Sunday, 6 April 2014

My guide to Veronese

The (rather pompous) guy next to me steps way, way back and then arches his spine so that his head is even further away from the canvas and exclaims, "Ahhh, look at those trees... and the clouds... absolutely stunning!" I look at him first, then at the super tight cluster of semi naked humans in very uncomfortable poses, and detect, way into the background, two squidgy chubby trees and some chubby squidgy clouds. I am confused. Is that not how they usually portrayed nature back then? In the background, all soft and squidgy. Like those thick white ankles, so soft your finger would be engulfed if you tried to poke them. What a contrast, I think, with those pink, sweaty and decidedly ugly feet. I look at all the pictures, and the feeling is the same: I feel rejected. That's right, I am not the one doing the rejection. This art refuses to talk to me, it averts its eyes, and I am left alone, intellectually naked, and utterly confined to my modern world. These paintings speak a language I don't understand. Of course, I could pick up some kind of Veronese for dummies, and an art historian would talk me through all the layers of meaning, all the breakthroughs, innovations, allegories. It is obvious that in these paintings nothing is left to chance. Everything has a reason and a meaning, or more than one. But where is the human connection? Where are the joys, the pains of these people? Apart from Cupid, allegedly being mounted by a dog, who does look genuinely scared, everybody else is, to say the least, ambiguous. And even Cupid is not exactly looking at his unwelcome suitor.

Yes, that's it. What are these people looking at? Not at each other, not at me. Their eyelines, like their postures, seem to compose a mysterious web, a thread that I should be able to follow, but fail to. But I paid for my ticket, so I am not going to give up as yet and will try to observe every painting, to come up with some understanding and conclusions. Here are my observations: most of the cows look at the ugly pink feet with a mixture of curiosity and distaste.
Most of the people are seeing things that are not there, yet they are paying no attention to rather disturbing presences, like cherubs carrying crosses.

Little by little, I try to open some communication doors with the world this guy lived in, over 500 years ago. Was it really that crowded, everybody on top of each other? I imagine bustling squares and markets. And religion must have been so powerful. Did people actually see cherubs? Perhaps so often that they were unfazed by them. I imagine bringing these mysterious people down from their ornate frames into the gallery, with their unnecessarily bare breasts, their lavish fabrics, aloof cows, skinny dogs and squidgy trees. I want to hear the shouting of those bright clothes, I dread the smell of the pink feet. Room by room, thought after thought, I come to the conclusion that time, an open mind, and a pinch of humour and irreverence work better than any art history book at bringing down the walls that separate us. Thank you, Veronese, for this brief tour into your world, you've certainly given me food for very, very strange dreams.

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