Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice. AHA Tutor Richard Stemp reviews what ‘The Times’ has called the must-see exhibition of the year and concludes – you must see it!

What’s in a name? Call him Paolo Spezapreda, Paolo Bazaro or Paolo Caliari, Paolo Veronese will always be among the greats, and has finally been put into the spotlight at the National Gallery.

Paolo Veronese has his name because he was, quite simply, the best artist ever to come out of his hometown, Verona. Although he moved to Venice more-or-less full time at the age of 27 in 1555, and instantly entered the top ranks of the Venetian art élite, his work was grounded in his youth and formation in the mainland city.

The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donors (modello for the Pala Bevilacqua Lazise), about 1546

Born in 1528 into family of stonecutters, Paolo may have initially trained in the family business with his father, but by the age of 13 he was already apprenticed to Antonio Badile, a competent but uninspiring artist. He also seems to have worked alongside Giovanni Battista Caroto, but not for long: he was established as an independent master in his own right by the age of 18. In 1553 he signed himself ‘Paolo Spezapreda’ – Paul the Stonecutter – but within two years he was calling himself ‘Paolo Caliari from Verona’. Caliari wasn’t even his father’s name. His father, Gabriele Bazaro, married a girl called Caterina, some six years his senior. And when you’re only 14 that’s a big difference. Maybe they married because she was already pregnant. But then her parents never married: her father was an aristocrat by the name of Caliari, and by choosing the name of his illegitimate mother’s father Paolo implied he was going up in the world, no longer a humble stonecutter, but an artist with a high-class background. Nevertheless, in Venice he must have stood out from the Venetian artists and became known, quite simply, as Paolo Veronese.

 

The earliest known paintings by him are both in the National Gallery’s splendid exhibition. Both are painted in oil on paper, later mounted on canvas, and both show his origins clearly. They are studies for two works which are lost – one completely, and one only practically, as the full-scale version of the Bevilacqua-Lazise altarpiece survives, but is highly damaged and badly over-painted. The little modello – probably painted so the clients could see what they were getting – is a better representation of what was intended. The architectural setting, with the Virgin and Child enthroned to the side of a marble altar, shows the influence of Titian – via Antonio Badile – but also the architectural style of Michele Sanmicheli, the leading architect of Vicenza at the time. Paolo’s father probably worked for him. As a boy, Paolo may have done so too.

The Conversion of Mary Magdalene, about 1548

By the age of 20 he was apparently fully formed. What first strikes you about The Conversion of Mary Magdalene is the brilliance of its colours – chopping from sky blue to rose, emerald to primrose and a daring combination of white and vermillion, like a Bridget Riley inhabited by people. The story, probably derived from a life of Christ written by Pietro Aretino, shows Mary Magdalene falling to her knees with shame as she first beholds Jesus, and immediately removing her jewelry, the outward sign of her inner vice. Her sister Martha holds her hand and points the way, from the shadow into which she has subsided to the brilliant light of Christ. This is where we first see a compositional tendency which recurs throughout Veronese’s oeuvre: the protagonist is at the bottom, in the shade, and partly hidden by the other characters – and yet we always know who is important, as Veronese can always lead our eye in the right direction.

The Mystical Marriage of St Catherine, about 1565-70

He excels at the depiction of religious subject matter, notably in the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine and The Martyrdom of St George in the third and fourth rooms of the exhibition respectively. Both are triumphs for the National Gallery. The former has never left Venice (painted for the Church of Santa Caterina, it now resides in the Accademia, the main art gallery there), while the latter has only left the church in Verona for which it was painted once before – when Napoleon stole it at the end of the 18th Century. Both are sublimely coloured and beautifully composed. St Catherine is arrayed in the finest of Venetians fabrics, a white, blue and gold brocade, and is about to be enveloped in a voluminous white cloth-of-gold cape by one of the attendant angels. A woman behind raised her arms high and gazes to heaven, her hands framing the faces of the Virgin and the Saint and bringing them together in a form of ecstatic union. In the next room of the exhibition, St George, brought low, accepts his immanent death while looking up at the figure of Hope, who looks to the Virgin and Child,  pleading, with her companions Faith and Charity, on his behalf. The interlocking gazes and gestures of the celestial gathering lead our eye around the upper half of the painting, while the red flag of the Romans – inscribed with the letters SPQR (‘the Senate and People of Rome’) cuts like a knife from the top left corner and tears our eyes down to the brilliant vermillion of George’s hose.

Mars and Venus united by Love about 1570-5

If he excels with the religious, he excites with myth. The National Gallery’s own Allegories of Love look superb in what was their long-time setting, where they are reunited with a Mars and Venus that they haven’t seen for three hundred years when they were all part of the collection of the Hapsburgs in Prague. A cheeky and delicate version of The Rape of Europa shows the heroine tentatively mounting a snow-white bull, not knowing it to be Jupiter in disguise. He tenderly nuzzles her sandalled feet, before carrying her off, in a background scene, across the lapping waves and far across the sea. A regretful heifer peers longingly into the distance, apparently regretting that she didn’t get in on the action.

The Rape of Europa

If the mature paintings look as if they are bathed in sunlight, the last works have something of the night about them, they seem to be moonlit, and you get the feeling that without Veronese’s exploration of chiaroscuro Caravaggio’s career might not have been possible. The story of Lucretia is dark in every way. Raped, she kills herself rather than suffer the shame, and plunges a dagger into her breast through the cloth with which she is so desperately trying to maintain her dignity.  Elsewhere in this final room a heroic Perseus plummets through the air, a secular angel rescuing a gymnastic Andromeda from the most energetic of sea monsters, while two late portraits, in tranquil mode, show that Veronese perfected his skills depicting character and surface like no other. The last painting in the exhibition is the last he ever painted, The Conversion of St Pantalon, commissioned for the high altar of eponymous Venetian church by the Parish Priest, Bartolomeo Borghi. No ideal palaces here, no soaring classical columns, but a seedy Venetian backstreet in which the Saint cures a boy bitten by a snake with the power of prayer alone. Borghi himself plays a minor role, supporting the body of the dead child before he is resuscitated. As so often in Veronese’s work the patron takes part in the religious drama: throughout the exhibition any slightly suspect characters photo-bombing the holy scene are probably portraits of the patrons.

The Agony in the Garden

This may be the last painting, but as you go, stop and contemplate The Agony in the Garden. Christ’s traditional vigil has worn him down, and while Peter, James and John sleep securely in the background, Jesus has collapsed in the arms of a consoling angel, who is left with the task of looking up to Heaven and pleading for forbearance. The light streaming from on high trickles like liquid gold down the angel’s violet robe, and Christ’s limbs hang heavy, forming a counterpoint with the angel’s legs and framed by the blue and red of his own robes, as if blood and water flow mingled down. It is an exquisite image: quiet, considered, contemplative, sublime.

 

The exhibition has 50 paintings by this great master, from the earliest known works, to the last one he painted. It’s the first exhibition devoted to him in Britain, and the size and scale of the paintings mean that the National Gallery has moved some of its permanent collection out of the way so that Veronese’s works can enjoy the space and natural daylight of the main floor. The colours shine gloriously, the dramatic compositions have space to breathe, and some of the paintings can be examined up close for the first time ever. It really is the exhibition you should be going to see – and if you can conspire to see it when the sun is shining, so much the better.

 

Picasso’s Catalonia: AHA alum Helena Roy looks at the artist’s work in France and Spain…

On a recent trip to Barcelona, the recommendation constantly being thrown at me was to visit the Museu Picasso, in the city’s rambling Gothic district.
Clichéd that may be, but wrong it was not. The museum plunges you deep into Picasso’s style, life and artistic development – taking you on a journey through both Barcelona’s history and the inspiration it provided him with. This year it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary – half a century of displaying a mammoth but memorable collection of the famed artist’s work.
But first, a disclaimer: I am a novice when it comes to Picasso and much of the period he worked in. But while this may not be an accurate review, it is an enthusiastic account of seeing Picasso through new eyes.
Perhaps the museum’s greatest success is showing so clearly the artist’s development. Earlier rooms show soft charcoal academic studies of classical sculpture with a subtlety of form absent in later works. A portrait of Picasso’s father is tender, all tradition and tertiary colours; while seascapes are unadventurous and calm. Picasso soaked up his surroundings. There are richly expressive oil paintings, depicting Catalonia’s mountainous terracotta landscapes, and Monet-like renditions of Barceloneta. Sensitive religious works capture ceremonies such as ‘First Communion’ (1896) in a beautifully innocent way – the peaceful antithesis of a historic painting such as Delaroche’s ‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’.
'The artist's father' (1896)
'First Communion' (1896)
But Picasso quickly moved on from safe, traditional material. ‘Science and Charity’ (1897) was painted at the height of social realism, juxtaposing the themes of religion and medicine. It boosted Picasso’s artistic presence: signalling his power to show uncomfortable social tensions harmoniously. More morbid social realism was to follow: a stillborn; a sick woman’s bedside; a fantastical kiss of death; and the bedside of a dead man.
'Science and Charity' (1897)
The iconic Picasso comes through from 1900 – his first trip to Paris gave birth to a harsher, intense style. ‘Still Life’ (1901) is vibrant and in-your-face; a mash of colours artfully splashed to form a table saturated with taste. His female subjects become sensual but unrealistic; ‘Waiting Margot’ (1901) complete with rouged lips and a bohemian turban against a green and yelow splattered background; ‘Old woman, seated’ (1903) is embryonic and scientific, while another female nude is encased in a deep cobalt womb-like oval.
There is a sense of violence pushing through Picasso’s work at this point: first with colour or distorted form – only later do the two combine. ‘Gored horse’ (1917) seems an isolated predecessor to ‘Guernica’ (1937) – the contorted pain represented in dead grey, as life withdraws to the earthy background. In fact, from this year he seems to have become ostentatiously more cubist – losing all realism from his younger works. This comes to the fore in his multiple studies of Diego Veláquez‘s ‘Las Meninas’ (1957). They have all the robust, grotesque confidence of ‘Guernica’, but are more innocent and composed in their subject. Picasso is stubbornly angular in his reshaping of the information he was confronted with – mixing flat black with blank primaries to emphasise this.
'Gored horse' (1917)
'Las Meninas' (1957)
It is brilliant to see Picasso’s work in the Catalan setting that so inspired him. There are recurring images of the balconies and windows that cascade onto the streets of Barcelona; nighttime in the city is portrayed with modernistic blue rooftops. A favourite of mine was the unfinished ‘Woman with mantila’ (1917): Picasso’s later vibrancy is scaled down to detailed dots here, to form a stunning female embodiment of Barcelona – all old and new, beauty and exuberance. Nor is he the only artist to be inspired by Catalonia: Salvador Dalí’s house is in the coastel Cadaqués, and the Dalí museum is located in nearby Figueres. Picasso also painted one or two works in Céret, just across the French border. Most obviously, that Barcelona inspired Gaudí is evidenced all over the city: from Parc Güell to the Sagrada Família.
'Woman with mantila' (1917)
Museum Picasso is, above all, personal. A tenderly distorted ‘Portrait of Jaume Sarbatés with ruff and hat’ (1939) introduces the man who donated many of the works which make up the museum, and was Picasso’s great friend. The artist himself gave many works – thus ensuring a fantastic legacy for himself. You come across famous styles, and more unique pieces; ‘Minotauromachy’ (1935) reveals less-seen mystical forms with heavy shading compromised of tiny lines – none of the colour and shading Picasso is so synonymous with.
'Minotauromachy' (1935)
The temporary exhibition I visited was a series of self-portraits by the artist. Heavy line drawings of his youthful self are seen next to his scrawling, expressive, alternative signature – hints of the explosion of creative force to come. We see Picasso through all his confused styles – his development both physically and creatively. Heightened distortion correlates to the ageing process (as in ‘Self-portrait’, 1972). Wild experimentation is present with a photomaton photograph with added gouache – showing Picasso in reality with his ultra-modern non-reality creeping in. The star piece is ‘Self-portrait’ (1907): it is rough and earthy, angular and staring – the eyes of the artist seeing you in a way no one else could. Museu Picasso reveals the multitude of tension both in the artist’s work, and himself. His subjects are varied – but so is he. Though clearly a museum for one artist, the visitor comes away having seen a myriad of facets of artistic interpretation. Technique, style, subject and message is constantly conflicted.
'Self-portrait' (1907)
It was once said of Joseph Heller‘s Catch-22 that it gave ‘the impression of having been shouted onto the paper’. But Heller by no means lacked classical training – this was the intended effect. Picasso strikes me as much the same. His most idiosyncratic works are a carefully composed shout – drawing on a plenthora of traditions, but inimitable in their modernism and innovation. Picasso once said ‘Painting isn’t a question of sensitivity; we need to take the place of nature instead of depending on the information she offers us.’ Picasso warped the information imparted on him by his surroundings; but though his work was not sensitive to reality, it was to meaning and message. To some, this museum may seem to bombarde the visitor with works to prove try and prove that thesis; but for a novice, it is the most intense way to nurture an understanding of one of the most studied artists.
For more information, visit http://www.museupicasso.bcn.cat/en/. With thanks to Museu Picasso and Wikipedia for photos.

Coppola-coloured: is there really so much difference between film and painting? AHA alum Julia Turner explores

If Sofia Coppola were a Renaissance painter, she would be Titian. Or maybe Tintoretto:  two painters whose mastery of colour and light were crucial to their artistic output. Their approach to painting represented the Venetian school’s insistence that colorito (colour), rather than Florentine disegno (drawing), was the key to recreating the essence of nature. Impossible though it may be, therefore, I think that if the two men were to watch Coppola’s Marie Antoinette over a bowl of pop-corn, they would nod in approval at her pistachio greens, duck egg blues, and accents of deep crimson and plum.

Titian, Diana and Callisto, 1556-1559

 

Tintoretto, St Mark Working Many Miracles, 1562-1566

 

Still from Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, 2006

Coppola’s debut feature film, The Virgin Suicides, paid equal attention to production design and light in creating a sense of theatricality, not dissimilar to Tim Walker’s fantastical photographs.

Tim Walker, Lily Cole, for Vogue UK, 2010

 

Still from Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, 1999

Another director who I love for his use of colour is Wes Anderson. His use of paint-box colours make his works instantly recognisable. In fact, Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic style inspired artist Beth Matthews to produce her own work, the Wes Anderson Film Colour Palette, in which she pulled together the colour treatments used across six of his feature films.

Poster Image for Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, 2012

That said, Coppola’s films, also capture design or ‘disegno’. Since directors are able to use a camera to capture nature directly, they arguably have the ‘design’ box automatically checked before they even begin. What’s more, the photographic aspect of cinema can provide an opportunity for directors to focus especially on the composition of their frames. In Citizen Kane, Orson Welles used monochrome to create kaleidoscopic, architectural shots that could stand alone as striking photographs.

Still from Orson Welles' Citizen Kane

On the other hand, through his symmetrical compositions Anderson’s use of colour becomes most evident and most efficient in balancing his frames. Similarly, both colour and design are put to work in Somewhere, Coppola’s meandering portrait of a famous actor living in the Chateau Marmont, whose life happens to him rather than the other way around. Curved and straight lines, repeating patterns, and clean-fishbowl-hues build up a considered portrayal of a place that almost feels like the set of a movie itself: somewhere with lots of charm but no personality.

Still from Wes Anderson, The Darjeeling Limited, 2007
Still from Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic, 2006

I suppose in this way, film could resolve another Renaissance debate: whether painting or sculpture is the better art form. Michelangelo was able to master both and this is one of the reasons he was so celebrated. Not only can film offer both colour and a three-dimensional perspective on the figures, but it can go one step further, by introducing soundtrack and dialogue to flesh out the characters and add texture and tone to the piece such as with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony capturing the sweeping majesty of Tadzio’s beauty and von Aschenbach’s loneliness in Visconti’s Death in Venice or French rock band Phoenix’s cool nonchalance pervading Coppola’s Somewhere.

Still from Coppola, Somewhere, 2010
Still from Coppola, Somewhere, 2010
Still from Visconti's Death in Venice, 1971

So really, the medium that is most associated with modernity – the moving image of the Nineteenth Century, the talkies of the 1930s, and the music videos and blockbusters that dominate youtube and facebook feeds today – are actually involved in fulfilling a very traditional aim:

to capture the spirit, the sense, the essence of a thought, a feeling or a truth.

 

Raw Inspiration: Marrakesh, the Sahara and Fes in 4 Days – by Helena Roy

Following an impromptu decision, I decided to head to Morocco in late June. The trip was to be just as spontaneous as its impetus – travelling haphazardly through Marrakesh, onto the edge of the Sahara, and finally Fes.

The view in the morning from the overnight train to Marrakesh

Marrakesh assaults the senses. It remains one of those fantastic cities that is itself an exhibition. Snaking through the medina on foot exposes you to a strangely harmonious multitude of tensions and fusions. Life remains steeped in history but constantly developing – donkeys pull carts of a myriad of spices (supporting ancient culinary culture) past bright red Coca-Cola parasols in cafes full of people jabbering on mobiles.

A water-seller in Marrakesh
Fresh fruit on sale in Marrakesh
Intricate henna tattoos in Jemaa el Fna in Marrakesh
Spices in Marrakesh
Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh
The Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakesh

The colours are vibrant to the point of chaos. Fruit, market stalls, adverts – bright primaries are mixed with metallic tones, making a mosaic out of the city that mirrors the intricate tiling of its ancient Islamic architecture. A highlight of Marrakesh is the Jardin Majorelle – home of Yves Saint Laurent. A serene oasis just outside of the medina, it chooses the brightest of Marrakesh colours and emphasises them in horticulture and architecture. Visiting the garden provides material evidence of the torrent of inspiration Marrakesh imparts.

Cactus in the Jardin Majorelle
Flowers in the Jardin Majorelle
Yves Saint Laurent's Jardin Majorelle

The contrast between Moroccan cities and the desert could not be starker. Travelling through Morocco, the landscape offers itself as a gallery. Canyons, mountains and dunes offer colours, contours and contrasts as inspiring as the greatest painted masterpiece.

Driving through the Atlas Mountains
A canyon close to the Draa Valley
Endless dunes in the Sahara
Dwarfed by the dunes in the Sahara

After arriving at Fes around 3am, taxi drivers promptly explained that no car can go in the medina. The maze of street feels, at night, like Venice without the water: ancient alleys, constant turns and signs pointing in opposite directions. In the morning, the ancient city – grittier than Marrakesh – is bathed with sunlight, and the compressed medina rooftops hint at the confusion below. The tanneries in Fes offer a glimpse of ancient, hard life – tubs of dyes are filled with people colouring leather, whilst canary yellow hides dry in the sun.

Canary yellow hides drying in Fes
The multicoloured tubs dying leather in Fes

I didn’t visit galleries or intensely study art in Morocco, but it is a place that offers inspiration. It gives a greater understanding of landscape and colour, and adds a new dimension to admiring paintings and architecture. Take Yves Saint Laurent as an example – I did not analyse his prints or fashion, but viewing the source of his inspiration has made it infinitely easier to appreciate and relate to his work. Experiencing the raw source of inspiration for artists can open up a whole new world of understanding relating to their material work.

Four days does not do Morocco justice, but it is indubitably an experience. Nor does this post adequately describe all there is to see and do. Never having visited North Africa, I was hoping for a quick and intense shot of the culture. If there is one place to go for such a varied and concentrated experience, it is Morocco. My only sufficient advice can be: visit it. I can assure you, it will always leave you wanting more.