Paolo Veronese was a painter of light. What does that mean? He didn’t make a light-dark picture the way all the others did. He rounded out his figures with more color, not dark shadows.
The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese, 666 cm × 990 cm (262 in × 390 in), Louvre, Paris
Ever since Apollodorus had invented shading and shadows– to give the objects in a picture the look of roundness and depth– painters had made very heavy use of them. Pictures were light on one side and dark or darker on the other. Some painters went very far in contrasting the light and the dark. Chiaroscuro is what the Italians called the technique. Leonardo toyed with it, Raphael toyed with it.
La Perla by Raphael Sanzio Oil on wood, 114 x 115 cm. Prado Museum, Madrid.
Caravaggio later made it the hallmark of his pictures. And Rembrandt……..
Man with a Golden Helmet by Rembrandt , Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany
“Rembrandt,” wrote the British art critic John Ruskin, “Rembrandt darkens five-sixths of his picture just to give you the not very important truth of the gleam on a helmet or a sword.” Ruskin thought the Dutch painter’s dramatic effects were achieved only by sacrificing color in most of his painting.
Veronese painted pictures without a strong contrast—almost without shading and without shadows. Most painters couldn’t even do that: they NEEDED the contrast to give their figures weight and depth. Their very choice of colors depended on a strong shine of light from one side of the picture. The object in their picture was one color. Its unlighted side was a darker version of that same color. And the shine of light on it was a third. That was how painters had learned to paint and it had always come out very well.
Veronese painted as though his scenes took place outdoors in full daylight (but not direct sun). The scene was all color. “Veronese is the one man who achieves clarity without big contrasts….,” the French painter Delacroix wrote in his journal, “and that was always considered impossible. In my opinion he is the only one who has known how to catch the complete secret of nature.”
Feast in the House of Levi by Veronese, 555 x 1280 cm, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice
This painting got Veronese into trouble with the Inquisition. See Clowns at the Last Supper? to get the story.