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François-Nicholas Delaistre (1746-1832)
Paolo Caliari Veronese
1803
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The subject is identified as Paolo Caliari Veronese (1746-1832) by the inscription at the base of this portrait bust. Veronese was an Italian Renaissance painter and considered one of the great masters of the Venetian school, creating frescoes, altarpieces, ceiling paintings, enormous canvases and portraits. This bust was created almost 200 years after Veronese’s death, telling us something of his lasting reputation.

Portrayed in dark bronze, Paolo Caliari Veronese is looking down. His head is tilted slightly forwards pushing his chin towards his chest. His posture, in combination with the deep frown lines carved into his forehead and his inward-looking gaze, makes him appear as if he is lost in contemplation. The fact that he is wearing a stiff, high collared and buttoned shirt emphasises his seriousness and perhaps builds on the suggestion that he was a man of intelligence and education.

Bronze is a hard water-resistant alloy of copper which can be highly polished as it is here. Even though the material is hard and cold to the touch, the artist has managed to re-create the delicate qualities of fabric and hair and creases in the skin. The artist, François-Nicholas Delaistre, most probably moulded this bust using the lost wax casting method. This is done by first making a sculpture in wax. Wax can be easily modelled when warm and carved when cold, allowing an artist to achieve extremely fine detail. The wax sculpture is then painted with several coats of slip (liquid clay) to get into the details and finally covered with a thick casing of clay. The wax melts, and all that remains is a hard clay mould ready to have molten bronze poured into it. When the bronze has set, the artist finally removes the clay mould to reveal an identical bronze sculpture to that of the original wax one, ready to be polished and finished.
Compare this bust to the bust of Madame de Sérilly carved in marble. Is bronze perhaps more masculine than marble? Do you think the material influences the way you view the portraits?
Veronese was the first known artist to defend creative freedom. In 1573 he created The Feast in the House of Simon (Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice). The painting is a huge rectangular canvas (42 x 18 feet) of a scene reminiscent of the Last Supper, but portraying Jesus surrounded by countless unsavoury characters, including foreign soldiers, merchants, tax collectors, a man picking his teeth, several mongrel dogs and a parrot. Subjected to continuous interrogation he declared that: 'We painters take the same license poets and jesters take...I paint pictures as I see fit and as well as my talent permits'. Under intense pressure to destroy or change the painting, he eventually opted to change its title to The Feast in the House of Levi.
What do you think of his statement? Do you agree or disagree with it and what does that mean for the way you look at portraits?
Do they have to bear an absolute likeness to their subject or are artists free to paint or sculpt the sitter any way they see fit?
Artist: Francois-Nicolas Delaistre Title:Paolo Caliari Veronese
Materials and technique: Bronze
Dimensions: 70 x 59 cm
The Bowes Museum: S.98
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