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What does the 1573 trial of Paolo Veronese over his painting Feast in the House of Levi tell us about Venetian art during the Counter-Reformation? 


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Veronese's 1573 trial by the Holy Tribunal says a lot about art in Venice during the counter-reformation. First, the painting on trial, Feast in the House of Levi, conjures images of the affluence that characterized Venice at the time, when the city and its people enjoyed tremendous wealth and power. The large size of the painting reflects the massiveness that the city's artists used to reflect its solidness, stability and wealth.

Although the Church and city leaders might have been fine with Veronese showing the affluence prevalent in Venice at the time, they felt that the artist had crossed a line. In addition to including lords dressed in their silk finery, he added dogs, cats, performers, and other figures that seemed out of place in the solemn occasion the painting was intended to depict.

Thus, art at the time had to constrain any liberties it took with the dictates of the Inquisition and Tribunal. Veronese's trial shows the seriousness with which the Tribunal protected the Church during the Counter-Reformation. The Tribunal felt Veronese violated the sacrosanct nature of the event and ordered him to change certain features they found offensive. Instead, Veronese changed the title so that the painting no longer reflected Christ’s last supper with his disciples and was more open to artistic interpretation.

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