Veronese at The Frick Collection

Veronese at The Frick Collection


(“Oboe Concerto in D Minor”
by Alessandro Marcello) – The two monumental
allegories by Paolo Veronese have been the focal
point of the West Gallery here at the Frick Collection since Henry Clay Frick
bought them in 1912. They came from some of the
most prominent collections of European history. Their provenance is extraordinary. They first appeared in the 17th century in the collection of Emperor Rudolf II in the Castle of Prague. They then belonged to
Queen Christina of Sweden in Stockholm and in Rome. They went through several Roman families, including the Odescalchi family, finally to reach the Duc
d’Orléans’ collection at the Palais Royal in Paris and then the collection
of Thomas Hope in England. They traveled from
Prague to Sweden to Rome to Paris to London before
arriving here in New York in 1912. Mr. Frick designed the
West Gallery to some degree to house these two huge paintings, and they’ve been on the
end walls of the gallery ever since the gallery was built. Paolo Veronese was one
of the most important and famous Italian Renaissance
artists working in Venice, and he really invented the type of large-scale allegorical
painting, such as these. These are amongst the
most beautiful examples of allegories by Veronese and by far the most
beautiful of his paintings in the United States. We don’t know who they were painted for and we don’t know exactly
when they were painted, but we know they appear in
a list of pictures offered for sale in 1567, and they were probably
painted a few years earlier around 1565. They both represent allegorical subjects dealing with allegorical figures and mythological figures
and mythological events with a moral undertone. The Choice Between Virtue and
Vice represents a young man, probably a portrait of the man who commissioned the painting, choosing between two beautiful women. On the left is Vice,
on the right is Virtue. He’s embracing Virtue while
Vice has just attacked him, and you can see his stocking
ripped and his calf bleeding. At top left of the picture
a Latin inscription reads, “Honor and virtue flourish after death,” suggesting that the choice
of a virtuous life will lead to rewards in the afterlife. The other painting instead represents a towering female figure, an allegorical figure of Divine Wisdom, recognizable by the sun
placed above her forehead. She stands over all the objects
to do with earthly power, trampling over the wealth of the world, over the royal crowns, over coins, over banners, over scepters. Next to her is Hercules, the
mythical figure from antiquity, in this case representing
brute force and strength, and at the bottom of the picture is a little Cupid representing love. Next to her is another inscription
in Latin from the Bible which reads, “Omnia
vanitas,” all is vanity. This comes from the book of Ecclesiastes which reads, “Vanity of
vanities, says the Preacher, “all is vanity.” Now, the messages of these
two pictures were no doubt linked to whoever commissioned them, and the idea was to promote
a virtuous and moral living amongst the people who commissioned them, the family, the individual who bought these paintings from Veronese, and of course there is
a message behind them about leading your life,
following the examples of Virtue, following the example of Divine Wisdom. (“Oboe Concerto in D Minor”
by Alessandro Marcello)

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