CHEERS! : ‘The Wedding at Canna’ by Paulo Veronese (1562 – 1563)
‘He is the treasurer of art and of colours. This is not painting, it is magic that casts a spell on people who see it.’ – Marco Boschini
Paulo Caliari, popularly called Paulo Veronese, is one of the most celebrated Italian Renaissance artist of all times. He was born in 1528 to a stone-cutter in Verona, then the largest possession of Venice on the mainland. The wonderful lights and the boisterous sounds of the Mediterranean lagoon city collides with the chromatic splendour of his palette, the brilliance of his brushwork and the fanciful aura of his figures. The magnificence of his spectacle is no better represented then in today’s painting titled ‘The Wedding at Canna.’
The scene is set within a two-tiered Greco-Roman courtyard flanked by aristocratic architecture. Elegant fluted columns topped by Corinthian capitals frame the upper plaza while pink pillars with Doric capitals fringe the lower dining scene. The soft Venetian air pervades the majestic marble casting a smooth shadow upon its silken surface. The bell tower and the classical sculptures arise and attest to the adventures of time. Veronese clearly blends the biblical with the contemporary.
The banquet is indeed a feast to the eye. As a bulging band of balustrades divides the scene into two parts, we are invited to join the no less than 130 figures sporting charming coiffures and agile adornments. It is an astonishing array of royalty, noblemen, clerks, princes, orients in turbans and the populace. Among the who’s who are included Emperor Charles V, Eleanor of Austria, Francis I of France, Mary I of England, Suleiman the Magnificent and Cardinal Pole. In service, they are accompanied by servants, jesters, dwarfs and frolicking pets such as cats, dogs and even a parakeet.
The sumptuous display enhances the affluent aura. Notice the luxurious tableware, the elegantly carved furniture, silver vessels, crystal goblets, gold jars, porcelain vases etc. Before each guest is arranged a set of napkin, fork, knife and a dish. Veronese’ eye escapes no detail.
Above the bubbling bustle, upon the elevated walk-away, are displayed an energetic host of banquet officials and work-men. Busy butchers are seen cutting meat while robust porters bring in additional supplies. Cooked delicacies and ornate wine jars are carried down the archaic stairs. Accounts are being held by the scribes while conversing acolytes animate the whole show. Amidst this imaginative grandeur of bountiful bliss could one anticipate that the wine would run out? And yet it did. The pepping party scene swirls around a single miracle that saved the day.
We are drawn to the serene centre. It isn’t occupied by the bride and the groom. They are seen seated to our extreme left. Rather Christ is seated at the centre of the palatial table surrounded by His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary and His amazed apostles. The placement of Christ forms a triangular locus with the chief wine taster (dressed in white and gold to our right) and the chief wine server (dressed in green to our left). While white symbolizes purity, green alludes to eternity. The new wine is a pure symbol of everlasting life! The role of the chief wine taster and the chief wine server also resounds the words of Christ: ‘Come and see. Go and tell’!
The gossip of the guests, the order of the officials, the swishing of wine and the clinking of cups falls still as heavenly music reigns the air. In the central foreground is a group of musicians playing exquisite Renaissance instruments. The musical figures bear the identities of the great painters of Venice. This includes: the artist, Veronese (dressed in white, playing the viola da gamba), Jacopo Bassano (on flute), Tintoretto (violin) and Titian (dressed in red, playing the violoncello). Clearly, Veronese offered his profession to the Divine as a deep ‘profession’ of his faith.
Well this is not all. At the centre of this grouping lies an hour-glass. As time-ticks on, nothing last forever. Vanity vanishes and the thirst for new wine makes way for salvation. ‘Do as He tell you’ commands the air. Along the central axis, the battering of the butcher’s knife is a reassuring rhythm of the ultimate Sacrifice of the Lamb of God and the establishment of a New Covenant of love and fidelity that would restore the lost joy to Israel. Thus the Wedding Feast at Cana and the transformation of water into wine mirrors the marriage between humanity and divinity upon the Cross and the transubstantiation as witnessed during the Holy Eucharist.
‘We are all invited to these wedding celebrations, as new wine will never more be lacking’ – Pope Francis.
Joynel Fernandes- Asst. Director- Archdiocesan Heritage Museum
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 9am to 5pm. For a guided tour please contact: 022 – 29271557
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