Monday, June 12, 2023





( On display inside room no 711, Denon Wing, Level 1, Louvre Museum, on the wall facing Paris )

As one enters room no 711 of Denon Wing (Level 1) in the Louvre Museum, Paris to see Mon Lisa, one finds a huge (6.75 metres by 9.95 metres)  painting adorning the entire wall facing Mona Lisa. It looks as if Mona Lisa is continuously looking at this work and admiring it. Known the world over as "The Wedding Feast At Cana", this is the largest painting displayed in the Louvre Museum, in Paris. I visited the museum thrice in 2023. The room was always crowded obviously on account of the Mona Lisa. It is quite challenging to capture this painting with a mobile camera on account of its size and the crowds.

This huge painting has been done by Paolo Cagliari, known as Paolo Veronese, who is considered as one of the most prominent painters of the Renaissance in Venice, Italy. He lived in the sixteenth century between 1528 and 1588. He was born in Verona (which explains his surname). He is one of the three most important members of the 16th-century Venetian school of painters; the other members are; Titian and Tintoretto. He is known for his large, dramatic, and very colourful paintings.

' The Wedding Feast At Cana' combines many elements of several different styles in art. From the Venetian colorito philosophy of Titian to the compositional disegno of the High Renaissance - exemplified by the work of Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo, the artist has also added one or two characteristics of Mannerism, as well as a quantity of allegorical and symbolic features.In this painting, Jesus is shown sitting in the middle of the table, and Maria is sitting to the left of him (one can recognise them by their halos). They are surrounded by a mix of biblical figures and Venetian contemporaries of Paolo Veronese, including some of the other apostles, princes, Venetian noblemen, and servants. In total, there are more than 130 people. The bride and groom are in the left bottom corner sitting at the table. A servant is offering a glass of wine to the groom to taste the new wine. The bearded ceremonial master, dressed in a green mantle, is standing behind the servant. On the right, one can see a man pouring the wine from one of the white stone water jars into a smaller jar. To the left of him is the head wine taster, who approves the wine.

'​The Wedding Feast At Cana' is illustrated as a lavish Venetian feast, evidenced by the abundance of 16th-century Venetian elements, such as the presence of Dorian (in the foreground) and Corinthian (in the background) columns, the clothing of many of the guests, the silver tableware, etc. One can also see the dogs, birds, parrot, and a cat.

In September 1797, Napoleon’s soldiers removed this huge painting from the walls of the refectory for which it was made. It was taken as war booty and brought to France and finally brought to Louvre Museum. Due to its enormous size, the painting was cut in half, rolled up, and transported to Paris, where it was stitched together.

The Wedding Feast at Cana' represents a story from the New Testament. At a wedding party in Cana, Galilee, Jesus Christ performs his first miracle by turning water into wine. Towards the end of the wedding feast, as the wine begins to run out, Jesus asks that stone jars be filled with water. His followers do so and they are surprised to see the water turning into wine. It was a popular theme during the Italian Renaissance and during the Mannerist era: famous versions of the subject include: "Marriage at Cana" (1305, Scrovegni Chapel) by Giotto; "Wedding at Cana" (1561, Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute) by Tintoretto; "Marriage at Cana" (1566, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest) by Giorgio Vasari. However, unlike most conventional interpretations, Veronese transposed the Bible story to the more modern setting of a typically extravagant Venetian wedding.

Veronese was paid 324 ducats as his fee for doing the painting. He was also given a barrel of wine. The huge work was commissioned for the refectory in the Benedictine monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. Helped by his brother, Benedetto Caliari (1538-98), Veronese completed the huge painting in fifteen months.

Veronese's glowing colours include the hugely expensive lapis lazuli blues, imported along the Silk Route from the mines of Afghanistan; as well as yellow oranges, burning reds, and Verdigris blue greens. Due to a recent 3-year restoration programme at the Louvre, many hues have regained their original brilliance. It was no coincidence that Peter Paul. Rubens (1577-1640), the greatest colourist painter during the era of Baroque painting, owned a number of pictures by Veronese, which he kept in his studio.

The painting caused a huge scandal in the Venetian society. Veronese's emphasis on the hedonistic aspects of a marriage banquet, at the expense of the pious aspects of the occasion, ran counter to the religious sensibilities of the 16th-century Republic of Venice. Undeterred by the controversy, Veronese produced an equally contentious "Last Supper" (1573), which so offended 'public taste' that a tribunal of the Inquisition ordered him to make a number of alterations. He refused and simply retitled the painting, The Feast in the House of Levi (1573, Venice Academy Gallery). John Ruskin once wrote that from Veronese’s art, he learned that, ‘to be a first rate-painter, you mustn’t be pious – but rather a little wicked and entirely a man of the world’. And indeed no matter the subject, Veronese’s paintings always exude the worldly, festive atmosphere of 16th-century Venice.

Calling 'The Wedding Feast At Cana' the “greatest known picture in the world", Jacques-Louis David took the Veronese piece as inspiration and made his own 32-foot-long painting, 'The Coronation of Napoleon (1807)', which also hangs in the museum. Later on, Eugène Delacroix wrote that he “wouldn’t miss” The Wedding Feast at Cana upon any of his numerous visits to the Paris museum, and Vincent van Gogh considered the Veronese evidence that painters ought to use colour toward more expressive means.


( Avtar Mota )

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