Paolo Veronese – The Rape Of Europa

This represents the last great stage of Venetian painting. It carries brilliant decoration almost but not quite to the point of mere ostentatious display. There is still a saving sense of restraint, that restricts the areas of gorgeous texture to a few points of emphasis and thus makes the most of them, not glutting the eye like a stageful of musical comedy costumes. It has lost the austere simplicity, the emphasis on basic structure, the robust vigor, of earlier generations. What associated feelings are expressed are similar to those of eighteenth century French court painting: gay, luxurious enjoyment, a carefree, dancing swirl of pretty faces and shapely arms, fluttering Cupids, roses and satins. The figures have still a basic solidity and strength lacking in Watteau, but the conception is similar to his The Embarkation for Cythera, in the Louvre. There is a nearby preparation to depart, then, into the distance, the same figures appear at successive stages of the amorous journey. Watteau has nothing like the dynamic pattern in the foreground, like an intricate sculptural relief, in which the figures of the bull and the maidens, divided into many small masses by deeply indenting shadows, are caught up in a lively, onward-moving rotation. Color and light work in close cooperation with line, dividing the main group into distinct, curving, undulating sections: the bull a soft dull gray-green and brown; three contrasting parts of Europa’s robe. Light gives a continuous whirling line along the moving limbs and folds, and various degrees of light among the women’s heads and arms, rising to a climax in Europa’s head and shoulder. Color gives its own series of accents, rising from a sombre diffusion of dark blue, crimson and violet in the shadows to a rosy cream with blue shadows in the lighter flesh-tints, and to a climax of richness in the lowest part of Europa’s robe, a lustrous gold iridescent with scarlet and orange. Such designs as this later academic painters (Boucher for example) could imitate only as to drawing and surface prettiness; they failed to capture the firm internal organization and substantial texture which raise it to the level of art.