Excerpted from H.W. Janson, History of Art, Fifth Edition, 1995, 625.
From a session of the Inquisition Tribunal in Venice of Paolo Veronese
Because of the liberal religious atmosphere of Venice, Veronese was never required to make the various changes to his painting of the Last Supper asked for by the tribunal of the Inquisition in this interrogation. All parties seem to have been satisfied with a mere change of title, to Supper in the House of Levi. Veronese responds to the Inquisitors in the following hearing transcript.
Today, Saturday, the 18th of the month of July, 1573, having been asked by the Holy Office to appear before the Holy Tribunal, Paolo Caliari of Verona, …Questioned about his profession: Answer: I paint and compose figures. Q: Do you know the reason why you have been summoned? A: No, sir. Q: Can you imagine it? A: I can well imagine. Q: Say what you think the reason is. A: According to what the Reverend Father, the Prior of the Convent of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, …told me, he had been here and Your Lordships had ordered him to have painted [in the picture] a Magdalen in place of a dog. I answered him by saying I would gladly do everything necessary for my honor and for that of my painting, but that I did not understand how a figure of Magdalen would be suitable there…. Q: What picture is this of which you have spoken? A: This is a picture of the Last Supper that Jesus Christ took with His Apostles in the house of Simon. … Q: At this Supper of Our Lord have you painted other figures? A: Yes, milords. Q: Tell us how many people and describe the gestures of each. A: There is the owner of the inn, Simon; besides this figure I have made a steward, who, I imagined, had come there for his own pleasure to see how the things were going at the table. There are many figures there which I cannot recall, as I painted the picture some time ago….
Q: In this Supper which you made for Santi Giovanni e Paolo what is the significance of the man whose nose is bleeding? A: I intended to represent a servant whose nose was bleeding because of some accident. Q: What is the significance of those armed men dressed as Germans, each with a halberd in his hand? … A: We painters take the same license the poets and the jesters take and I have represented these two halberdiers, one drinking and the other eating nearby on the stairs. They are placed there so that they might be of service because it seemed to me fitting, according to what I have been told, that the master of the house, who was great and rich, should have such servants. Q: And that man dressed as a buffoon with a parrot on his wrist, for what purpose did you paint him on that canvas? A: For ornament, as is customary. Q: Who are at the table of Our Lord? A: The Twelve Apostles. Q: What is St. Peter, the first one, doing? A: Carving the lamb in order to pass it to the other end of the table. Q: What is the Apostle next to him doing? A: He is holding a dish in order to receive what St. Peter will give him. Q: Tell us what the one next to this one is doing. A: He has a toothpick and cleans his teeth…. Q: Did anyone commission you to paint Germans, buffoons, and similar things in that picture? A: No, milords, but I received the commission to decorate the picture as I saw fit. It is large and, it seemed to me, it could hold many figures. Q: Are not the decorations which you painters are accustomed to add to paintings or pictures supposed to be suitable and proper to the subject and the principal figures or are they for pleasure—simply what comes to your imagination without any discretion or judiciousness? A: I paint pictures as I see fit and as well as my talent permits. Q: Does it seem fitting at the Last Supper of the Lord to paint buffoons, drunkards, Germans, dwarfs and similar vulgarities? A: No, milords. Q: Do you not know that in Germany and in other places infected with heresy it is customary with various pictures full of scurrilousness and similar inventions to mock, vituperate, and scorn the things of the Holy Catholic Church in order to teach bad doctrines to foolish and ignorant people? A: Yes that is wrong. … After these things had been said, the judges announced that the above named Paolo would be obliged to improve and change his painting within a period of three months from the day of this admonition and that according to the opinion and decision of the Holy Tribunal all the corrections should be made at the expense of the painter and that if he did not correct the picture he would be liable to the penalties imposed by the Holy Tribunal. Thus they decreed in the best manner possible.