The Art of the Northern Renaissance by Craig Harbison (1995)

The period covered is 1400 to 1600.

‘Northern’ means north-west of the Alps, excluding Eastern Europe which had its own development, and Spain, ditto. So it includes the many different little German medieval states, France, but especially the northern part of the Duchy of Burgundy (modern-day Netherlands and Belgium). In these rich northern cities the wealth from the wool and textile trade created patrons who wanted paintings of themselves, decorations for their houses, but especially grand altarpieces for the big churches they built.

The Renaissance in Italy was closely linked to a rebirth of interest in classical statuary, architecture and literature, examples of which lay all around its Italian artists. This revival of learning led to new experiments in building in the pure classical style, to the introduction of mathematically precise perspective in painting, along with unprecedented anatomical accuracy in the human form. The paintings, like the architecture, were big, grand, monumental. At its peak, think of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Many Renaissance paintings are vast and use classical architectural features to emphasise their monumentality and to bring out the artist’s clever knowledge of perspective. I often find this art sterile.

By contrast, northern art is more continuous with the medieval art which preceded it. Curly Gothic architecture continues to provide its frame of reference and design. The figures often still have the elongated, willowy S-shape of medieval statuary rather than the new, muscular bodies being pioneered in Italy by the likes of Michelangelo et al. Harbison says that northern art of the 15th century is in many ways a transfer of late-medieval innovations in manuscript illustration to the public spaces of altarpieces, painted boards and frescos.

What I love northern art for is:

  1. its more flattened, less perspective-obsessed images allow for the surface of the work to be covered by gorgeous decorative schemes, particularly sumptuous fabrics and carpets
  2. it is always teeming with life – there are always tiny figures in the distance riding into a wood or firing a crossbow – every time you look you notice something else
  3. the faces – the people in northern art have much more rugged individuality than in Italian art – another way of saying this is that they are often plain and sometimes positively ugly in a way few Renaissance portraits are

As an example of gorgeousness of decorative design, I suggest Virgin among virgins in the rose garden by the unknown artist known from one of his other works as the Master of the St Lucy Legend.

There’s perspective of a sort, in that the wooden pergola covered with climbing roses creates a proscenium arch through which we can see an idealised version of the city of Bruges in the middle distance. But the overall affect of the foreground is more flat than in an Italian work. This brings out the wonderful detail of every leaf and petal of the dense rose hedge behind the characters; and emphasises the decorative layout of those figures, two on either side of the Virgin and in similar poses but with enough variation to please the eye. It allows the eye to rest on the sumptuous gold dress of St Ursula sitting left and contrast it with the plain white dress of St Cecilia sitting right. As to my ‘teeming with life’ point, I love the tiny figures of the two horse riders departing the city in the distance. In this work, I admit, the faces lack the individuality I mentioned, but I like this kind of demure medieval oval facial style.

Harbison contrasts this northern work with a contemporary Italian work, Madonna and child with saints by Domenico Veneziano (c.1445)

For me, all the human figures are dwarfed and subordinated to the ruthless application of the new knowledge of mathematical perspective. I find all those interlocking pillars and arches exhausting. And, ironically, somehow for me this does not give the image the desired depth of field but makes it appear flat and cluttered. The orange trees peeping up over the back wall don’t make up for the clinical sterility of the architectural setting. And although the human figures are obviously individualised and their clothes, the folds of their cloaks and gowns, are done with fine accuracy, these aren’t enough to overcome what I see as the overall flat, arid, washed-out and sterile effect.

As Harbison puts it:

In place of the clear, open, even and often symmetrical Italian representation, northerners envisioned subtly modulated, veiling and revealing light effects, intriguing nooks and crannies, enclosed worlds of privacy and preciousness. (p.35)

As an exemplar of this Harbison gives Rogier van der Weyden’s wonderful three-part St John Altarpiece (1450-60).

The dominant feature in all three scenes in this altarpiece is obviously the Gothic arch. (These repay study by themselves, with a different set of saints and small scenes depicted on each of the three arches.) The three main scenes depict, from left to right, the presentation of the newborn John the Baptist to his father; John the Baptist baptising Jesus; and then John’s head being chopped off and given to Salome.

The figures are given quite a lot of individuation, especially the balding executioner with his stockings half fallen down which gives a bizarrely homely touch. But the foreground scenes are really only part of the composition. Equal emphasis is given to the detailed backgrounds of all three. Perspective is used, but not ruthlessly – with enough poetic license to allow the backgrounds to be raised, tilted upwards, so we can see and savour them better.

In the left panel St Elizabeth being tucked into bed (a typically homely northern detail) is good, but better is the deep landscape behind Jesus in the central panel, with its church perched on cliffs on the right in the middle distance and city on a cliff in the remote distance left. But best of all is the right-hand panel, where our eye is drawn by the steps and tiled floors of King Herod’s palace, complete with a lounger staring out a window, a bored dog lying near the table where courtiers appear to be feasting.

And, as always, at the very bottom, in the corners, the humble, everyday, weedy flowers of northern Europe which I love so much.

The St John Altarpiece is a prime example of the richness of detail which characterises northern art and makes it – to me – so much more enjoyable, homely, decorative and domestic – funny, even, with its wealth of humanist touches.

The Art of the Northern Renaissance

The book is divided into four parts addressing different topics:

  1. Realism
  2. Physical production & original location
  3. Religious behaviour and ideals
  4. Italy and the North.

Within these there are 35 separate sections addressing issues like ‘artist and patron’, ‘manuscript illumination’, ‘the production of a panel painting’, ‘the pilgrimage’, ‘landscape imagery’, ‘the naked body’, and so on. From these sections we we learn lots of detail about specific areas of medieval life and their depiction, but nothing which affects the basic thesis that at the core of northern art is, as Harbison puts it, ‘a love of detailed description’.

It is as if one is always catching sight of something out of the corner of the eye. The ideal is not simple harmony but complex polyphony. (p.39)

Northern art is fragmentary, interested in detail. Italian art is more unified, classical and spare. Take this masterpiece by Rogier van der Weyden.

For a start it was a north European convention to depict the Deposition within an architectural frame (cf. The descent from the cross by the Master of the Bartholomew altarpiece) which gives it a kind of continuity with the Gothic architecture of the church where it is located.

I love everything about this painting, the cleverness with which ten human figures are composed so as to make a polyphony without excessive artifice; the colour of the clothes e.g. the olive green and high cord of the woman holding the fainting Mary, the sumptuous fur-lined cloak of the rich burgher (Nicodemus) on the right. Harbison points out the detail of Christ’s pierced bloody hand hanging parallel to the Virgin’s long white hand, providing a powerful and moving real and symbolic contrast.

And, as always, I love the flowers in the foreground – is that yarrow at bottom left and herb bennet at bottom right? Harbison gives a detailed analysis of another northern masterpiece:

The detail of daily life, the sense of real people in an actual community, is what I love about this art: the unashamed flat-faced ugliness of the three shepherds, the (married?) couple standing by the gate in the background beside the shepherds; the wrinkled face and hands of old Joseph praying on the left.

As always, flowers in the foreground, here the highly symbolic lilies and irises (symbolising the passion), columbine (representing the Holy Spirit) and three small dark red carnations symbolising the nails of the cross.

Harbison makes the interesting point that the shadows of the two vases fall sharply to the right as if the floor of the stable (incongruously tiled) is almost flat; whereas, somehow behind the sheaf of wheat the floor suddenly tips upwards, presenting a much more flattened surface than strict perspective would suggest – which is then ‘decorated’ with the various figures. There are perspective points in it, but the painting ignores a strict rule of perspective in order to create a more effective, colourful and ‘rhythmic’ composition.

Top artists of the northern renaissance

If I summarised every one of Harbison’s analyses this post would be as long as the book. Instead here’s a quick overview of the key players and some major works:

Early Netherlands masters

The weird

From the generation following the deaths of these early fathers of Netherlands painting comes the one-off genius of Hieronymus Bosch.

  • Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 – 1516) The religious triptych was the most common format of painting in this period, and Bosch produced at least sixteen, of which eight are fully intact, and another five in fragments. The most famous is the weird and wonderful Garden of earthly delights. No one has adequately explained where his bizarre fantasies came from.

The Germans

I find the Germans a lot less pleasing than the Flemish or French painters of this period. They lack grace and delicacy. Their depictions of the human body, especially of the crucified Christ, seem to me unnecessarily brutal. Albrecht Dürer is meant to be the great genius but I like hardly anything that he did.

After the Reformation

The Reformation forms a watershed halfway through the period 1400 to 1600, usually dated with great specificness to 31 October 1517, when the monk Martin Luther sent 95 theses systematically attacking Roman Catholic theology to his superior, the archbishop of Mainz. His arguments became a rallying cry and focus of decades of growing discontent with the corruption and over-complex theology of the Catholic church. His ideas spread quickly and were taken up by other theologians, who were often protected by German princes who had their own secular reasons for rejecting Papal authority, until it had become an unstoppable theological and social movement.

In artistic terms the Reformation’s rejection of the grandeur of Roman Catholic theology and the authority of the super-rich Papacy played to the strengths of the northern artists, who already produced an art often characterised by its relative smallness and intimacy.

Harbison very usefully brings out the fact that fifteenth century art was so dominated by images of the Madonna seated holding the Christ child because such a static image encouraged silent devotion and meditation – in contrast with the more dynamic and emotionally upsetting images of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

He points out how the corruption of the official church had already alienated many Christians from public worship and created through the 15th century a cult of private devotion. It was onto this fertile ground that the anti-establishment teachings of Luther and his followers fell, and proved so fruitful.

Thus Reformation theology tended to foreground personal piety, meditation and reflection – moving away from bravura displays of big ostentatious public ritual. And so while the Counter-Reformation in Italy (the theological and artistic reaction against the northern Reformation) was marked by the increasing ornateness and vast, heavy, luxury of the Baroque in art and architecture, in northern Europe – although Christian subjects continued as ever – there was also a growth in depictions of ‘ordinary life’, in domestic portraits and still lifes.

It was during the post-Reformation 16th century that landscapes and still lifes came into existence as genres in their own right.

Quentin Matsys

A figure who straddles the pre- and post-Reformation era is Quentin Matsys (1466–1530) (also spelt Massys) founder of the Antwerp school of painting. His mature work dates from the period of the High Renaissance (1490s to 1527) but is the extreme opposite of the vast panoramas of human history being painted in the Vatican (the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Stanza). Instead, Massys typifies for me the virtues of northern painting, with its small-scale atmosphere of domesticity, its focus on real, living people – not the Prophets and Philosophers of Michelangelo and Raphael – and its portraits not of heroic archetypes, but of plain ordinary and, sometimes, ugly people.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

This increasing valuing of secular life is one way of explaining the rise of the genre of ‘peasant paintings’, which was, apparently, more or less founded by the teeming peasant panoramas of the wonderful Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Hans Holbein the younger

The northern Reformation was suspicious of religious imagery. In many places it was stripped out of churches and burned; in others merely covered up. Certainly the market for grand altarpieces collapsed, and the period saw a rise in other more specialised subjects. Critics from centuries later define these as genre paintings.

Portraits also became more secular and more frequent, a trend which produced one of the most wonderful portraitists of all time, Hans Holbein the Younger.

Technique

Harbison explains a lot about the technicality of northern Renaissance painting. Some of the most notable learnings for me were:

Panel painting Almost all northern renaissance artworks were painted on wooden panels, ‘panel paintings’ as they’re called. It wasn’t until the 17th century that prepared canvas became the surface of choice for artists. Some works were painted on linen but almost all of these have been lost. A small number were painted directly onto metal and some onto slate.

The rise of oil painting Most 15th century paintings were made with tempera. Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of coloured pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually egg yolk. Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. But as the 1400s progressed, northern artists experimented with using oil as the binding material – first mixing colour pigment with oil then applying it to prepared surfaces.

Most of these new ‘oil’ paintings were built up from multiple layers. This required paintings to be put to one side for weeks at a time to fully dry before the next level could be done – a repetitive process which explains the incredibly deep, rich and luminous colours you see in these works.

Most Renaissance sources credited the northern European painters of the 15th century, and Jan van Eyck in particular, with the ‘invention’ of painting with oil media on wood panel supports (‘support’ is the technical term for the underlying backing of a painting). There is ongoing debate about where precisely it originated but it was definitely a northern invention which headed south into Italy.

Destruction and loss

The vast majority of European art has been lost.

  • Much of it was created for ephemeral purposes in the first place – for ceremonies, processions, pageants or plays – and thrown away once the occasion had passed.
  • Thus, much effort and creativity was expended painting on fabrics, such as linen or flags, on backdrops and sets and panels, which have rotted and disappeared.
  • Huge numbers of paintings in the churches of northern Europe were lost forever when they were painted over with whitewash during the Reformation. Outbreaks of popular or state-sanctioned iconoclasm also saw the systematic destruction of statues, wooden tracery and decorative features – all defaced or thrown out and burned in the decades after 1520.
  • Successive wars wreaked local havoc, destroying in particular castles which would have held collections of art sponsored by rich aristocrats. As an example, only ten paintings and thirty-five drawings survive of the entire life’s work of Matthias Grünewald – ‘many others were lost at sea in the Baltic on their way to Sweden as war booty’.
  • The destruction of the Great War – epitomised by the German army’s deliberate burning of the manuscript library at Louvain – was essentially localised to north-west Europe.
  • But the destruction of the second World War ranged all across Europe, deep into Russia and involved the destruction of countless churches, galleries, museums, libraries, stately homes, castles and chateaux where art works could be stored. Dresden. Hamburg. Monte Cassino. The loss was immense.

It’s always worth remembering that the comfortable lives we live now actually take place amid the ruins of an almost incomprehensibly destructive series of wars, religious spasms and conflagrations, and that the art we view in the hushed environments of art galleries is not an accurate reflection of what was painted and created in Europe, but are the scattered remnants and lucky survivors from a continent of incessant destruction and artistic holocaust.

Related links

Where to see some

You can see some masterpieces from this period for free in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery (in London):

You can see the fabulous Seilern Triptych by Robert Campin in room 1 of the Courtauld Gallery, off the Strand, which currently costs £7 admission price, but is worth it for the stunning collection of masterpieces from these medieval pieces through the French post-Impressionists.

Veronese at the National Gallery

Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice is a vast exhibition of 50 of the greatest paintings by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) at the National Gallery in London, many of them very big indeed. It is a thorough and well-staged exhibition with an excellent supporting pamphlet and audio commentary with contributions from curators, a dress historian and opera designer.

A personal view

Let me say straight away I powerfully disliked this exhibition. I think Veronese is a terrible depicter of the human figure, a terrible painter of the faces of women and babies, the creator of grotesquely stagey and over-elaborate settings of highly artificial action and, in his religious paintings, the painter of nauseatingly religiose images full of lachrymose Marys and saints with shiny eyes upturned like corpses towards cramped heavens cluttered with absurd angels and putti, all given a sinister aspect when you realise he worked in Counter-Reformation Italy under the watchful eye of a dictatorial Inquisition. Not one of the fifty paintings excited or even appealed to me. I’d pay good money to never see most of them again.

Architecture

The commentary usefully points out that Veronese came from a family of stonemasons: his grandfather, father and brother made a living carving stone. His home town Verona was (and is) famous for its Roman ruins. Once this is pointed out, you begin to notice that buildings, especially the arrangement of columns and arches, are vital ingredients in the compositions; that every painting is elaborately staged on a carefully contrived set, and it’s never a ‘natural’ setting of trees and flowers: neither are they set in the contemporary city with streets and the bustle of urban life. All his paintings are set against a confected backdrop made from idealised Roman architecture – either complete – if the setting is ancient, or ruined – if the setting is contemporary. However fresh this use of highly accurate architecture seemed in the early Renaissance, in Veronese’s hands it feels stiflingly conventional.

This early painting is a good example of the importance of architecture; the cluttered composition which is stagey and contrived; the stylised hand gestures (the hands are out of propostion to the bodies); the nauseating religiosity; and the badness of individual faces – look at the face of Christ.

The Conversion of Mary Magdalene by Veronese, 1548 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Conversion of Mary Magdalene by Veronese, 1548 (Wikimedia Commons)

The human figure

Veronese is a painter of the human figure. There are no landscapes or still lives or animal pictures. All the compositions are centred on human figures and therefore the issue becomes quite quickly (for him and for us viewers) how do you pose your people? If you’re telling a story, depicting a famous incident – which precise moment do you select to illustrate: at which crucial second do you capture the event? And who is in the picture? And how are they arranged and framed?

He is poor at the human face: the melodrama of the tableau is no replacement for human warmth.

Opera

Which brings us to the staging of the people in these sets. Again, from very early on, from the age of 17 or 18 Veronese was using the elaborate hand gestures developed by earlier Renaissance masters (Leonardo’s pointing fingers, Raphael’s graceful gestures, Michelangelo’s strong outstretched arms). In a way that’s difficult to define, whereas these gestures looked fresh and newly-discovered in the High Renaissance, in Veronese they look operatic and stagey. It is as if the accumulated knowledge of how to set the human figure against architectural backdrops in hieratic attitudes reaches a kind of apogee in Veronese which also contains its own decadence.

  • In The Supper at Emmaus (1555) observe a) the triumph of architcture over people b) the horrible clutteredness of the composition with different bits of people in different fields of perspective c) the terribleness of all the children’s faces d) the Renaissance trope of including the painting’s sponsors in the painting: could anything be more corrupt and vulgar?
  • The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine  (1570) strikes me as being the triumph of melodrama over humanity, a welter of horrible putti, a swag of richest cloth around columns, and the horrible dead-fish faces of Mary and Catherine. Was commissioned for a convent where the daughters of the rich were indoctrinated with sentimental religiosity.
  • The Martyrdom of St George (1565) Some people think this is a triumph of composition, employing late Renaissance  understanding of perspective to ‘involve’ the viewer in the action. I find the clutter of the composition claustrophobic and the skyful of bouncing cherubs nauseating. Christ didn’t ask us to admire sumptuously clad heroes in elaborate stage sets: he told us to look in our hearts, love God, live a simple life, give all our belongings to the poor, love each other.
  • The Adoration of the Kings (1573) The triumph of architecture and stage setting. What are the bodiless baby angels for? The face of Mary and Jesus bad, as usual.
  • Perseus and Andromeda (1580) Ludicrous. Perseus looks like a drunk country and western singer falling off the stage. What’s worse about Andromeda, her ludicrous pose (try standing like that) or the elaborate orange cloak falling open to revela her chunky Mannerist body.

And DARK. The commentary claims Veronese is an unparalleled master of light – rubbish – all his paintings seemed to me dark and gloomy with fake blue skies not shedding real light.

Clothes

A feature of the Renaissance was the way it unabashedly dressed up figures from ancient stories in contemporary dress. This Veronese does to an inordinate degree. It’s telling that there are so many contributions on the commentary from a dress historian explaining the meaning, the origin and the cost of so many of the elaborate dresses and cloaks etc which feature in the paintings, as if a detailed analysis of his use of fabrics made up for the overall clumsiness of the tableau. According to the commentary his brother was a textile merchant and so maybe Veronese had samples of the cloth he was depicting readily to hand. Big deal.

  • In Livia da Porto Thiene and her daughter Deidamia (1552): consider the ugliness of the people and the triumph of expensive clothes: field day for the clothes historian on the commentary; but thin time for anyone hoping to enjoy this painting as a depiction of sympathetic humans.
  • Portrait of a Lady known as ‘Bella Nana’ (1560) How bad her face, how dead her expression, how contrived her silly hand gesture, how flat and hieratic the clothes – expensive, though. Feel the schmatter.

Religiosity

I find his religiosity genuinely creepy.

Politically, he is depicting the claustrophobic and vengeful Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation, the institution which rejuvenated the torturing Inquisition, and created schools for spies to infiltrate and undermine the British government, which declared Queen Elizabeth a heretic, thus encouraging zealots to murder her and go straight to heaven and which blessed the Holy Crusade to conquer England which we call the Spanish Armada which, luckily for us, failed in the year of Veronese’s death, 1588. Veronese was called in front of the Inquisition when one of his works appeared to have too much contemporary detail, so he changed its title.

  • In the Allegory of Navigation with a Cross-Staff (1560) we can see the freshness and excitement of Renaissance learning hardening into big heavy blocky art, an art for rich men and powerful institutions. Look how bad the face is, and the disproportion of the body which is too long.
  • The Conversion of St Pantaleon (1587) was Veronese’s last painting. There’s an El Greco lividness to the colour of the rich fabrics; there is a disgustingly distorted little cherub; there is an architectural ruin giving the composition ‘vertical unity’; and the central figure is rolling his eyes to the heavens so the light reflects off the whites of his eyes in a way which is probably meant to be moving but reminds me of an epileptic having a seizure, or just a corpse.

Theologically, my Protestant soul rebels against the equation by Veronese (and most of his Renaissance compadres) of wealth with piety: The money-grabbing corruption of the Catholic church, an institution which had developed numerous Mafia-style ways of demanding money with menaces, was of course the trigger for Martin Luther’s revolt in 1517. Here in the heartland of Roman Catholic orthodoxy wealthy patrons are still having themselves painted in rich ornate contemporary dress in paintings showing incidents from the life of Jesus or various saints as usual believing that the rich can buy their way into heaven.

  • The Resurrection of Christ (1575) is a horrible and ludicrous painting: note the ruins (it’s a historical anecdote = ruins); the melodramatic gestures of the guards (nice-looking cloth, too); neither of which compensate for the ludicrous, Catholic religiosity of the haloed Christ flying into the air.
  • The Agony in the Garden (1583) isn’t about the suffering of jesus at all, it’s about the simpering sentimental religiosity of the tearful angel with whom we are invited to identify. Instead of leading better lives we are invited to burst into tears as in the final act of a tragic opera.

Aesthetically, these sickly saints and lachrymose Marys, all sentimental religiosity, with their upturned eyes reflecting light just under their pupils, look like corpses or people having epileptic fits.

  • Saints Geminianus and Severus (1560) the triumph of ornate architecture, glorious clothing and facile sentiment.
  • The Virgin and Child with Saints Anthony Abbot and Paul the Hermit (1562) demonstrates the cluttered claustrophobic composition which some people find a triumph of design and perspective, exacerbated by the absurdiy of baby angels playing peek-a-boo in the clouds and the traditional very bad face of Mary and ghastly face of the baby Jesus.
  • In The Consecration of St Nicholas (1562) the dominant figure is the ridiculous angel flying upside down, and then the pillar on the right. The melodramatic poses can’t make up for the badness of the faces, nor the way the figure in white’s head is too small for his body.

Sensuality

Venice where Veronese plied his trade, was famous in the 1560s, 70s and 80s, for the arts of love, for its erotic poetry, for its courtesans (ie high-class prostitutes). More than once the commentary commented on the design of low-cut dresses designed to show off the wearer’s décolletage (breasts). Like everything else, this would-be sensuality is heavy: compare and contrast with the winsome lightness of a Watteau or any depiction of women by the impressionists.

  • In The Finding of Moses (1580) the commentary points out the daringly low-cut dress of Pharoah’s daughter and, of course, its immense luxuriousness and cost. On both counts this strikes me as almost blasphemous corruption of the ancient text.
  • The Dream of Saint Helena (1570) is a rare Veronese that I almost like – if we could cut out the silly putti we would have an image of simple sensuousness such as one finds in the late Victorian ‘Olympian’ painters of antique life. The sumptuous dress is appropriate for the mother of the Roman Emperor. And for once the face is good draughtsmanship.
  • In fact I find Veronese’s paintings strikingly unsensual, heavy and cloddish and he has no way at all with the female nude and is disastrously bad at women’s faces, as in Mars and Venus United by Love (1575): what could be less sensuous, lifeless and contrived? Look at the horse’s head: he even makes a horse’s head look sentimental.

Allegories and mythologies

The only paintings I came close to liking were the five in the room devoted to Allegories and Mythology. The four big paintings in this room were obviously created as a cycle and probably commissioned by the same patron. They are traditionally interpreted as portraying four aspects of love. I think they have flaws of composition and execution (it seems basic not to paint the background around heads in such a way as to highlight how it’s been painted in later), but I warm to the Renaissance themes of love.

In his article in the London Review of Books T.J. Clark discusses these paintings in depth, bringing a sympathetic view of Veronese, hymning as the poet of the weight and drop of fabric and bringing out felicities like the fig leaves unobtrusively pressing against the white gown which has fallen off the woman. But to me the putti are as disgusting as usual. They sky isn’t really light, it has the closed feel of a fresco; it feels indoors.  Like all Veronese’s paintings it feels claustrophobic, heavy and trapped.

Infidelity by Veronese, 1575 (Wikimedia Commons)

Unfaithfulness by Veronese, 1575 (Wikimedia Commons)

Related links

Other reviews of National Gallery exhibitions

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