The Politics of Representation: Paolo Veronese, Benedetto da Mantova, and the Wedding at Cana for S. Giorgio MaggioreBrian D. Steele Iconocrazia 10/2016 - "Arts & Politics. Rhetorical Quests in Cultural Imaging", Saggi
Paolo Veronese’s Marriage at Cana (Fig. 1), commissioned in 1562 for the refectory of S. Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, raises issues of meditative response within a heterodox religious climate.
He was required “to represent the story of the Supper of the Miracle worked by Christ at Cana in Galilee” (Jn 2:1-11), and “to paint that number of figures which will go into it comfortably, and which are necessary for the story.” Accordingly, scholars often interpret the central axis as a unified statement (Fig. 2): Christ and Virgin-as-Sponsa intimate Ecclesia, butchering above Christ alludes to Last Supper, and Hourglass on musicians’ table evokes Christ’s statement ‘Mine hour is not yet come” (Jn 2:4).
Others have focused on banqueting and probed dialogic relationships with ostentation and modesty which engaged viewers in differing ways. Varied interpretations respond to effects created by figures added while exercising “the same license as do poets…,” as Veronese testified in 1573, “after proper reflection, within the limits of [his] understanding,” thereby creating a type of devotional poesia inviting viewers to meditate upon allusions evoked by scrutiny of details during contemplation. The painting thus embodies traditional aims of refectory pictures: to stimulate devotions via imagery, to generate meditations upon spiritual and physical contrasts, and to facilitate monks’ mirroring Christ. My aim is to examine how the painting’s central image could prompt contemplation in accordance with precepts in Benedetto da Mantova’s Beneficio di Cristo, to situate message, audience, and artist within the era’s religious politics.
The Benedictine monks at S. Giorgio Maggiore inherited meditational practices which, as reformed by Ludovico Barbo during the fifteenth century (later known as the Cassinese congregation), required reading to cultivate virtue: a selection from scriptures or writings of the Church Fathers accompanied meals while all others remained silent. Moreover, Barbo’s 1443 treatise guiding spiritual attitudes advocated scripture-based images as meditative sources: prayer’s initial phase consists of recitation or reading; meditation on events that stimulate visual concepts constitutes the second; and these produce a third unteachable phase, contemplation. Meditation upon events comprises ‘seeing’ such scenes as Christ detained in fetters in a process that collapses distinction between historical time and present experience, but it also encompasses delectation because, “when God’s works and the order and beauty of what he has created are being presented to our mind, then it scrutinizes and dwells on them, enjoys and becomes carried away by God’s love…”. In this milieu, Veronese’s painting presented opulence for delight in God’s works to ravish the mind and events for meditation that would lead a monk to reflect on his attendance in the presence of Majesty when his gaze settled on the face of Christ. Staring ahead in hieratic sobriety, Christ’s archaizing appearance, eyes slightly unfocused in the manner of Byzantine prototypes, remediates icon into art during an era concerned with reconciling beautiful painting, piety, and the True Image of Christ. Christ’s appearance commands individual responsibility; its other-worldly concentration models behavior for monastic mirroring; its rapt expression facilitates recognition of divinity within the vast crowd of celebrants; and its inscrutable countenance incites reflection on individual guilt and the necessity of Grace in salvation.
Benedetto da Mantova’s Il Beneficio di Cristo re-articulated traditional Benedictine principles for the Cassinese congregation in 1543, asserting that Man is reconciled to God through Grace; restoration proceeds from faith; and faith inspires desire to enact good works that comprise evidence but not cause for salvation. Owing to Original Sin, we
are become like unto the devil, and are made also naturally one self thing with him…; [thus] it is impossible that by our owne strength we can love God and confourme our self unto his will. We are so become veray ennemys unto him, as to him that insomoche as he is a rightwise iudge will punyshe our faultes, nether can we any more truste unto his mercy.
Restoration by Grace enables resurrection, or as Benedetto explains, “the christen man aparreleth him self with Christ,” [and] “presenteth him self before God lorde of all, putting his trust in the merytes of Christ,” so the monk who spiritually apparels himself in Christ reconciles himself as former “enemy” to God and now can imagine reassurance in Christ’s sober mien. The mirrored relationship between Christ and monk deepens with recourse to the Sponsa Christi and the Beneficio’s remarks on the unity of the soul within Christ:
whosoever belevith…, becomyth like unto Christe and over comyth synne, deathe, the devill and hell; and this is the cause that the Churche (that is to saye every faith full sowle) is the wife of Christe, and Christe is her husbande. ….. [Whoever has faith is reconciled with God, so that the] “childe of wrathe becomyth the childe of grace, and recoverith thymage of God, [and] we being altogether transformed into Christ do become a newe creature, and derly beloved sonnes of God.
Observing Virgin with Christ, so might a meditating monk now rest reassured as one appareled, mirrored, married, utterly transformed, and born anew as beloved son in Christ’s imposing gaze.
By 1563, however, a Benedictine would be chagrined to recall that a treatise on the Index of Prohibited Books inspired his contemplation, especially when considering that meditation on appareling self with Christ originates in one of the Beneficio’s sections that glosses Calvinist ideas. Reflecting upon his own investiture and its invocation of the monastic habit as ‘cloak of salvation and the garment of joy, promised to thy faithful people’, though, he would determine that Calvinist declarations merely advocate the Benedictine stricture to ‘put on Christ’ (christum induere) and constitute no error. Within the course of the inward contemplation and affective identification that characterized Benedictine piety of the 1560s, a monk in privy thoughts might well affirm traditional Benedictine ideas on restoration by Grace and reconciliation with Christ, determining that the supine hound gnawing at bone in front of the musicians’ table contrasts physical pleasure with the spiritual virtue of fidelity its alert companion embodies. Reassured in conscience of his own fidelity and vigilant scrutiny of belief, a meditating brother reaffirms Benedetto’s assurance that a reconciled soul is restored to likeness of God, mirrored for the monk in Veronese’s painting as Christ’s stately visage.
Well might a Benedictine consider heterodox beliefs since Venice had developed a complex typology of heresies that often had recourse to the Beneficio. Monasteries of the Cassinese congregation had long participated in Reform movements: during the 1530s, the garden of S. Giorgio Maggiore hosted meetings of Gasparo Contarini, the abbot Gregorio Cortese, Reginald Pole, and other spirituali; and Benedetto da Mantova, author of the Beneficio di Cristo, was deacon there by 1534. Following the tract’s publication in 1543, its Calvinist-inspired additions (probably authored by Marcantonio Flaminio) garnered attempts to repudiate and eradicate it and, despite Benedictine defense of ideas which derived from Early Church Fathers, the Council of Trent rejected its traditional scholarship in 1546; rumors of heresy plagued the Cassinese Congregation during the late 1540s; its Chapter General in 1544 reaffirmed an ordinatio of 1528 requiring searches of cells for ‘libri suspecti’; and the Beneficio di Cristo, among other Benedictine books, resided on the Index of Prohibited Books by 1559. At S. Giorgio Maggiore, Andrea Pampura da Asola, abbot (1564-1567) and president of the Congregation (1567), was demoted, disgraced, and tried in 1568 for disseminating ideas potentially heretical in nature by 1568. In Venice, though, effective control over distribution of heretical books dated only after 1569 when the State instituted surprise visits to booksellers, even though clandestine trade continued and the Beneficio figured in heresy confessions as late as that of Andrea delle Gambarare in 1568 and of Aquilina Loschi in the 1570s. A climate of suspicion reigned from the 1540s through the 1560s, whether or not marked by active prosecution.
However, clerical prompting that stimulated laity to denounce suspects instigated an active period for the Office of the Inquisition during 1565-1574, and, as the prior of S. Giorgio Maggiore Don Basilio d’Istria observed of inquisitors in 1569, “Formerly they did not proceed with the diligence they now use”. Veronese’s poetic pictorial process in a similarly populous painting attracted scrutiny at this time, and the trial over his Last Supper / Feast in the House of Levi (Fig. 3) for SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1573 betrays the typical interest of Venetian inquisitors to distinguish sacred from profane even while it departs from standard procedures.
No testimony is documented on the part of the unnamed Dominican prior of the monastery who had informed Veronese “that he had been here, and that your Lordships had instructed him to have the figure of the Magdalen inserted…where there is now a dog” (Fig. 4); no other witnesses were called nor was the trial extended, suggesting a minor offense easily resolved; and the Inquisitor clearly had scrutinized the painting in detail.
When questioned about other Last Suppers he had painted, Veronese mentioned that at S. Giorgio Maggiore, prompting a testy rejoinder, “That one is no Supper, and it is not called ‘The Lord’s Supper’.” According to recent re-evaluation, the inquisitor seems to have distinguished between events at which Christ was one guest among many and suppers organized by or for Him, and, although the report required Veronese to improve his picture, “in the records, the remark that the improvement must be suitable to the subject matter of the Last Supperhas been struck off”. The omission permitted the artist to correct the work by inscribing it Feast in the House of Levi, the very subject the inquisitor had intimated when he advised replacing dog with Magdalen. Ecclesiastical politics probably inflected the process: in 1570-71, resistance to conversion from a Conventual into an Observant house marred the reputation of the monastery at SS. Giovanni e Paolo; Veronese was interrogated in July 1573 only two weeks after the new papal nuncio Giovanni Battista Castagna had assumed office; and thus the Dominican inquisitor Fra Aurelio Schellino presumably wished to prove himself to the new nuncio at his first session in Venice by demonstrating tolerance in arriving at a solution and integrity in sparing neither famed painter nor his own Order. Veronese’s experience, while a product of unique circumstances, exemplifies the increased level of inquisitorial scrutiny in Venice c. 1570.
By contrast, the Marriage at Cana was commissioned during a brief respite from the suspicions that had shadowed the Benedictines during the 1540s prior to increased scrutiny in the late 1560s. Artists could operate with relative impunity since Veronese seems to be the only painter who was ever called before a tribunal to account for a painting, especially when devising narratives like the Marriage at Cana in which Christ constituted a secondary actor: the inquisitor rejected interest in this subject but applied strict standards of decorum to events organized by or for Christ. Publically-disseminated scholarship had occasioned Andrea Pampura da Asolo’s disgrace in 1568, so even then monks at S. Giorgio Maggiore could approach this work according to the typical inward-looking spirituality of the era and to their spiritual tradition — in Benedictine meditative practice, sustained scrutiny unraveled effects created by poetic license to determine the sense of imagery: confronting the true icon of Christ, a Benedictine sits silent in the presence of ‘enemy,’ judge, mirror and garment, spouse, and redeemer of souls within the church, and, by Grace, is transformed into beloved son of God. So did the Marriage of Cana continue to generate private meditations as complex as the heterodoxies circulating in late-sixteenth century Venice.
 David Chambers and Brian Pullan (edits.), Venice: A Documentary History 1450-1630, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2001, p. 414; see also Jean Habert, “La commande et la réalization,” in Les Noces de Cana de Véronèse: Une oeuvre et sa restauration, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1992, pp. 34-78; and Terisio Pignatti, Veronese: L’Opera di Paolo Veronese, Alfieri, Venezia, 1976, I, p. 126.
 David Rosand, “Theatre and Structure in the Art of Paolo Veronese,” Art Bulletin, 55 (1973), pp. 229-232.
 Richard Cocke, Paolo Veronese: Piety and Display in an Age of Religious Reform, Ashgate Publishing, Burlington, VT, 2001, pp.171; and see pp.168-173.
 Rosand, op. cit., p. 233; Habert, op. cit., p. 62.
 E.g., Kate H. Hanson, “The Language of the Banquet: Reconsidering Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana.” Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture, 14, “Aesthetes and Eaters / Food and the Arts” (Winter 2010), http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/Issue_14/hanson/, passim; Marie Viallon-Schoneveld, “Véronèse: Noces et Banquets,” online essay 29 June 2007, http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/15/88/60/PDF/14-2003_Viallon_Veronese.pdf, Para. 13, p. 6 and Para.17-20, p. 12; and Pilipp Fehl, “Veronese’s Decorum: Notes on the Marriage at Cana,” in Moshe Barasch and Lucy Freeman Sandler (edits.), Art the Ape of Nature: Studies in Honor of H. W. Janson, Abrams, New York, 1981, p. 344 et passim.
 Chambers and Pullan, op. cit., pp. 234 and 235, in seq.
 For the concept, see Keith Christiansen, “Bellini and the Meditational poesia,” Artibus et Historiae, 67 (2013), pp. 9-20.
 Creighton E. Gilbert, “Last Suppers and their Refectories,” in Charles Trinkaus with Heido A. Oberman (edits.), The Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medieval and Renaissance Religion, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1974, pp. 375 and 398-399.
 Diana Gisolfi and Staale Sinding-Larsen, The Rule, the Bible, and the Council: The Library of the Benedictine Abbey at Praglia, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1998, pp. 19-20; for S. Giorgio Maggiore, pp. 25-26.
 For Barbo’s Ad monachos S. Iustinae de Padua modus meditandi et orandi…; see Gisolfi and Sinding-Larsen, op. cit., pp. 76-77 and n.15.
 Alexander Nagel, The Controversy of Renaissance Art, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2011, pp. 37 and 73-95.
 Gisolfi and Sinding-Larsen, op. cit., pp. 61-62; for good works as light given by flame of faith, see Benedetto da Mantova, Il Beneficio di Cristo: con le versioni del secolo XVI, Salvatore Caponetto (ed.), Sansoni, Firenze, 1972, Chap. VI, p. 206, ll. 676-679. I cite Edward Courtenay’s 1548 translation “The Benefitt of Iesus Christe,” having checked passages for sense and interpolation against Caponetto’s critical edition of the text.
 Benedetto da Mantova, op. cit., Chap. IV, p. 160, ll. 32-33; and p. 159, ll.15-19, in seq.
 Benedetto da Mantova, op. cit., Chap. V, p. 185, heading and ll. 7-14.
 Benedetto da Mantova, op. cit., Chap. IV, p. 169, ll. 2-6.
 Benedetto da Mantova, op. cit., Chap. IV, p.171, ll. 95-96.
 Benedetto da Mantova, op. cit., Chap. IV, p.179, ll. 425-426.
 For strands of exposition in Chap. IV, see Barry Collett, Italian Benedictine Scholars and the Reformation: The Congregation of Santa Giustina of Padua, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985, pp. 172-176; cf. Carlo Ginzburg and Adriano Prosperi, “Le Due Redazioni del ‘Beneficio di Cristo’,” Eresia e riforma nell’ Italia del Cinquecento: Miscellanea I, Sansoni, Florence, 1974, pp. 142-147.
 Collett, op. cit., p. 45.
 Collett, op. cit., pp.178-179; for changing types of piety directed toward subjective experience rather than aligned solely with scholarly exposition, see pp. 212, 247, and 253-255.
 Fehl, op. cit., pp. 354-357, treats them in terms of symbolism “gently hidden in naturalness, … and yet palpably self-evident” (p. 355).
 John Jeffries Martin, Myths of Renaissance Individualism, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2004, pp. 21-61, 89-95, and 150-159.
 See William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty: Renaissance Values in the Age of the Counter Reformation, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1968, pp. 122-133; Elisabeth G. Gleason, “On the Nature of Sixteenth-Century Italian Evangelism: Scholarship, 1953-1978,” The Sixteenth Century Journal, 9/3 (1978), pp. 3-26; and Massimo Firpo and John Tedeschi, “The Italian Reformation and Juan de Valdes,” The Sixteenth Century Journal, 27/2 (1996), pp. 353-364. For deaconship, see Benedetto da Mantova, op. cit., p. 427, Doc. 2.
 See Benedetto da Mantova, op. cit., pp. 347-422 and 469-517; and Ginzburg and Prosperi, op. cit., pp. 137-207. For historiography, see Philip McNair, “Benedetto da Mantova, Marcantonio Flaminio, and the ‘Beneficio di Cristo’: A Developing Twentieth-Century Debate Reviewed,” The Modern Language Review, 82 (1987), pp. 614-624.
 Ginzburg and Prosperi, op. cit., pp. 177-182, and Collett, op. cit., pp. 18 and 160-161; for the ordinatio and heretical rumors, see idem, op. cit., pp. 186 and 204-211; for actions at and subsequent to the Council of Trent, see pp. 186-211; and Gisolfi and Sinding-Larsen, op. cit., pp. 68-72.
 Admitting negligence, Andrea da Asola had followed the heretic Giorgio Siculo’s teachings; Collett, op. cit., pp. 256-259.
 Benedetto da Mantova, op. cit., p. 461, Doc. 44; John Martin, Venice’s Hidden Enemies: Italian Heretics in a Renaissance City, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1993, p. 85. See also Martin, op. cit., pp. 83-87; and Grendler, op. cit., pp. 315-316, Inventory 6; for tensions between Rome and Venice that stymied censorial attempts from 1543 to 1569, see pp. xix, 36-42, 78, 81-89, 96-100, 116-120, and 128-129; for subsequent years, pp. 162-169; for clandestine trade, pp. 102-115 and 182-200.
 See Martin, op. cit., p. 185.
 Cited by Sylvana Seidel Menchi, “The Inquisitor as Mediator,” in Ronald K. Delph, Michelle Fontaine, and John Jeffries Martin (edits.), Heresy, Culture and Religion in Early Modern Italy: Contexts and Contestations, Truman State University Press, Kirksville, 2006, p. 189 at n. 55. For Venetian involvement with activities of the Inquisition as a matter of preserving state responsibility for social stability through the late 1560s, see Bouwsma, op. cit., pp. 115-121 and 293-338; Grendler, op. cit., pp. 30-35 and 42-47; and Martin, op. cit., pp. 51-70, 182-185, and 194-195.
 For personnel at trials, see Grendler, op. cit., pp. 42-48; for operations extending over weeks, pp. 51-53; for defendants’ actions and leniency of decision, see pp. 56-58; Martin, op. cit., pp. 13-15, and William V. Hudon, “Religion and Society in Early Modern Italy – Old Questions, New Insights,” The American Historical Review, 101 (1996), pp. 795-803.
 Chambers and Pullan, op. cit., p. 233; Edward Grasman, “On Closer Inspection – The Interrogation of Paolo Veronese,” Artibus et Historiae, 30 (2009), pp. 125-129.
 Chambers and Pullan, op. cit., ibidem.
 Grasman, op. cit., p. 127.
 Grasman, op. cit., p.131; for the monastery, pp. 130-131; for conclusions, p.132.
 Grasman, op. cit., p.125.
List of illustrations and credits
Fig. 1. Paolo Veronese, Wedding at Cana, [Paris], 1562-63 (Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY).
Fig. 2. Paolo Veronese, Wedding at Cana, Det.,Center, [Paris], 1562-63 (Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY).
Fig. 3. Paolo Veronese, Feast in the House of Levi, [Venice], 1573 (Scala / Art Resource, NY).
Fig. 4. Paolo Veronese, Feast in the House of Levi, Det., Center, [Venice], 1573 (Cameraphoto Arte, Venice / Art Resource, NY).
Benedetto da Mantova. Il Beneficio di Cristo: con le versioni del secolo XVI. Salvatore Caponetto (ed.). Sansoni, Firenze, 1972.
Bouwsma, William J. Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty: Renaissance Values in the Age of the Counter Reformation. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1968.
Chambers, David, and Brian Pullan (edits.). Venice: A Documentary History 1450-1630. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2001.
Christiansen, Keith. “Bellini and the Meditational poesia.” Artibus et Historiae, 67 (2013), pp. 9-20.
Cocke, Richard. Paolo Veronese: Piety and Display in an Age of Religious Reform. Ashgate Publishing, Burlington, VT, 2001.
Collett, Barry. Italian Benedictine Scholars and the Reformation: The Congregation of Santa Giustina of Padua. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1985.
Fehl, Philipp. “Veronese’s Decorum: Notes on the Marriage at Cana.” In Moshe Barasch and Lucy Freeman Sandler (edits.), Art the Ape of Nature: Studies in Honor of H. W. Janson. Abrams, New York, 1981, pp. 341-365.
Firpo, Massimo, and John Tedeschi. “The Italian Reformation and Juan de Valdes.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, 27 (1996), pp. 353-364.
Gilbert, Creighton E. “Last Suppers and their Refectories,” In Charles Trinkaus with Heido A. Oberman (edits.), The Pursuit of Holiness in Late Medieval and Renaissance Religion. E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1974, pp. 371-402.
Ginzburg, Carlo, and Adriano Prosperi. “Le Due Redazioni del ‘Beneficio di Cristo’”. Eresia e riforma nell’ Italia del Cinquecento: Miscellanea I (1974), pp. 137-204. Sansoni, Florence; Newberry Library, Chicago.
Gisolfi, Diana, and Staale Sinding-Larsen. The Rule, the Bible, and the Council: The Library of the Benedictine Abbey at Praglia. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1998.
Gleason, Elisabeth G. “On the Nature of Sixteenth-Century Italian Evangelism: Scholarship, 1953-1978.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, 9/3 (1978), pp. 3-26.
Grasman, Edward. “On Closer Inspection – The Interrogation of Paolo Veronese.” Artibus et Historiae, 30 (2009), pp. 125-134. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40343668 Accessed: 02/09/2014.
Grendler, Paul F. The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 1540-1605. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1977.
Habert, Jean. “La commande et la réalization.” In Les Noces de Cana de Véronèse: Une oeuvre et sa restauration. Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris, 1992, pp. 34-78.
Hanson, Kate H. “The Language of the Banquet: Reconsidering Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana.” Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture, 14, “Aesthetes and Eaters / Food and the Arts” (Winter 2010). http://www.rochester.edu/in_visible_culture/Issue_14/hanson/ Accessed: 13 March 2013.
Hudon, William V. “Religion and Society in Early Modern Italy – Old Questions, New Insights.” The American Historical Review, 101 (1996), pp. 783-804.
McNair, Philip. “Benedetto da Mantova, Marcantonio Flaminio, and the ‘Beneficio di Cristo’: A Developing Twentieth-Century Debate Reviewed.” The Modern Language Review, 82 (1987), pp. 614-624.
Martin, John. Venice’s Hidden Enemies: Italian Heretics in a Renaissance City. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1993.
Martin, John Jeffries. Myths of Renaissance Individualism. Palgrave MacMillan, New York, 2004.
Menchi, Sylvana Seidel. “The Inquisitor as Mediator.” In Ronald K. Delph, Michelle Fontaine, and John Jeffries Martin (edits.), Heresy, Culture and Religion in Early Modern Italy: Contexts and Contestations. Truman State University Press, Kirksville, 2006, pp. 173-192.
Nagel, Alexander. The Controversy of Renaissance Art. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2011.
Pignatti, Terisio. Veronese: L’Opera di Paolo Veronese. Alfieri, Venezia, 1976.
Rosand, David. “Theatre and Structure in the Art of Paolo Veronese.” Art Bulletin, 55 (1973), pp. 217-239.
Viallon-Schoneveld, Marie. “Véronèse: Noces et Banquets.” Online essay 29 June 2007. http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/15/88/60/PDF/14-2003_Viallon_Veronese.pdf Accessed: 13 March 2013.