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

Feast in the House of Levi (detail)

1573
Oil on canvas
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

The two Landsknechte (German imperial mercenaries) were among the features in this painting that brought Veronese before the Inquisition in 1573. When asked whether it seemed appropriate to him to introduce jesters, hard-drinking soldiers, dwarfs and other follies (scurrilità) in a depiction of the Last Supper, Veronese repeatedly declared during the course of the cross-examination that the figures concerned were outside the place where the supper itself was taking place and had been shown at a proper distance from Christ. Unquestionably, for once, the architecture served the painter and pictorial architect more than as a means of distinction. With Christ as the dominant figure, the central arch of the loggia ennobles the centre of the picture. The subsidiary figures the Inquisition objected to are all confined to the steps at the sides. The size of the total canvas to be covered had made it necessary to introduce them, and Veronese himself was sure that he had acted in good faith and with a clear conscience.

Iconographically unusual is the gesture of the apostle bending over the balustrade on the right a long way from the main event, to distribute bread from the Lords table to the needy. This has been seen as an allusion to the distribution of the communion wafer at the Eucharist. The gesture seems to be intended to remind the Dominicans who commemorated the Last Supper during their shared daily meal in the refectory not to forget the obligation of charity.