 40 other images on loan to the museum from such places as the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To honour the artist, the National Gallery have chosen not to stage the exhibition in the usual gallery space of the Sainsbury Wing but in the rooms where its permanent collection is housed, which has not been done since the Leonardo exhibition.
Among the paintings are scenes for altarpieces, mythological subjects and saints. Amidst the grand images the backgrounds are often decorated with scenes of antique architecture which Veronese’s home town of Verona was famous for. Also amongst his paintings are well respected individuals dressed in luxurious silks and furs.
The show begins brightly, in almost chronological order, which suddenly becomes darker towards the end of the exhibition. There is no explanation to why this may be, however it is exciting and the whole exhibition carries the aura and prestige that must not be missed.
Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice is on display at National Gallery until 15 June 2014