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Exhibition Review

Veronese Blockbuster Celebrates Beauty and Sensual Pleasure

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 25 January 2005—The Musée du Luxembourg, the oldest in France dating back to 1750 and the first in the country to house the work of living artists, has seen many changes over the years. After slipping into near-oblivion between 1979 and 2000 when the temporary exhibitions there, such as porcelain from Limoges, were largely ignored by the public, it has recently received a new lease of life. Taken over by the Senate, it now proudly alternates between interesting exhibitions of modern art and popular displays of the Italian Renaissance.

A small but attractive exhibition of thirty-one paintings and eleven drawings of Paolo Caliari, better known as Veronese, said by some to be the greatest Venetian painter of the fifteenth century, is currently on view there until 30 January. Masterpieces from the world's greatest galleries rub shoulders with lesser works as the exhibition concentrates on the Master's secular works.


Paolo Veronese: Venus and Mercury presenting Eros and Anteros to Jupiter
Paolo Veronese: Venus and Mercury presenting Eros and Anteros to Jupiter (1560 - 1565)
Oil on canvas
Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino
Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg


Yves Marek, the cultural advisor to the President of the Senate commented that the emphasis was on Veronese' colourful, spectacular works rather than the more sombre religious paintings, and indeed the masterpiece, Venus, Mars and Love, lent from the Galleria Sabauda in Turin and hanging in solitary glory on a dark-grey wall lit from above, sets the tone. It is a magnificent work with jewel-like colours and a balanced composition, also important for the originality of the theme. The couple, about to make love, have been disturbed by Love arriving with a horse, doubtless as a reminder of Mars' virility. However, Mr. Marek also told me that the painting originated from a pornographic gravure in circulation at the time, in which considerably more was portrayed, or displayed. It would certainly have aroused many a snicker from the locals.

Veronese:
				
				
				
				
				
				 Venus, Mars and Love
Paolo Veronese: Venus, Mars and Love, (1552 - 1553)
Oil on canvas
Galleria Sabauda, Turin
Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg


The Rape of Europe on loan from the Palais des Doges, is another malicious work. It's not only a feast for the eyes, but is also most suggestive. Far from being frightened, Europe seems to be thoroughly enjoying herself, with a decidedly most charming bull. For a start, he's got no horns, he's garlanded with flowers, and moreover, he is happily licking her foot with his fat pink tongue. Her dress is half-undone in a riot of swirling satins and silks.

Veronese: Rape of Europe
Paolo Veronese: Rape of Europe, (1575 - 1580)
Oil on canvas
Palazzo Ducale
Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg

Lucretia, on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, given pride of place on a far wall, is a masterly demonstration of Veronese' use of colour. "He didn't invent that particular shade of green as many people seem to think", Mr. Marek told me, "but probably devised special techniques with the help of the glass-makers of Venice. He must have been aware of certain chemical alliances, the use of which enabled him to ensure that his works would resist the ravages of time. He most definitely made advances as far as colouring goes."

Veronese:
				
				
				
				
				
				 Lucretia
Paolo Veronese: Lucretia, (circa 1585)
Oil on canvas
Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg

"However, one of the most astonishing aspects of the exhibition which we wished to bring out is the fact that although he painted Venice at the height of her glory, there's an underlying melancholy to many of the works as though he sensed the future decline of the city. In his Venice with Hercules and Neptune, on loan from the Szépmuvészeti Mùzeum Budapest, Venice is richly attired and covered in jewels, yet her face, sombre, has a shadow falling across it."

Veronese:
				
				
				
				
				
				 Venice with Hercules and Neptune
Paolo Veronese: Venice with Hercules and Neptune, (circa 1575)
Oil on canvas
Szépmuvészeti Mùzeum, Budapest
Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg

There is also an interesting collection of portraits including Agostino Barbarigo, loaned from the Cleveland Museum of Art, showing the hero of the battle of Lépante holding the arrow which had gone through his eye during earlier fighting, as well as others, more numerous, showing the elegant, obviously wealthy Venetian nobility at home.

Veronese:
				
				
				
				
				
				 Agostino Barbarigo
Paolo Veronese: Portrait of Agostino Barbarigo, (1571 - 1572)
Oil on canvas
Cleveland Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg

The cultural advisor told me that they had tried to present a wide perspective of the painter's art, while keeping as close as they could to their secular theme. Moreover, canvases where the authenticity was unsure were rejected. He told me that all the works there were by Veronese himself, and that there were only three religious paintings, including Saint Antoine tempted by the devil, important because it was a very early work

Veronese:
				
				
				
				
				
				 Saint Antoine tempted by the devil
Paolo Veronese: Saint Antoine Tempted by the Devil, (1552 - 1553)
Oil on canvas
Musée des Beaux Arts
Photo courtesy of Musée du Luxembourg


Nevertheless, I couldn't help feeling that with Veronese, the secular and the religious works were too closely linked to be arbitrarily separated. What the exhibition underlines is the basic humanity, humour, and nostalgia in his work, bringing it home to the visitor that this is a world which has gone forever

Related: Musée du Luxembourg Web Site

Patricia Boccadoro writes on visual arts and dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and is a member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.com.

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