I FIRST ran across Giuseppe (Iseppo) da Porto and his son forty
years ago, in Florence. When I next did so thirty years later, it
was in Paris, in the Palais de Luxembourg, and I am pretty sure the
boy was called Adriano.
It was not until the winter of 2006/07 that I met his wife,
Contessa Livia Thiene, and their daughter, Porzia, who clung
tenaciously to her mother's coat tails. The family owned a palatial
home in Vicenza, but had long since moved out. They made it to
Paris in 2009 (Arts, 13 November 2009), travelling more in
the space of a decade than ever before.
The 2006 V&A show "At Home in Renaissance Italy" was only
the second occasion that the family had been able to come together
since the pair of portraits by Paolo Veronese were separated. They
now stand, either side of a large domestic scene (The Supper at
Emmaus), welcoming visitors to the latest sumptuous exhibition
to open in Trafalgar Square as once they might have done in their
The Da Porto-Thienes seemingly commissioned Veronese in 1551/52
for the double portraits as soon as they moved into their new home,
where five more sons were born. The Mediterranean and the Atlantic
now keep them apart: she is currently in Baltimore, while he has
been in the Uffizi since 1970.
Dr Xavier Salomon, who has returned to the National Gallery to
curate this exhibition of 50 of Veronese's paintings from Fifth
Avenue, New York, has established that the children in fact had
impossibly grand classical names (Leonida, poor chap, and
Deidamia). It is quite likely that the portraits commemorate the
move to their newly completed villa.
The full-length portraits, a feature of mainland northern
Italian art, are imposing solely because of their size; they are
observed humanely and with a degree of intimacy that suggests that
the humbly born stonecutter's son felt at ease portraying the
well-to-do. He is known to have painted about 40 portraits, and a
further five are in this show, including the great Lascelles
portrait of a member of the Saranzo family, hanging next to one
still owned by the Prince Colonna.
Paolo Bazaro was born into a family of stonemasons originally
from Lake Lugano; his father is credited with the hunchback water
stoups in the church of Sant' Anastasia in Verona and hadworked
with the architect Michele Sanmicheli at the Villa Saranzo at
Castelfranco and presumably on the new city gates of Verona.
From 5 July to 5 October, Verona itself hosts a parallel
exhibition, the first retrospective in Italy since the Fascist one
in Venice in 1939. The National Gallery jointly secured the loan of
25 paintings for both shows; thereafter, both shows differ widely,
not least as the Italians will see Veronese's all-important
drawings for many of the pictures.
Veronese's mother was the illegitimate daughter of a minor
landed family called Caliari (a name the young artist later took
for himself) and stepdaughter of Leonardo Bevilacqua Lazise, whose
cousins gave the 18-year-old artist one of his first commissions
for an altarpiece around 1546.
This was for a mortuary chapel in the Church of San Fermo
Maggiore in the city from which he so proudly took his name when he
moved to Venice the following decade. That altarpiece has suffered
badly, and was not worth showing, but the precocity of the youthful
artist in his first painted sketch for it is evident.
What turned a stonecutter into a great painter is only hinted at
in the first gallery, but across his 40-year career (he died at the
comparatively early age of 60 in the year of the Spanish Armada),
we get to see how his use of colour transformed mainland Veneto and
the Maritime Republic of Venice.
Verona is rich in Roman antiquities but had become something of
an artistic backwater for painters after the death of Andrea
Mantegna in 1506. Good local stone, however, meant that it
sustained a strong tradition of architecture and of stonemasonry.
We get to see the pink-grained local marble in the 1562 altarpiece
for the Bonaldi family (Accademia, Venice).
The artist never forgot his background training with his father
and his uncle, and architectural members repeatedly appear in his
paintings. One of the first painters with whom he trained as a
teenager, Giovanni Battista Caroto, published a volume of the
antiquities of Verona (1560). Dr Salomon points out that Veronese
would have known his woodcut of a pilaster's acanthus scrolls from
This haunting detail is included in the steps of the bishop's
throne in the Consecration of St Nicholas (1562) and those
below the Virgin in the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine
(Accademia, Venice). It recurs as late as in the Four
Allegories of Love (National Gallery), here lovingly
re-installed in the octagonal Room 11 where they always used to
The solidity of his painted architecture should come as no
surprise when we recall that perhaps Veronese's greatest artistic
triumph came with his frescoes for the Villa Barbaro at Maser and
for the ceilings of the Doge's Palace and churches such as San
Sebastiano in Venice, aspects necessarily beyond the scope of this
Yet architecture is always included artfully. The Virgin and
Child enthroned in the Bevilacqua Lazise altarpiece sit comfortably
on a stone daïs, while a balustraded arch sweeps across the
background of The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus, a
painted sketch for a long-lost altarpiece of the same year.
George Villiers, the ill-fated favourite of King James VI and I
and boon companion of his son, later King Charles I, once owned the
Anointing of David. As a painting about the succession of
kings, it would have had a particular message for its Stuart
Veronese stays close to the biblical text of 1 Samuel 16.1-13.
David, Jesse's eighth son and the chosen one, kneels in front of a
classical altar as Samuel pours oil into a horn with which to
anoint him. The sacrificial cow, or at least half a heifer, since
its back legs are clearly missing, muses on the fate that it has
escaped. The family group is framed on either side by remarkable
architectural references, as the past and the newly rebuilt
classical cities of the mainland are celebrated.
Architecture similarly embraces The Supper at Emmaus,
the earliest of Veronese's famed series of large-scale biblical
feasts, and the only one to be included in the exhibition. In the
crowded scene, there are nine children and a babe in arms to start
with, and three brothers with the wife of one of them. The Risen
Christ does not get a word in edgeways, but carries on blessing the
bread in front of them, ignored by everyone except for one
But this is no out-of-town inn. The setting is the grand loggia
of a villa with fluted columns and a pedimented doorway and a rich
marble floor. The side buffet groans with silver gilt in an
ostentatious display from which a negro serving man fetches a
Within the self-imposed constraint of displaying paintings that
are uniformly accepted as autograph works of the master, and not of
his increasingly extensive workshop, Dr Salomon has included all
ten of the host collection.
These include The Conversion of Mary Magdalene, which
was acquired in 1876 as Christ and the Woman taken in
Adultery, in which Christ points significantly to the ground.
The current Director of the NG, in his magisterial catalogue of the
16th-century Italian paintings in the collection (2008), accepted a
colleague's proposal that it depicted the healing of the woman with
an issue of blood (Luke 8.43ff) in place of his own descriptive
title of Christ and a Kneeling Woman. Neither of the
central protagonists is older than the 20-year-old artist who
brings them to us.
The first painting ever acquired by the would-be philanthropists
who had in mind establishing a National Gallery as early as 1811
was The Consecration of St Nicholas. This is one of three
altarpieces that Veronese painted in 1562 for the Benedictine abbey
church ofSan Benedetto in Polirone, south of Mantua. Only two
survive. It is joined here by the other from the Chrysler Museum of
Art in Norfolk, Virginia, USA (The Virgin and Child Appear to
St Anthony Abbot and Paul the Hermit).
Subtle minutiae emphasise the scholarship of this Benedictine
community: surprised into being chosen as bishop, the pious
Nicholas has set aside his prayer book, a paper marking the page,
while the founder of monasticism has a book open on a rustic wooden
reading bench beside him. The third picture is known only from a
copy, and depicted St Jerome,the producer of the Vulgate Bible.
Such details were important to the artist and his patrons. In
the Prado's Finding of Moses, we get to see the basket of
bulrushes from which the baby has been saved by Pharaoh's daughter,
while Miriam has already fetched their mother to act as the wet
nurse. These two women are distinguished by the modesty of their
dress from the princess's ladies-in-waiting to the left, who debate
with a dwarf how to care for the Hebrew castaway.
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt is in the John and
Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Florida, where it was central to an
exhibition of Veronese and his contemporaries a year ago. Besides
Matthew 2.14, the canvas explores the episode from the Gospel
of Pseudo-Matthew (fifth century), in which the thirsty
refugees shelter from the sun under a palm tree, a tradition known
still in the Qur'an, and common to many African countries, where
the date palm provides so richly for life.
Angels abound as one plucks the fruit from the bough, hanging
perilously from its branch, while another catches the dates in a
folded cloth. Joseph has found a water source, and the knife
prominently laid on the swaddling clothes recalls the first
shedding of Christ's blood at his circumcision. A loaf of bread in
the foreground points to the eucharist. The trunk of the date palms
form a cross, and a nail sticks out of the wooden stall behind the
The nation also owns a version of the Rape of Europa
(unsatisfactory as this small work appears, close up) and the
Dream of the Empress Helena, brilliantly paired off here
with a very different composition of the same scene from the
Vatican, and the spectacular Family of Darius before
The scale of this picture, which is 4.75 metres long and whose
height (2.36 metres) makes the horse Bucephalus appear all too
real, makes it unlikely that Veronese painted it singlehandedly,
but there are few weak passages in it. The arcade in the background
is at one with his usual habit of including architecture at every
turn, while the figures offer no doubt. Hephaiston and his friend
Alexander are dignified young men in any age.
By staging the exhibition on the main gallery floor and for once
not in the Stygian gloom of the Sainsbury Wing basement, the NG can
show large canvases, and, much more importantly, enable them to be
seen by natural light.
Three prestigious loans from churches, willingly and generously
offered, stand out, both by their size and their quality. The
Vicentine Church of Santa Corona has sent its version of the
Adoration of the Magi (1573), which here faces the NG's
own narrative version of the scene, painted around the same time
for the Scuola di San Guiseppe at the Church of San Silvestro in
Venice. The verticality of the altarpiece is emphasised by the
cinematic way in which contrasts of light and colour enhance the
biblical scene in which the oldest of the kings scrutinises the
The tallest altarpiece is arguably Veronese's finest work.
Depicting St George in the moment when he accepts that the cost of
rejecting the worship of a pagan divinity is death at the hands of
an executioner, it was painted for the high altar of San Giorgio in
Braida, overlooking the river Adige in Verona, around the time of
Veronese's marriage (1566).
Sanmicheli had designed the altar (and redesigned the church),
and Veronese provided a theatrical tour de force, in which
the Roman soldier's pale skin is contrasted to that of the
executioner and the page-boy in the background. Two mounted
soldiers tower over the kneeling saint from either side, unaware
that Faith has despatched a putto with palm branch and
laurel crown to greet the new martyr.
The Conversion of St Pantalon, the last picture in the
show, and a fitting conclusion, comes from its eponymous church in
the heart of Venice. It was painted in 1587 for the old high altar,
and the later reorientation of the church makes it impossible to
see the picture properly in situ. I have tried, more than
once, honest. Just to see it displayed is earthly reward
"Veronese Magnificence in Renaissance Venice" is at the
National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2, until 15 June.
Phone 020 7747 2885.