Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 49

The presence of portraits in Paolo Veronese’s narrative paintings
The presence of portraits in Paolo Veronese’s narrative paintings
to two of the main Benedictine institutions in the
Veneto: San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice and Santa
Giustina in Padua. It is tempting to identify the donor
in this painting as Abbot Giuliano Careni da Piacenza,
who in the 1570s had been abbot of both monasteries
and commissioned from Veronese, at the end of 1574,
the altarpiece for the high altar of Santa Giustina in
Padua, with the Martyrdom of Saint Justina.19
During his lifetime, Veronese was celebrated for the
large feast paintings he executed for refectories of
monastic institutions in Venice and the terraferma.
Invariably, these works showed abbots and important
monks in the main narratives, often among crowds
of servants and onlookers. The first of these feasts,
painted for the Benedictine refectory of Santi Nazaro e
Celso in Verona, was completed in 1556 and is now in
the Galleria Sabauda in Turin.20 It was commissioned
by the prior of the monastery, Mauro Vercelli, and the
large canvas represents the Gospel episode of the Feast
in the House of Simon. Vercelli makes an appearance
Fig. 3 / Paolo Veronese, The
Virgin and Child with Saints
George and Justina, and a
Benedictine Monk, ca. 1570,
oil on canvas, 100 x 99 cm,
Paris, Musée du Louvre.
Fig. 4 / Paolo Veronese, The
Feast of Saint Gregory the
Great (detail showing the
portrait of Damiano Grana),
1572, oil on canvas, 477 x
862 cm, Vicenza, Santuario
di Monte Berico.
Sometimes, parish priests and abbots were the patrons
of devotional works, and Veronese portrayed some
of them throughout his career. 12 In the background
of the Deposition of Christ, painted in the mid-1540s for
the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Verona
(now at the Museo di Castelvecchio), is the portrait of
a bearded man who is likely Lorenzo Busti, the head
of the Hieronymite convent and the probable patron
of the canvas.13 Carlo Ridolfi wrote that “in Villa di
Gravigna near Treviso there is one of his (Veronese’s)
altarpieces with the portrait of the parish priest.”14
He also recorded that hanging from a beam in a
chapel of the church of San Sebastiano in Venice was
“a small picture with Our Lady and a female virgin
saint who offers a dove to the child, and in it there is
the portrait of Father Michele Spaventi, Venetian.”15
Today, the canvas is in one of the side chapels in
San Sebastiano.16 Its original location in the church
is unknown, but the picture was clearly a private
devotional image painted for Spaventi, a Hieronymite
monk at San Sebastiano. The monk’s initials – FMS
– appear embroidered on the white cushion below
the young Christ in the painting. Another anonymous
monk is portrayed in a devotional painting (now
in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) depicting
the Dead Christ held by an angel.17 The Virgin and
Child with Saints George, Justina, and a Benedictine Monk
at the Louvre (fig. 3) also includes the portrait of a
Benedictine monk.18 The format of the canvas and
the composition, with the central Virgin and Child
flanked by the two saints, suggest that this was a small
altarpiece for a private chapel. The monk has not
been identified, but the presence of the two saints
suggests that he was an abbot and possibly related
as a Benedictine monk, shown in profile above
Christ’s head, on the left. Giorgio Vasari described
the painting in his short biography of Veronese: “in a
large picture on canvas the supper hosted by Simon
the leper for the Lord, when the sinner threw herself
at his feet; with many figures, portraits from life, and
the most extraordinary perspectives, and under the
table there are two dogs so beautiful that they seem
alive and natural, and further away certain cripples
outstandingly rendered.” Vasari noticed, in particular,
the “portraits from life”.21 The 1562-1563 Marriage
Feast at Cana for the refectory of San Giorgio Maggiore
in Venice (and now at the Louvre) also includes
portraits of Benedictine monks.22 Ridolfi recorded
others in two refectory paintings. In 1572, in the Feast
of Saint Gregory the Great for the refectory of the basilica
of Monte Berico in Vicenza, Veronese “ingeniously
placed the prior beside a column, who stands out
wonderfully for the black of his robes” (fig. 4).23
Damiano Grana, the prior at the time, was responsible
for commissioning the canvas.


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