Friday, 8 November 2013

Quietly Great

Time for a painting - and a memory of Venice. Above is a Crucifixion by Paolo Veronese which hangs in the church of San Sebastiano, where the artist painted extensively over the years, and where his tomb is. The Crucifixion is easily overlooked in such a lavishly painted interior but, once noticed,  is all the more powerful for its understated, almost stark simplicity.
 Veronese's art is, I think, somewhat underrated these days, overshadowed by the unarguable all-round genius of Titian and the fierce emotional intensity of Tintoretto. Veronese's greatness lies in his use of colour - if he was not the greatest colorist ever, it's hard to say who was - and in his effortless mastery of large, densely populated compositions. Perhaps it's the effortlessness (or rather its appearance) that is the problem - that and the fact that colour is easily undervalued by those who look to paintings for 'meaning'. His work quite blatantly give pleasure too, and that is always suspect to the more puritanically minded - Veronese simply doesn't seem 'serious' enough to be a true great.
 Well, even if we accept the need for 'seriousness' and more tangled emotions than pure pleasure, the San Sebastiano Crucifixion seemed to me when I last saw it (a few weeks ago - how long it seems...) to be entirely serious, and to pack the emotional and spiritual punch of a Tintoretto. The subdued and limited palette (the colour of that sullen sky is extraordinary), the simple but perfect composition, the grief expressed by every detail of the mourning women's posture - all suggest to me an artist more than capable of intense emotion and serious spirituality. It may be a 'minor' Veronese, but it seems to me a quietly great painting.

3 comments:

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