Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 58

The presence of portraits in Paolo Veronese’s narrative paintings
The presence of portraits in Paolo Veronese’s narrative paintings
not from Venice but rather from Verona, Vicenza, or
another large city of the terraferma. Perhaps they lived
in a newly built palazzo by Michele Sanmicheli or
Palladio. The painting is first documented in 1635 in
the collection of Vittorio Amedeo I, the Duke of Savoy,
in Turin. How the painting reached Turin is a mystery.
Varying greatly in size and purpose, as we have seen,
many works by Veronese include portraits of patrons
– priests and aristocrats, merchants, ladies, and
abbots – and their children, most often as onlookers
and occasionally as active participants in narratives.
Paolo was not particularly interested in single,
straightforward, portraits, but he was exceptionally
accomplished in recording the features of individuals
within larger compositions. He created a vision of an
ideal realm, a vision that patrons appreciated and
into which he inserted them. Even though Veronese
did not leave behind the large number of portraits that
contemporary Venetian painters – Titian and Tintoretto
above all – created, he nevertheless bequeathed to
posterity the splendid image of his age and of its
patrons, embedded in his magnificent narratives.
Fig. 13 / Paolo Veronese, The
Cuccina Family Presented
to the Virgin and Child with
Saints John the Baptist
and Jerome, ca. 1572, oil
on canvas, 167 x 416 cm,
Dresden, Gemäldegalerie
Alte Meister.
Fig. 14 / Paolo Veronese,
The Supper at Emmaus, ca.
1555, oil on canvas, 242 x
416 cm, Paris, Musée du
In these remarkable depictions of family groups, men
and women, boys and girls, the living and the dead
are shown together to convey the prestige and power
of a family. Interestingly, while a tradition of family
portraits existed in Venice, it invariably focused on male
individuals. Foreigners were responsible for introducing
more varied depictions of families; a prime example is
a portrait commissioned in the early 1570s by Alvise
Cuccina, a wool merchant whose family was originally
from Bergamo. Cuccina ordered a cycle of four large
canvases (now in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden) for
the portego of his palazzo on the Grand Canal.46 One
of the paintings, the Cuccina Family Presented to the Virgin
and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Jerome (fig. 13), is a
direct and unapologetic celebration of three generations
of the family. The Virgin and Child are enthroned
and flanked by Saints Jerome and John the Baptist, the
patron saints of Alvise’s father and uncle – Girolamo
and Zuanne Cuccina; on the other side of a pair of
marble columns, the three virtues, Faith, Hope, and
Charity, present Alvise – together with his brothers
Zuan’Antonio and Antonio, and their respective wives
and children – to the group of celestial figures. The
family had also commissioned an altarpiece from
Veronese, which showed the Virgin and Child with
the same two saints, for their private chapel in San
Francesco della Vigna. In the Cuccina family canvas,
it is as if the family interacts with their altarpiece,
their devotion forever enshrined in this formidable
image. Veronese included a similar depiction of a
family in an earlier large painting: the Supper at Emmaus
in the Louvre (fig. 14).47 Painted in the mid-1550s,
the monumental canvas represents the moment –
recounted in the Gospel of Luke (24: 13-35) – when
two disciples, travelling from Jerusalem to Emmaus with
a pilgrim, recognized him as the resurrected Christ, as
he “sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed
it, and brake, and gave it to them.” Around the central
group are three men, possibly siblings like the Cuccina
brothers, a woman standing, and an assembly of ten
children: five boys, four girls, and an infant. Most of
them wear sixteenth-century clothes, but two of the
children – a boy and a girl – are shown in all’antica
outfits, possibly indicating that they were deceased
at the time they were portrayed. The family in this
stunning canvas has never been identified, however,
it is likely to be aristocratic. Given the prominence of
the wife and two daughters, the family was probably


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