Paolo Veronese lies buried in this 16th century church, to the right of the base of the organ of which he painted the shutters. Veronese, who was a parishioner of this church, completed considerable work for this church between 1550 and 1560. The Web Gallery of Art has some good images of his work for the San Sebastiano. Unfortunately, not all of his works are clear to see. While it was produced during the mannerism, his art is still categorised under High Renaissance. The sacristy is likely closed for restorations, so we won’t be able to look at the first paintings he made in ‘his church’.
Earlier this morning in the Accademia you were able to see these traits at his painting: ‘Christ in the house of Levi’. Here too, as with the frescos on the church walls, you can tell Veronese’s preference for beauty and splendour. The paintings of Paolo Veronese can best be described as ‘cheerful,’ exuding an unreserved, sensual embrace of the world’s beauty. They portray a fondness for rugged men and carefree women, adorned in silk and satin with vibrant patterns, adorned with gold, silver, and Murano’s crystal-clear glass. These artworks come alive with glimmering marble palaces, teeming with majestic columns, statues, and towers. He adored opulence and extravagance, and his paintings were tailor-made for grand floats.
Paolo Veronese, the man from the city of the same name, painted the San Sebastiano between 1555 and 1560. Later on, around 1575, he painted the ceiling of the nave, the frieze, the east side of the choir and the high altar. The stories on the ceiling are about Esther, king Xerxes’ wife who saved the Jewish people. The San Sebastiano was completed right when Veronese started painting. The earliest works can be found in the sacristy: ‘Coronation of the Virgin’ and the ‘four evangelists’ at the corners. These do not yet rank as masterpieces (access to the sacristy is left below the organ).
In 1555, Veronese and a number of brothers placed the paintings on the ceiling of the sacristy. The Coronation of the Virgin in the centre and the four evangelists on the sides next to scenes from the Old Testament. Veronese already had some experience with painting ceilings in the Sala dei Diecii in the Doge palace. Veronese was interested in keeping these scenes understandable.
In December 1555, Veronese signed a contract for the ceiling in the nave. These three large ovals were installed one year later. These large artworks were fully made by Veronese. With Paolo becoming more famous, he is no longer able to handle the massive workload. Other parts of the church were therefore completed with the aid of some students. The large meals stem from the 1560s and later include Feast in the House of Levi. The strongly reduced staircases are inspired by Serlio, especially that part of his book, Trattato di Architettura’ dealing with theatre stages which was released in 1545. The bottom view is extremely difficult to pull off, especially if the figures have to look authentic.
Veronese painted the next paintings on the ceiling of the nave. One year later, and of much better quality, three paintings: “Repudiation of Vashti”, “Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus” and finally “Triumph of Mordecai”. Esther was regarded as the old-testament prefiguration of Mary. Her involvement with the Jews was compared with Mary’s involvement with mankind.
The story on the ceiling of the nave is based on the book Esther (old testament) that goes as follows:
Xerxes (Greek name for Ahasuerus) exiled his wife. At the entrance of this building, Xerxes searches for a new wife. Esther does not divulge she is Jewish when she is chosen by the Persian king.
In the middle-most oval (five meters in length), Esther is crowned when she marries Xerxes. When a murder attempt at Xerxes is uncovered, the king’s advisor, Haman, who was also part of the murder conspiracy, tried to blame it on the Jews. Especially on Mordecai, the stepfather who raised Esther. However, Esther manages to uncover the truth and thus prevents her husband from retaliating against the Jewish people. The gallows that were meant for Mordechai are now used for Haman (Michelangelo depicts the same thing in the Sistine chapel). In the last oval, Mordecai rides in triumph through the streets of the imperial capital Susa.
In these three ovals, Veronese introduces a new element, namely a steep bottom view. Especially in the last oval, ‘Triumph of Mordecai’, the horses seem to be trampling the below spectator.
St. Mark and Marcellinus Being Led to Martyrdom (left) Martyrdom of St Sebastian (right). The client for the works of the San Sebastiano was the prior of the neighbouring monastery Fra Bernardo Torlioni. This prior also commissioned Veronese back in Verona, the latter’s birthplace, namely ‘The Lamentation of Christ’. In 1565, Veronese began with two giant scenes from the life of St. Sebastian in the choir. Vasari mentions that Titian finally embraced Veronese after seeing his work in public, regarding him as the official successor of La Serenissima.
After 1565 Veronese fell back on fresco techniques that are also seen in the San Sebastiano. The frescos in the top part of the walls of the nave come from the same period as artworks that Veronese painted in Palazzo Trevisan (now quite weathered). The sides show St. Sebastian in theatre scenes Veronese painted an Announcement in the spandrels of the large arch. As well as numerous monochrome prophets and sibyls. Across from the monk and the black boy heading through a door, there is an actual door used by monks to reach the choir.