Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 54

The presence of portraits in Paolo Veronese’s narrative paintings
Religious narratives created for secular settings also
include portraits. The Christ Among the Doctors at the
Prado (fig. 9) is described by Ridolfi in the Contarini
collection in Padua.35 Among the group of doctors on
the right of the composition, one with a white beard,
dressed in black and holding a pilgrim’s staff, towers
above the others. No doubt, he is the patron of the
painting and possibly a member of the Contarini
family. It has recently been proposed that he may
be Pietro Contarini, who had travelled to the Holy
Land as a young man in 1526.36 There are no clues
to the identity of the two men in the background –
accentuated by being placed against a column – of
the early Conversion of Mary Magdalene at the National
Gallery in London.37
Fig. 9 / Paolo Veronese, Christ
among the Doctors, ca. 1560,
oil on canvas, 236 x 430 cm,
Madrid, Museo Nacional del
Fig. 10 / Paolo Veronese,
Allegory of the Battle of
Lepanto, ca. 1577-1578, oil
on canvas, 285 x 565 cm,
Venice, Doge’s Palace, Sala
del Collegio.
Portraits can often be recognized in Veronese’s grand,
secular narratives. In some instances, they are of
known patrons. The large ex-voto canvas painted about
1577-1578 for the Sala del Collegio, in the Doge’s
Palace in Venice, was meant to celebrate the Christian
victory at Lepanto in 1571 (fig. 10).38 Two historical
characters are celebrated in the painting. Kneeling at
the centre in a magnificent gold mantle is Sebastiano
The presence of portraits in Paolo Veronese’s narrative paintings
Venier, the victorious admiral at Lepanto and then
doge of Venice. Between Saint Justina and Saint Mark,
behind Venier, is another portrait in shadow. This is
Agostino Barbarigo, the second admiral in command
of the Venetian fleet at Lepanto, where he died after
being wounded in his eye by an arrow. Veronese must
have been close to Barbarigo as he also portrayed
him in an independent portrait, now in the Cleveland
Museum of Art.39 In 1568, three years before Lepanto,
Barbarigo had also acted as godfather to Veronese’s
son Gabriele, at his baptism in the church of San
Samuele on 7 September.40
It can be difficult to ascertain whether figures in
Veronese’s paintings are portraits or not. The second
man from the left in the background of the Anointing
of David at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna
and the centurion in the Christ and the Centurion at
the Prado could well be individuals involved with
the commission of those works, but could also be
generic representations.41 In the Madrid Christ and the
Centurion, a young man looking out from a column on
the right may be a portrait, but it is impossible to be


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