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

Feast in the House of Levi

Oil on canvas, 555 x 1280 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

This work, painted for the Dominican order of SS. Giovanni e Paolo to replace an earlier work by Titian destroyed in the fire of 1571, is the last of the grandiose "suppers" painted by Veronese for the refectories of Venetian monasteries.

The sumptuous banquet scene is framed by the great arches of a portico. Against the pale green shotsilk effect of the background architecture, the figures on either side of Christ move in a turbulence of polychromatic splendour and interaction of pose and gesture. We seem to see here the sublime notions of form and colour of Piero della Francesca. The interaction of form and colour is calculated to contain the monumental figuration within the terms of a fascinating and imaginative decorative painting.

The expressive hedonism so alien to the religious context - the subject in fact appears to be a purely pagan one in exaltation of love of life in 16th century Venice - aroused the suspicions of the Inquisition. On July 18th 1573 Veronese was summoned by the Holy Office to appear before the Inquisition accused of heresy. If the questions of the inquisitors show the first signs of the rigours of the Counter-reformation, Veronese's answers show clearly his unfailing faith in the creative imagination and artistic freedom. Not wishing to yield to the injunction of the Inquisition to eliminate the details which offended the religious theme of the Last Supper, he changed the title to "Feast in the House of Levi", a subject which tolerated the presence of fools and armed men dressed up "alla tedesca".