European
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Veronese (Paolo Caliari) (Italian, Venetian, 1528–1588),
Venus at Her Toilette , ca. 1582
oil on canvas, 65 x 49 inches, 165.1 x 124.46 cm
Museum purchase, 1942.4

Working at the same time as Titian and Tintoretto, Veronese captured the brilliance and pageantry of sixteenth-century Venice and established its tradition of grand, trompe l’oeil decorative painting that was to culminate in the work of the Tiepolo family. Veronese’s confident ability to handle complicated compositions and varied textures, all bathed in a cool, sparkling light, found immediate acceptance, and he never lacked for commissions. Even so, his worldly approach did not sit well in some quarters, and his treatment of the religious subject The Marriage at Cana caused the Inquisition to try him on a charge of heresy. Under questioning, Veronese calmly defended his right to pictorial license and sidestepped the problem by changing the title of the offending picture to Feast in the House of Levi. 

Though relatively small by the standards of his great mural schemes, Venus at Her Toilette displays all the hallmarks of Veronese’s vigorous style. The goddess of love, her foot braced against an ornately carved fitting, twists round to adjust her hair in a mirror held by her companion, Cupid. Her athletic pose allows the artist to demonstrate his mastery of human anatomy, while the inclusion of the mirror presents the opportunity to portray the goddess both full-face and in profile. Presumably, Venus’ sudden movement has also dislodged her sumptuous wrap, the soft browns and greens of which contrast beautifully with the maroon curtain in the background. Underneath her couch, hinting at the reason for Venus’ activity, Veronese has painted two doves billing and cooing.

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