“The Wedding at Cana” by Paolo Veronese depicts the biblical story of the Marriage at Cana, at which Jesus converts water to wine. The size of this canvas makes “The Wedding Feast at Cana” the largest picture in the Musée du Louvre.
This oil painting is massive, measuring 6.77m × 9.94m. The picture is in the Mannerist style, which exaggerated the Renaissance ideals of figure, light, and color. The composition as an ideal representation of the subject, rather than as a realistic representation.
The visual tension and the many sub-plots in this painting by Veronese are achieved by the inclusion of sophisticated cultural codes and symbolism, which present a biblical story in relevant ways to a contemporary 1560s audience in Venice.
The Black Monks of the Order of Saint Benedict in Venice commissioned Paolo Veronese in 1562 to create the painting to decorate a wall of the monastery’s new refectory, at the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore.
A refectory is a dining room, especially in monasteries, and derives from the Latin “refectorium,” which means “a place one goes to be restored.”
The monastery dining-room allowed Veronese’s to create the perspective that allowed the viewers to see “The Wedding Feast at Cana” as a spatial extension of their dining room.
The Benedictine contract stipulated that the painter represent:
“The history of the banquet of Christ’s miracle at Cana, in Galilee, creating the number of figures that can be fully accommodated.”
The Wedding at Cana
The New Testament story of the Marriage at Cana is from the Gospel of John and represents the first Christian miracle. In the narrative, Mary, her son, Jesus of Nazareth, and some of his Apostles attend a wedding in Cana, Galilee.
During the wedding banquet, the supply of wine ended, and at Mary’s request, Jesus commanded the house servants to fill stone jugs with water, which he then transformed into wine.
This painting represents the miracle in the grand style of the sumptuous feasts of food and music that were characteristic of 16th-century Venetian society.
The musicians providing ambiance for the feast are personified by Veronese, and the principal painters of the Venetian school, Jacopo Bassano, Tintoretto, and Titian.
The scene is framed with Greek and Roman architecture from Classical Antiquity and the Renaissance. The Græco–Roman architecture features Doric and Corinthian columns surrounding a courtyard that is enclosed with a low balustrade.
In the background is an arcaded tower from the artists’ time, and in the foreground, musicians play stringed instruments of the Late–Renaissance.
Among the wedding guests are historical personages, including kings, queens, diplomats, poets, architects, cardinals, and archbishop. Some of the more interesting figures are:
- Eleanor of Austria
- Francis I of France
- Mary I of England
- Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire
- Holy Roman Emperor Charles V
- Sokollu Mehmet Paşa, the Ottoman statesman
The musicians are personified by the famous Venetian artists (from left to right): Veronese, Jacopo Bassano, Tintoretto, and Titian.
Theft and Survival of “The Wedding at Cana”
From the completion of the painting in 1563, it decorated the refectory of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, until 1797 when soldiers of Napoleon’s French Revolutionary Army plundered the picture as war booty.
This theft occurred during the Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802). To transport the oversized painting from a Venice to Paris, the French soldiers cut the canvas of the painting and rolled it like a carpet to be re-assembled and re-stitched in France.
The 235-year-old painting was stored in the Louvre Museum and then became the looted art for the Musée Napoléon, which was the personal art collection of the Emperor of the French.
After the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15), the repatriation and restitution of looted works of art were a vital part of the post–Napoleonic conciliation treaties.
However the curator of the Musée Napoléon, falsely claimed that Veronese’s canvas was too fragile to travel back to Venice, and instead, sent Venice the “Feast at the House of Simon” by Charles Le Brun.
During the Franco–Prussian War (1870–71), this painting was stored in a box at Brest, in Brittany.
During the Second World War (1939–45), the 382-year-old painting was rolled up for storage and continually transported to different hiding places throughout the south of France, to hide it from the Nazis. Today it is preserved in the Louvre Museum, Paris.
In 2007, 210 years after the looting of this painting, a computer-generated digital facsimile of The Wedding Feast at Cana was hung in the Palladian refectory of the Monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice.
“The Wedding at Cana” by Paolo Veronese
- Title: The Wedding at Cana
- Artist: Paolo Veronese
- Created: 1563
- Media: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 6.77 m × 9.94 m (267 in × 391 in)
- Type: Biblical Painting
- Museum: Louvre Museum, Paris
- Artist: Paolo Veronese
- Born: Paolo Caliari
- Born: 1528 – Verona, Venetian Republic
- Died: 19 April 1588 (aged 60) – Venice, Venetian Republic
- Movement: Renaissance, Mannerism
- Notable Works:
The biggest painting in the Louvre Museum
Wedding Feast at Cana By Paolo Veronese – Must See at The Louvre
Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese at its original location
The Wedding at Cana – Veronese
The Wedding Feast at Cana – Veronese’s Painting
The Wedding at Cana Veronese
“There are three Venetians that are never separated in my mind — Titian, Veronese, and Tintoret.”
– John Ruskin
Photo Credit 1) Paolo Veronese [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons