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The Implications & Consequences of the Trial of Veronese

The Implications & Consequences of the Trial of Veronese
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  • 0:01 Art on Trial
  • 0:51 Christ in the House of Levi
  • 2:16 The Trial of Veronese
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the trial of Venetian artist Paolo Veronese and discover how this trial demonstrated the power of both the Inquisition and the city of Venice. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Art on Trial

In the 16th century, the city of Venice was at the peak of its wealth and power, enjoying the status of an independent city-state. And what do rich and powerful cities in Italy do? They make art that shows off their absolute awesomeness. One of Venice's artists was renowned for his absolute mastery of human poses, details, and use of color. Paolo Veronese created massive works of art that displayed the pageantry, wealth, and splendor of Venice in the 16th century. However, one of these pieces landed him in trouble with the Inquisition, a group you certainly did not want to cross.

Christ in the House of Levi

Veronese painted many large works of art across Venice and in 1573, he painted a 42-foot-long scene of the last supper in the dining hall of the monastery Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Today, this piece is called Christ in the House of Levi. We'll talk later about the name change. This massive painting depicts Christ and the disciples dining, but instead of the solemn atmosphere we are used to in last supper paintings, the disciples are in the middle of a major party. There are lords dressed in their finest clothes, dogs, cats, dancing midgets, drunks, soldiers, and fools. Not the usual cast of characters we see around Christ during the last supper.

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Veronese had more than just religion in mind when he painted this. The fine silks of the lords reflects the wealth of Venetian merchants from the silk trade. The extravagance and lavishness displays the power of this city. Christ sits amongst Classical architecture, and the background displays the same, a possible nod to the Venetian architect Palladio who was creating classically-inspired structures at the same time. With the incredible use of color and attention to detail, Veronese depicts a scene of Venetian splendor and wealth, in which Christ and the disciples share a final meal.

The Trial of Veronese

Veronese's depiction of the last supper quickly provoked the ire of the Inquisition, the body of the Church used to persecute, torture, and combat the Protestant Reformation. Summoning Veronese to trial, the Inquisitors accused him of representing a serious moment in so lighthearted a manner. In his trial, Veronese appeared extremely apologetic, insisting that he had not intended any offense. Considering the power of the Inquisition to fine, arrest, or even torture, Veronese's shakiness is understandable.

In the end, Veronese was ordered to change the painting within a period of a few months to make it less offensive. However, he came up with his own solution. Rather than making any alterations to the massive work of art, Veronese simply changed the title from Last Supper to Christ in the House of Levi. Why did this make a difference?

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