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

The Marriage at Cana (detail)

Oil on canvas
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Covering a total area of about 67 square meters, the painting for the dining room of the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice depicts the biblical scene of the wedding at Cana (St. John 2, 1-11). When the wine ran out during the meal, Christ changed water into wine at the request of his mother Mary. Veronese moves the scene to a brightly lit terrace in front of imaginary Venetian palace facades. In the second half of the 16th century, the increased interest in rich subject-matter among painters and clients in Venice and the Veneto led to the simple core event (initially just the miracle of the wine) being gradually overlaid with lavish settings of more and more markedly realistic depictions of wedding gatherings. Yet in Veronese's painting, the compositional parallels with depictions of the Last Supper nonetheless manage to bring out the analogy between the transformation of the water into wine and sacramental wine into the blood of Christ.

The contract of June 6, 1562 specified both the exact size and the appropriate number of figures for the subject. As a precaution, Veronese was instructed to use only the best raw materials for his paints and not to omit the use of the finest ultramarine. As ultramarine, made from ground lapis lazuli, was highly expensive, the intention of this admonition was to circumvent the current practice whereby painters often short-changed their clients by using azure blue made from copper ore. The agreed fee for the painting was 324 ducats. While he was working on the picture on the island of San Giorgio, the artist had free board, and was promised a barrel of wine on completion of the picture. The monumental painting was finished 17 months later. Veronese probably had Benedetto Caliari with him as his assistant. Once famed as one of the principal sights of Venice and admired for centuries both north and south of the Alps as a masterpiece of Venetian art, the work remained influential into the 18th century. Looted by Napoleon, in the 19th century it was studied, copied and taken as a model by generations of French, German and English artists visiting the Louvre.

Among the interesting discoveries made during the restoration of the Marriage at Cana between 1989 and 1992 is the head of a Benedictine painted on paper and stuck post hoc on the canvas. This is possibly Andrea Pampuro, known as Andrea da Asolo, who became abbot of San Giorgio Maggiore in succession to Girolamo Scrochetto in 1564. The most expensive technical equipment has not been able to clarify whether the head - presumably carried out by an assistant of Veronese - replaced an already existing figure.