Saturday in the Museum with Paolo

Image: Paolo Veronese, The Wedding at Cana (1562-63). Oil on canvas.

We here at 17° Cork by Northwest concentrate on the D.C. dining scene on most days, but on Saturday we like to post something about art, albeit often it is art connected to food.  This weekend, probably like many in the coming weeks, we celebrate the wedding of dear friends. With that in mind, we chose a piece of art to reflect our excitement about the nuptials and the feast.  We make a trip to Renaissance Venice by way of Paris in the form of Paolo Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana.  It is a piece so impressive that one artist claimed, “This is not Painting, this is magic.”

The painting is on exhibit at the Louvre.  But that is the beginning point of a story.  The work was originally commissioned by the Benedictine monks for the refectory of the San Giorgio Monastery in Venice.  Andrea Palladio was commissioned as the architect for the structure and Veronese was commissioned to provide the dining room with art.  The monks stipulated that Veronese pack as many people and use as many colors as possible in the piece.  He did not disappoint.  Online cannot do justice to the scale of the painting which is 6.77 meters by 9.94 meters.

It decorated an interior room of a monastery for a couple centuries with limited public access.  The person who liberated it was Napoleon, by which we mean stole.  Along with many other treasures that he plundered prior to meeting his Waterloo, this one was shipped off to France.  In a move of immense gall, when many of the other treasures were being returned in 1815, Louvre officials claimed it was too fragile to move back to Italy.  So it remains.  That did not keep it from being moved or damaged.  During WWII it was smuggled around France to keep it out of Nazi hands.  Once, when remounting, the whole thing fell – it weighs a ton and a half with frame.  Minor tears were repaired.

As for the painting itself, it is full of contemporary characters as stand-ins for the unknown biblical ones.   Among the 130 figures are Emperor Charles V, Eleanor of Austria, Francis I of France, Mary I of England, Suleiman the Magnificent, Vittoria Colonna, Giulia Gonzaga, Cardinal Pole, and Sokollu Mehmet Pasa.

The analysis of the imagery and details can go on for paragraphs or pages or volumes.  Many writers focus on the connection between the meal and the meanings.

“The specific details of the banquet—food, music, wine, tableware—all transformed the necessary task of the consumption of food into an aesthetic and ritualized experience. Therefore, banqueting protocol came heavily loaded with symbolism and social meaning and it is clear that Veronese understood the highly subtle language of the banquet by his adept handling of its details. Historian Ken Albala indicates that, ‘[t]o a courtier, magnificent banquet dishes not only signify wealth, power, and sophistication but transfer those properties directly into the individual diner. An exquisite dish makes the diner exquisite.’”

Many have been the Louvre and walked right past this painting. Despite its grand size and bright colors it is often missed. It suffers from being placed opposite the Mona Lisa.  But we are sure it makes her smile.


While most of our posts are about food, recently we might have gotten one – maybe even two – followers who actually check in for the art!  Though knowing people might actually be reading these does increase the pressure to deliver.  We hope they liked today’s post.

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