Veronese’s Allegories

Four of Veronese’s allegorical paintings join The Choice Between Virtue and Vice at the Frick.

Anyone familiar with the Frick will recognize The Choice Between Virtue and Vice by Venetian painter Paolo Veronese, said Grace Glueck in The New York Times. The painting of a man torn between the outstretched arms of women representing good and evil has long hung in its West Gallery, alongside Wisdom and Strength, another large Veronese. But now, for the first time, visitors can see five of the artist's allegories, in the first Veronese exhibit in the U.S. since 1988 and the first ever to include all of his large-scale allegories from American collections. Bringing these together vividly demonstrates not only Veronese's superb abilities as a colorist but the suave sensuality of his work. The most erotic on view is Venus and Mars United by Love, depicting an armored Mars at the breast of a naked Venus. The message, naturally, is 'œthe triumph of love over war,' though the painting is likely to appeal even to those 'œless interested in high ideals.'

Too often, allegory reduces painting to 'œthe mere rendering of pictures as text,' said Lance Esplund in The New York Sun. The fault lies not with the genre but with lazy artists who load too much meaning onto symbols. Veronese did not make this mistake. These dramatic paintings show how he breathed new life into allegory, transforming symbolic characters into real living beings. The Choice Between Virtue and Vice, for example, has plenty of nuanced gray areas. The man seems to reach back to Vice with one hand even as he lunges for Virtue with the other. He looks at neither but rather at us, 'œas if in need of our advice.' Despite the 'œeither-or title for the painting,' it doesn't make a clear choice. Veronese knows the world is not black and white but 'œa beautiful, complex dance between conflicting forces.'

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