The Wedding at Cana

Our magnificent new header image, from The Wedding at Cana, was painted by Italian mannerist Paolo Veronese in 1563. It is a tour de force of Renaissance humanism – note the realistic depiction of party-goers in the middle of conversation, the lazy dogs in the foreground, and young men playing tag behind the feast. There is a sense of phenomenal motion in this scene, of the unsuppressed vitality of a gala party. However, all of this bustling life is framed by the perfect, static symmetry of the middle-ground guard rail and the background columns. All of the major lines are in perfect right angles. The full upper half of the painting is pure, classical restraint, motionless and stable. In the immediate foreground, we see a group of musicians. Rumor has it that Veronese painted himself into the picture as the fellow in white bowing the viola da gamba. (Clearly an anachronism – such instruments weren’t around in Biblical times.) But lest we forget, allow the eyes to trace themselves along the straight unperturbed path of the lines. In the exact horizontal center of the painting, framed by gay revelers and a blue sky, sits the most important guest of all – Jesus. In a sea of activity, only he is holding still. Were it not for the faint halo around his head, we might not notice him at all. And thus we see a quintessential feature of the Renaissance Zeitgeist: divinity folded in, almost hidden, amongst a mass of humanity.

1 Comment

  1. Magnificent indeed! Good find Zach.

    I had a different viewing experience than you though with this piece. My eye IMMEDIATELY drew to the figure of Christ, who, even though surrounded by flurries of activity—flurries that reflect, as you mention, yet unmatched details of human life—remains the center amidst the fray.

    It got me thinking: when analyzing this piece from an historical perspective, we note all the new humanistic elements. After all, Christ had been present in paintings for 1500 years, but such fleshly details had not. For that reason they are worthy of comment. But has that blinded us to the role of Christ in art? In either of our readings—Christ hidden amongst humanity, or popping out of it—Christ remains at the center.

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