Luke 4:1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil
Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Baptism and Temptation of Christ, Oil on Canvas, 1580-1582, Paolo Veronese, 1528-1588
During the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, the cities of Florence and Rome were major centers of art. Venetians also could boast of their art during this period; Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese were among the finest artists in Europe. Being at the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea, the people of Venice were seafarers and their merchant ships sailed eastward to trade with ports throughout the region. Through trade, Venetians acquired great wealth and as was the practice (then and now), people of means acquired possessions to enrich their lives and serve as symbols of status. Inasmuch as expensive sports cars and private jets were not available, their possessions were sumptuous palaces and fine art. They also were generous in their support of public projects and the Church. Because of favorable working conditions and an opportunity to earn fine salaries, many painters, sculptors, and artisans made Venice their home. Veronese (given name Paolo Caliari), studied initially in the city of his birth, Verona, but soon was living and working in nearby Venice. In Venice, he became known simply as “Veronese,” a person from Verona.
As Renaissance art continued from the fifteenth century to the sixteenth there was a tendency toward mannerism and then from mannerism, art developed into the baroque style of the seventeenth century. “Baptism and Temptation of Christ,” painted by Veronese in the latter part of the mannerist period is baroque-like in its dramatic composition. As we enter the painting at the lower left, we see John the Baptist in shadow but we do not linger. Instead, we move past him immediately to the upper torso of Christ which is bathed in light emanating from a dove representing the Holy Spirit. Not only does Christ receive our immediate attention but also all figures in this section of the painting are focused on him. Included in this drama are a cherub and angels hovering excitedly. The dove illuminates the foreground figures while shadows of the trees close off pictorial depth.
The narrative continues as we leave the baptism and move to the right where after forty days and nights of fasting, Christ is with Satan in a clearing. A forest is in the middle ground and then in the background beyond the trees are buildings representing the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Unlike the animated scene of the baptism, the temptation of Christ is calm. Satan is not depicted with horns or forked tail but appears as an old bearded and seemingly harmless figure in a gray robe.
A visitor to Venice today may still feast visually on its art but they will not see evidence of shipping and trade. The city is supported financially now by tourists who dine at fine restaurants, ride the canals in gondolas, and feed pigeons after lunch at McDonalds in St. Mark’s Square.
Hovak Najarian © 2013