Video: Sixteenth-century Venetian masterpieces by Paolo Veronese arrive at NOMA

Prized as one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance, the work of Paolo Veronese, named after his hometown of Verona, is admired for its splendid colorito, lively brushwork, and theatricality. Two recently restored paintings exemplifying the glory of Veronese’s art on view in the second-floor Frederick Stafford Gallery through September 3. NOMA is only the second museum in the US to exhibit these works, following their American debut at the Frick Collection in New York. (See the video below for a preview of Veronese In Murano: Two Venetian Renaissance Masterpieces Restored.)

Painted in 1566-67 for a side chapel of the church of Santa Maria degli Arbori on the Venetian island of Murano, the two paintings are mid-career masterpieces. In November 1566, the priest Santo Stefano sought to build a private a chapel adjacent to the church where he served as chaplain. The chapel was to be dedicated to Saint Jerome, one of the four doctors of the Western Church. The nuns of Santa Maria degli Arbori decided to move the paintings from the chapel to the main church by 1667, and they were later transferred to their present location San Pietro Martire after the Napoleonic invasion closed the monastery.

For the main altar of the chapel, Saint Jerome is heroically presented to the viewer, kneeling in prayer before the crucifix. Light streaming from above and beyond the frame, at upper right, highlights the old man’s face and chest, the hand holding the stone of his self-flagellation catches the light out of shadow. The bold light, textures, and emotional expression, showcase Veronese’s dramatic approach. The lion at left refers to the story that Jerome helped the ailing beast by removing a needle from its paw, inciting its loyalty and companionship.

The brilliant blues and oranges of the sky and the rose silk tunic of Jerome exemplify the high-keyed tones of Veronese’s greatest works, while the intensity of Jerome’s feeling—in facial expression, tensed muscles, revelatory gaze, tears streaming are arresting. A learned Roman of the fourth century, hermit St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, later known as the Vulgate bible. After his arrival in Palestine, he endured trials in the desert of Syria. This period of his life is referenced in Veronese’s scene.

Likely facing the painting of Saint Jerome, the second picture from the altarpiece depicts the early Christian sixth-century martyr Saint Agatha. She has been imprisoned by the Roman Consul Quintinian, who wanted to seduce her despite her avowal of chastity. Agatha is shown in her prison cell in the moments after her torture, when she had a vision of Saint Peter, entering at right lead by a torch-bearing angel and hold his attribute of the keys of the gates to heaven. Her wounds were miraculously healed by the vision and faith.

Under torture, Agatha’s breasts were cut off, and here the mutilation is shown, somewhat decorously, with blood streaking her cloak. Agatha was from Sicily and is cherished in the Sicilian cities of Catania and Palermo, which both claim her birthplace, and she remains the patron saint of breast disease.

Both pictures will be displayed in magnificent late Baroque frames in exception state of preservation. These later frames were added after the paintings were moved to the main church. Also newly cleaned, the technical virtuosity of the carving and elegant acanthus-leaf motifs exemplify the height of woodworking traditions in the city. The two Veronese paintings from Murano have been restored by Venetian Heritage with the support of BVLGARI, and their conservation was accompanied by thorough research into their history.

—Vanessa Schmid, Senior Research Curator for European Art