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Work The Wedding Feast at Cana

Department of Paintings: Italian painting

Les Noces de Cana

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
Italian painting

Author(s):
Aline François

In 1553, Veronese was summoned to Venice where he gave free rein to his decorative talent in vast canvases that blended masterful composition, splendid contemporary costumes, and luminous colors. The Wedding Feast at Cana graced the refectory designed by Palladio for the Benedictine monastery on the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore. With masterly freedom of interpretation, Veronese transposed the biblical episode to the sumptuous setting of a Venetian wedding.

A biblical scene within a Venetian banquet

In Cana, Galilee, Christ is invited to a wedding feast during which he performs his first miracle. At the end of the banquet, when the wine is running low, he asks the servants to fill the stone jars with water and then offer them to the master of the house, who finds that the water has been turned to wine. This episode, told by the Apostle John, is a precursor of the Eucharist. The bride and groom are seated at the left end of the table, leaving the center place to the figure of Christ. He is surrounded by the Virgin, his disciples, clerks, princes, Venetian noblemen, Orientals in turbans, several servants, and the populace. Some figures are dressed in traditional antique costumes, while others—the women in particular—wear sumptuous coiffures and adornments.
Veronese depicts, with apparent ease, no less than 130 feast-goers, mixing biblical figures with men and women of the period. The latter are not really identifiable, although according to an 18th-century legend, the artist himself is depicted in white with a viola da gamba next to Titian and Bassano, all of whom contribute to the musical entertainment. The bearded master of ceremonies could be Aretino, whom Veronese greatly admired. Several dogs, birds, a parakeet, and a cat frolic amidst the crowd.

The sacred and the profane

Veronese mixes the sacred and the profane in establishing the decor. Religious symbols of the Passion are found next to luxurious 16th-century silver vessels and tableware. The furniture, the dresser, the ewer, and the crystal goblets and vases reveal the feast in all its splendor. Each table guest has an individual place setting, complete with napkin, fork, and knife. In this doubling of meaning, no detail escapes the artist's eye. While in the center of the composition a servant slices meat, symbolic of the body of Christ, quinces—symbols of marriage—are served as dessert to the guests.
Veronese orchestrates a veritable mise-en-scène. The theme allows him to create a theatrical decor in which to place his figures. The composition is divided into two sections: in the upper part, clouds skate across a blue sky; in the lower, terrestrial section, there is the bustling crowd of people. The fluted columns topped with Corinthian capitals evoke the recent constructions of the architect Palladio.
The painter selected costly pigments imported from the Orient by Venetian merchants: yellow-oranges, vivid reds, and lapis lazuli are used extensively in the drapery and the sky. These colors play a major role in the painting's legibility; they contribute, by their contrasts, to the individualization of each of the figures. Thanks to a three-year restoration, the colors have regained their force and brilliance, sometimes even undergoing complete modification as in the case of the master of ceremony's mantle, which was changed from red to green—its original hue.

The commission

The Benedictines of the San Giorgio Maggiore monastery in Venice commissioned this immense painting in 1562 to decorate their new refectory. The contract engaging Veronese in the undertaking of the Wedding Feast was extremely precise. The monks insisted that the work be monumental, in order to fill the entire end wall of the refectory. Hung at a height of 2.5 meters from the ground, it was designed to create an illusion of extended space. This work of 70 m² occupied Veronese for 15 months, most likely with the assistance of his brother Benedetto Caliari. The commission was a turning point in Veronese's career; after the painting's success, other religious communities would clamor for a similar work in their own monasteries. Despite its exceptional dimensions, the painting was confiscated, rolled up, and shipped to Paris by Napoleon's troops in 1797.

Technical description

  • Paolo CALIARI, dit VÉRONÈSE (Vérone, 1528 - Venise, 1588)

    Les Noces de Cana

    1563

  • H. : 6,77 m. ; L. : 9,94 m.

  • Entré au Louvre en 1798

    Inv. 142

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Mona Lisa room
    Room 6

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Additional information about the work

Restored from 1989 to 1992 under the patronage of ICI France