Anthony Grafton paints a portrait of the Last Supper in art and religious history. Below, Paolo Veronese defends his Last Supper portrayal before the Venetian Inquisition in 1573:
"We painters use the same license as poets and madmen, and I represented those halberdiers, the one drinking, the other eating at the foot of the stairs, but both ready to do their duty, because it seemed to me suitable and possible that the master of the house, who as I have been told was rich and magnificent, would have such servants."
This appeal to artistic license did not satisfy the Inquisitors: “Does it seem suitable to you, in the Last Supper of our Lord, to represent buffoons, drunken Germans, dwarfs, and other such absurdities?” They ordered Veronese to erase the halberdiers and replace the dog who looked up at Jesus with Mary Magdalene. Veronese complied, in his own way. He left the painting as it was but retitled it Feast in the House of Levia scene less freighted with theological significance.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.