Artophilia  •  3940   •  7 June 2017

Paolo Veronese and first in the history trial for work of art

The Last Supper, painted by Paolo Veronese, was presented in Dominican monastery’s refectory near the Santi Giovanni e Paolo church in Venice only for three months. Monastery’s prior was called to the church authority that considered this artwork immoral. As Veronese refused to make modifications, the first in the history trial for work of art started.

During the trial, Veronese had to answer questions like: ‘Why the armed men are dressed in a German style?’, ‘For what purpose in the painting there is a man who has nosebleed?’ or ‘Why did you paint clowns, drunks and Germans?’ Veronese knew very well that answers to this questions could possibly lead him to the accusation of heresy, so he invoked artistic freedom, saying: ‘we, the painters, we do allow ourselves to be free, just like clowns and poets’. He also invoked a scandal, that caused Michelangelo few years earlier by showing naked people in the ‘Judgement Day’. Finally, Veronese was ordered to repaint his ‘Last Supper’, however, he just changed the title to: ‘The Feast in the House of Levi’. Doesn’t such cleverness make us to like this artist?

Paolo Veronese The Feast in the House of Levi

Paolo Veronese The Feast in the House of Levi | 1573, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Paolo Veronese The Feast in the House of Levi

Paolo Veronese The Feast in the House of Levi, detail | 1573, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

Why this painting was considered as offensive or even scandalous? After the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563) the canon of contents in the ecclesiastical paintings was determined. It was established then that with using all the means (including even inquisition), it is necessary to control contents of artworks. So, it was decided that Veronese disregarded all those recommendations and that his work not only wasn’t useful, but also was disturbing the congregation during their sacrificial contemplation.

It is also interesting that in then Venice, where people were printing and publishing much more than in different places in Italy, liberation ideals developed and that literate people interpreted texts (especially those considering Reformation) according to their own knowledge. Dominican monks from Santi Giovanni e Paolo church were preaching in Italian and even supporting Martin Luther what caused a flow of believers. Incredible, how this Reformation has influenced art!

Translated by: Weronika Kursa