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The Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese - Analysis
Dawit Abeza
The Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese - Analysis

The Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

Paolo Veronese painted The Feast in the House of Levi, also known as Christ in the House of Levi, in 1573. It is now on display in Venice's Gallerie dell'Accademia. It was created by Veronese for the dining hall of the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, a Dominican friary.

This work was meant to be a Last Supper to replicate a Titian work of the same subject that was lost in a fire in 1571. The painting is linked to Luke, chapter 5 of the Bible, as seen by the phrase added by the artist. A supper is depicted in the artwork, with Christ as the main focus in the work's centerpiece.

The painting, however, prompted an exploration by the Holy Inquisition's Court in Venice. 

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Analysis of the Feast in Levi's House

The Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

The painting represents a dinner scene in which Christ is portrayed as a tall figure in the foreground. Christ wears a glittering pale green robe, and the individuals around him engage in a whirlwind of translucent brilliance in a variety of positions and postures.

The banquet is enclosed by colossal columns and archways that are organized like a triptych. The archways are also reminiscent of triumphal arches, which are symbolic of Christ's glory over death because he was revived. Magnificent arches were frequent in Roman times, and they were erected in prominent locations where victorious parades were held to bring awareness to the activities of individuals to whom they were consecrated.

The two sets of staircases along either side of the piece strengthen the middle of the scene as the central focus. The stairwells direct the viewer's gaze toward the figure of Christ. The architectural structures in this artwork are reminiscent of Colonial cathedrals from Northern Italy. These cathedrals were noted for their stairwells, which are reflected in this artwork. Because there are no structures behind Christ, the space appears to be divine.

Veronese opted to have diagonal elements intersecting at numerous locations rather than at a unified vanishing point in this painting, rather than using linear perspective. Veronese's opposition to linear perspective was most likely motivated by worries about the painting's huge surface area as well as the numerous viewpoints from which spectators would view it.

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The artist would seem to have placed a premium on the spatial configuration of the artwork, as he stated in his evidence that the characters that insulted the Holy Tribunal were inserted on a different plane than Christ and his followers.

Why was The Feast in Levi's House so divisive?

Veronese's portrayal of this Biblical scene was politically problematic, as it incorporated a sizable proportion of frivolous and objectionable symbolism that was thought improper to the topic.

In Feast in the House of Levi, what scene is depicted?

The Last Supper is a Biblical event.

Historical background of the trial

The Holy Tribunal summoned Veronese because of his painting in 1573, around three months after he completed it, to address concerns regarding aspects deemed improper for a portrayal of the Last Supper. six representatives made up the Holy Tribunal of Venice.

The prosecutor was the leader of the Tribunal and was in charge of conducting the artist's interrogation. On theological and secular levels, the Tribunal's goals were to maintain a sense of balance between Venice and Rome. Because the Republic of Venice and the Vatican were unified in their Christian values against anyone that was against Catholic orthodoxy. 

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Although the Holy Tribunal in Venice did not usually impose harsh judgments, they did have the authority to impose death sentences. Because the Tribunal had such power, an inquiry by them was regarded as a major event.

One hypothesis is that Veronese was probed by the Tribunal to demonstrate his suitability for the position of power. This was essential because a freshly appointed nuncio in Rome was working directly with the Pope. Per this interpretation, the questioning was about the symbolism of the painting in the first place.

Patrons rarely specified how a topic or scene should be depicted by an artist throughout the Renaissance. According to a painting book written by Leon Battista Alberti in 1435, paintings were frequently left totally to the artist's discretion. As a result, the artist's decisions would be determined purely by the artist. Since it was standard procedure for artists to develop their own compositions with only the patron's subject material as a suggestion, it's no surprise that the Holy Tribunal tried the painter Veronese rather than the patron.

During the interview, Veronese was forced to explain why the painting had drunken Germans and other such scurrilities. V Veronese justified his painting by arguing that it had a significant amount of area for him to fill, therefore he had to fill in any extra space on a theoretical level, which is why he included a few characters. The artist also indicated that he believed the figures were placed far enough away from Christ to avoid tarnishing the idea of the Last Supper.

Veronese had acted against the Council by painting The Feast in the House of Levi in this fashion. The integration resulted in the creation of highly severe standards that must be followed by religious artworks.

The Council of Trent decreed that all religious artworks be free of any simply decorative or aesthetic modifications to avoid any interference with the virtuous message of artworks. The artist explicitly acknowledged in the record of Veronese's trial for The Feast in the House of Levi that he had covered the surplus space with characters to produce a complete painting. 

The Holy Tribunal was unmoved by the artist's reasoning. The Holy Tribunal made it obvious to Veronese that, in their view, he had exposed Catholicism to Protestant criticism and that he needed to correct his error.

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Finally, the Holy Tribunal ordered Veronese that he needed to modify his painting within three months. Instead, he merely altered the name to The Feast in the House of Levi, a story from the Gospels that was less scripturally significant and in which "sinners" were present, according to the Gospels.

Veronese also opted to add a statement to the work, deleting the connection to Simon and replacing it with a link to Levi. Nothing further was said after that. The trial records are still available and can be accessed.

 

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