Iconic Paintings

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Paintings

Supper At the House of Levi

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In 1573 Veronese completed the painting which is now known as the Feast in the House of Levi for the rear wall of the refectory of the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, the traditional final resting place of the Doges and luminaries of Venice. The painting was originally intended as a depiction of the Last Supper, designed to replace a canvas by Titian lost in a fire.

In keeping with the Venetian tradition of interpreting Biblical and historical scenes with Venice specific themes, Veronese combined the Last Supper with a typical Venetian dinner party. But someone expressed his displeasure at his combination to a new religious authority which had recently been established in the Venetian backyard of Trent, the Holy Inquisition.

Veronese was swiftly dragged before the Inquisitors, who pointed out Michelangelo’s Last Judgment included no such “drunkards nor dogs nor similar buffooneries”. For the Inquisition, the painting’s lack of seriousness and solemnity was expounded by two German guards at the far right, taking bread and wine, as if the Protestants were administering their own Communion. Veronese responded to these concerns noting, “Mine is no art of thought; my art is joyous and praises God in light and colour.” He also pointed out that the elements the Inquisition found distasteful — the splaying dog, the dwarf, the man with the nosebleed who holds the handkerchief at the left of the picture, and of course, the guards — are all in the foreground of the picture, and in no way, share Christ’s space.

Yet, the Inquisitors wanted it repainted. Fortunately for the friars who loved it, and for the Venetians who resented Rome’s inquisition, the artist came up with a compromise; he added a few inscriptions, changing the scene from the Last Supper to the meal at the House of Levi mentioned in Luke 5, a subject that allowed for this sort of diversified, rowdy crowd. The Inquisition relented.

The painting remained in the refectory until Napoleon ordered it be taken away from the suppressed monastic orders. Since 1807, the five meter by twelve meter canvas rests inside Accademia Galleries in Venice.

 

 

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 1, 2011 at 4:48 pm

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