(b. 1528, Verona, d. 1588, Venezia)

The Vision of St Helena

c. 1580
Oil on canvas, 166 x 134 cm
Pinacoteca, Vatican

The subject of the painting is the story of the vision, or more correctly the dream, which, according to legend, brought St Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, to discover the True Cross in Jerusalem. The cross, which appears before her supported by a winged putto presenting his back to the audience, could be said to be the materialization of her dream. St Helena is seated in an attitude of repose, her head resting on her left hand, and her eyes closed. She wears a sumptuous gown, in sixteenth-century style, partly covered by a cloak fastened with a precious clasp. A jeweled crown secures the veil covering her head.

This painting is Veronese's second version of the subject of St Helena, and it is quite different from the first version in the National Gallery in London both artistically and in content. St Helena is now crowned and wearing the splendid dress of an empress. Brightly gleaming columns with a statue between them ennoble the location of the event. However, in comparison with the London picture the choreography of the picture is rather superficial and calculated. The dating of the picture remains problematic. In her dress, she seems a figure taken wholly from the repertoire of the Feasts. Only the powerful colour contrasts and selective distribution of light, which resemble most closely the figure of Judith (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), generally dated to around 1582/83, justify the late dating.