The vision of St. Helena | Paolo Veronese | 1580
Paolo Veronese, from whom I have never heard before in my life, next to Titian and Tintoretto, constitute the triumvirate of Venetian art masters of the renaissance.
Like all the other painters, he showed very early an admirable talent for painting and, with 14 years, he was already an apprentice of local masters in his hometown, Verona. Although he was educated in the mannerist way, Veronese soon followed his own path.
The vision of St. Helena is a work that belongs to his mature stage and portraits the mother of Constantine I, emperor of Rome. Raised in a humble home, St. Helena is later canonized for her pious works and her relentless search for christian relics. Legend says that, slept, dreams with a place where can be found the original cross where Jesus was crucified on and, after that, she began her quest.
There are two versions of the painting: the first from 1565 and the other one we have today, from 1580. The concept for both is the same, although the treatment of the motif is different.
In the 1580 version, we see Helena sleeping, wearing 16th century clothes (note: Helena lived from 250 to 330 a.c.), with a cloth and a veil, secured by her crown. He rests over her left hand in a position that, to my understanding, is far from comfortable. To the right of the canvas, symbolically, a winged angel, with his back to us, shows her the cross.
The motif of the work can be interesting, but it is undeniable that the technique of this artist is from another world. In today’s painting, we can almost touch the texture of the dress and the cloth of the empress…. However, Veronese is not only known for his technique but also for the use of the color. Although the canvas from today has a limited palette, the colors of Helena’s clothing are extremely pure and clear and, under the shadow, they don’t lose his strength or intensity.
It is because of that that Veronese is considered, according to the words of the art critic Théophile Gautier, as the greatest colorist that ever lived, even above artists like Titian, Rubens or Rembrandt.