Paolo Veronese, who was also known as Paolo Caliari, was a late Italian Renaissance painter. Veronese became one of the most prominent artists of the Venetian School of painting, known for its artists' individuality and masterful use of color. The painter was one of the most skilled artists of his time and was hailed as the successor of Tiziano. Despite the general acknowledgment of his work's quality, he received little attention from Vasari's writings, which were fundamental to the modern-day image of the Renaissance. Although the painter had many patrons throughout his life, his rather introspective way didn't attract the flashy prose of the biographers from his day. In recent years, his paintings were put for sale via auction houses such as Christie's.
Paolo Caliari was born sometime in the year 1528. At birth, he received the name Paolo Spezapreda. Spezapreda translates literally to "stonecutter." His surname was a reference to his father's profession, who worked as a mason and sculptor. Paolo's mother was Caterina Caliari, the daughter of a nobleman, and in his first written documentation, he signs as Paolo Caliari.
Around 1541, Veronese began to study under Antonio Badile, who later became his father-in-law, and by 1544, he was apprenticed by Giovanni Francesco Caroto. Both were leading artists in the Verona art scene and worked with religious scenes and history paintings. Soon, Veronese's precocious talents surpassed the level of his master's workshop.
In his earliest work, Christ with the Doctors in the Temple, the artist was only 20 years old. He already displayed a good grasp of architecture and composition and demonstrated his inclination for a bright palette, using vibrant greens and oranges. The scale of the work is also worth noting, measuring 236 x 543 cm. The oil on canvas is today at Museo del Prado.
Although the artist was trained in the Mannerist style, which was quite popular in Parma, and Veronese soon developed his preferences. Christ with the Doctors in the Temple shows how his sensibility was more akin to the Venetians than Verona's regional style. While his master Badile didn't have a lasting influence on him, he was captivated by the local architecture, particularly the works of Michele Sanmicheli.
In Sketch for the Bevilacqua Altarpiece, another work dated from 1548 and commissioned by the San Fermo Maggiore Church, is an example of the prowess that young Veronese achieved. While Badile's style is more reminiscent of Renaissance and its tamed colors, in this artwork, we see the Italian painter exploring the modern manner, influenced by Mannerism through architecture and bolder and more intense color use.
By 1548, Veronese was already receiving a substantial amount of commissions. One of his early works was for the altarpiece at the Giustiniani family chapel in San Francesco Della Vigna Church. In the same year, along with fellows artists Anselmo Canneri and Giovanni Battista Zelotti, the artist was in charge of the Villa Soranzo artworks. He received this commission through the indication of Sanmicheli, who had designed and built the Villa project.
Although only fragments of the aforementioned decoration remain, this artwork was pivotal in developing his reputation as an artist. The team of artists, along with the architect Micheli, had excellent synergy and worked together on other projects. The decoration was made of frescoes based on the descriptions of Vitruvius and Pliny of old Roman Villas. The images' effect was of a perspective illusion, creating an integration of the building with the local landscapes.
Before leaving his city, the painter concluded one last important commission in Verona, with the famed Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga's supervision. It was an Altarpiece for Mantua's Cathedral, and Paolo was competing with three other artists. The Temptation of St. Anthony shows a side of the artist that plays with tenebrism and a more Roman-influenced palette. From it, it's possible to see his full adaptation of Mannerism, with the exaggerated anatomy and unusual composition. Later, in his mature style, Veronese developed one of his more personal and intricate styles.
The first Venetian work that the Mannerist painter received was from the Giustiniani Chapel of San Francesco Della Vigna. It was another altarpiece, installed in the Chapel in 1551. The Holy Family with St. John the Baptist, St. Anthony Abbot and St. Catherine was based on Tiziano's Madonna With Saints And Members Of The Pesaro Family. Compared with the older painter's approach, which valued a colder and more distant palette. The painter from Verona used intense pinks and reds that in a way granted his figures a more humane and inviting reception towards the viewer.
In 1553, Veronese moved to Venice. There, the artist was able to take advantage of Venetian art's high demand during the period. Both Jacopo Tintoretto and Tiziano, who were opposite incarnations of Venetian School, were hailed as great artists and had many assistants working under them. Soon, Paolo began to receive commercial orders from the local nobility and clergy, who saw in him a third distinctive and unique voice in the city.
Veronese's artistic prowess was such that he would already consolidate an illustrious career at a very young age. His artworks in the San Sebastiano Church, the Marciana Library, and the Ducal Palace set his position as a Venetian Master. The latter project was overseen by painter Giovanni Battista Ponchini. It is an example of a recurring situation throughout Paolo's career: working with a team of painters and architects on decorative projects. The opportunity enabled him to establish a good network of Patrician Venetians.
The piece Jupiter Hurling Thunderbolts at the Vices was created as part of a series for the Ducal Palace decoration. It shows the painter's taste for defying perspectives and compositions that might seem confusing at first glance. Still, the manner that the visual elements are arranged, such as the gods' bodies, the angel-like figures, and the clouds, create a pleasurable and fluid reading of the work. The local nobility appreciated his boldness. Juno Showering Gifts on Venetia is another artwork created for the Palace.
Soon, the artist was taking commissions from the city's most influential aristocratic families, such as the Barbaro house and the San Sebastiano Church, a building in which the painter worked on for years. Veronese worked on many commissions for the church throughout 20 years. These two projects are examples of how Veronese's most successful works have an in-depth dialogue with architecture and how the paintings are projected for their environment.
By 1561, at 33 years old, the Italian painter entered into his mature phase. The preceding years in Venice were marked by Veronese's commercial consolidation, as he worked along with his assistants in the decoration of many villas. His skillful drawing and impressive colors were admired by many. In that year, Marcantonio Barbaro hired the painter's service for one of the Ducal Palace's most prestigious rooms. Unfortunately, the piece was destroyed in a fire but represented the final strike in consolidating the painter's reputation in the city.
Not only had the painter reached a relatively comfortable and stable professional life, but in his personal life as well, marrying Elena Badile in 1566. Elena was the daughter of his art instructor, Antonio Badile. The couple had five children, the first one being born two years after the wedding. As the artist established a family of his own, his mother, Catherina, moved to Venice.
After the great fire set upon the Doge's Palace in 1577, Veronese, like Tintoretto, worked extensively in its restoration. As Tiziano had died the year before, this was the meeting of the two most prominent painters of Venice. Each developed their unique style, but by this time had their rivalry was squashed, and they admired each other's oeuvre.
Following the Counter-Reformation, Veronese's demand would shift from mythological scenes to smaller devotional compositions. Along with the political and aesthetic change, Venice was struck by a plague that killed a considerable part of its population. The Ottoman Empire was becoming a larger threat to the Venetian commercial routes. These events played a role in the somber and dark tone that the painter adopted in his later years.
By 1850, the artist, along with his sons and brother, established a workshop. Initially, their production was not considered as good as the famed painter's work, which would change a few years later, independently of Veronese's hand.
Paolo Veronese died of pneumonia on April 19, 1588. He got sick eight days before while engaging in religious activity in Treviso. His remains are at the San Sebastiano Church.