The opening of the Venice Biennale last month was highlighted by a video installation commemorating one of the fabled city’s hometown heroes. “The Wedding at Cana” , the signature work of Paolo Veronese, one of the three great painters from the Venetian Renaissance (along with Tintoretto and Titian) was given in a modern-day tribute in a video installation piece by the filmmaker Peter Greenaway.
It’s curious to see what changes in these contemporary interpretations of past mastery, and whether the original message of the work becomes compromised. On one hand, Greenaway’s work could be criticized as debasing “Disney-fied kitsch,” as Carol Vogel put it in her review of the piece.
Yet Greenaway’s efforts go beyond the dazzingly superficial. His “Nine Classical Paintings Revisited” series, of which this work is a part of, has fleshed out intriguing nuances that would otherwise go unnoticed to modern audiences.
“Nightwatching,” (above) and “Rembrandt: J’ Accuse” are two works in which Greenaway explored the subtext of Rembrandt’s most famous work “The Nightwatch.” Greenaway’s story presents the headstrong artist seeking to expose the hypocricy of the wealthy Dutch militiamen that are his subjects and patrons. Greenaway theorizes that Rembrandt’s subtle details in the facial expressions, glances, and positioning of these men in the portrait, is an allusion to their part in a murderous conspiracy that Rembrandt accidentally witnessed. Juicy art history, indeed.
In OMNP’s opinion, a little style and flair isn’t the worst thing, especially if it gets people interested in actually looking and learning the stories behind great works like these, instead of merely taking a picture and a postcard.
While the immensity of Veronese’s original is a spectacle in itself, recasting the various biblical figures and references into something that is actually relevant and engaging to today’s audiences is no small feat. Vogel’s observations of the show has OMNP hoping we can see it Stateside:
” (the) grand space came alive with images, music, words and animated diagrams and special effects that proceeded to parse from every possible angle the Veronese’s pictorial composition, social structure and drama, which is ostensibly about Jesus’ first miracle, the turning of water into wine, but is really about the lifestyles of the rich and aristocratic of 16th-century Venice. No part of the Veronese image actually moves, but the piece never rests. ”