The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563), by the Italian artist Paolo Veronese (1528–88), is a representational painting that depicts the biblical story of the Marriage at Cana, at which Jesus converts water to wine (John 2:1–11). Executed in the Mannerist style (1520–1600) of the late Renaissance, the large-format (6.77m × 9.94m) oil painting comprehends the stylistic ideal of compositional harmony, as practised by the artists Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo.
The art of the High Renaissance (1490–1527) emphasized human figures of ideal proportions, balanced composition, and beauty, whereas Mannerism exaggerated the Renaissance ideals — of figure, light, and colour — with asymmetric and unnaturally elegant arrangements achieved by flattening the pictorial space and distorting the human figure as an ideal preconception of the subject, rather than as a realistic representation.
The visual tension among the elements of the picture and the thematic instability among the human figures in The Wedding Feast at Cana derive from Veronese's application of technical artifice, the inclusion of sophisticated cultural codes and symbolism (social, religious, theologic), which present a biblical story relevant to the Renaissance viewer and to the contemporary viewer. The pictorial area (67.29 m) of the canvas makes The Wedding Feast at Cana the most expansive picture in the paintings collection of the Musée du Louvre.
At Venice, on 6 June 1562, the Black Monks of the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB) commissioned the painter Paolo Veronese to realise a monumental painting (6.77m×9.94m) to decorate the far wall of the monastery's new refectory, designed by the architect Andrea Palladio, at the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, on the eponymous island. In their business contract for the commission of The Wedding Feast at Cana, the Benedictine monks stipulated that Veronese be paid 324 ducats; be paid the costs of his personal and domestic maintenance; be provided a barrel of wine; and be fed in the refectory.
Aesthetically, the Benedictine contract stipulated that the painter represent “the history of the banquet of Christ’s miracle at Cana, in Galilee, creating the number of [human] figures that can be fully accommodated.” That Veronese use optimi colori (optimum colours) — specifically, the colour ultramarine, a deep-blue pigment made from lapis lazuli, a semi-precious, metamorphic rock. Assisted by his brother, Benedetto Caliari, Veronese delivered the completed painting in September 1563, in time for the Festa della Madonna della Salute, in November.
In the 17th century, during the mid–1630s, supporters of Andrea Sacchi (1599–1661) and supporters of Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669) argued much about the ideal number of human figures for a representational composition. Sacchi said that only a few figures (fewer than twelve) permit the artist to honestly depict the unique body poses and facial expressions that communicate character; while da Cortona said that many human figures consolidate the general image of a painting into an epic subject from which sub-themes would develop.
In the 18th century, in Seven Discourses on Art (1769–90), the portraitist Joshua Reynolds (1723–92), said that:
As a narrative painting in the Mannerist style, The Wedding Feast at Cana combines stylistic and pictorial elements from the Venetian school's philosophy of colorito (priority of colour) of Titian (1488–1576) to the compositional disegno (drawing) of the High Renaissance (1490–1527) used in the works of Leonardo (1452–1519), Raphael (1483–1520), and Michelangelo (1475–1564). As such, Veronese's depiction of the crowded banquet-scene that is The Wedding Feast at Cana is meant to be viewed upwards, from below — because the painting's bottom-edge was 2.50 metres from the refectory floor, behind and above the head-table seat of the abbot of the monastery.
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