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Veronese, the Dream of Saint Helena

Video transcript

depicting the world before us is hard enough but how does an artist to pick the dream and not just a dream but a figure having the dream we're looking at Veronese he's the dream of Saint Helena so this is a stunning image and although we can't credit fair and easy with the composition which by the way I love because it comes apparently from a printer that was based in turn on a drawing by Raphael we see this really stark spare composition it has a real sense of geometry and order to it in a way that makes sense that it would come from Raphael and from the high Renaissance there's a open window that forms a square through that is the dream space the space of what Saint Helena is dreaming of and what we see is this awfully handled gold beige atmosphere and in it are two rather cute angels holding up what seems like a massive weighty and very solid cross Saint Helena had a dream that helped her to locate the cross which had been buried for centuries the true cross that Christ was crucified on and think about this as a really important relic and think about the mysticism that is imbued in that object and the power of that object so according to legend Saint Helena actually made a trip part diplomatic and part spiritual on behalf of her son Constantine Constantine is at that moment where he makes Christianity no longer a crime his mother is in fact a Christian and Constantine himself converts to Christianity later in his life right now on his deathbed according to legend so here we have the critical moment in the Christian story but it's painted with a kind of elegance and a courtliness that reminds us that Varanasi is one of the great Venetian painters color is what Venetian painters were known for and this painting has an amazing harmony of cool greens and warm golds and oranges and is painted in a way that's really seductive even from far away one can see really loose brush works that bring out the highlights of the garments that she's wearing and also the deep folds I don't think I've seen brushwork that is so self evident until perhaps the late work of Velazquez the brushwork almost seems like an end in itself if you look at the white highlights between her sleeve and the keep that she wears it swirls and make these lovely arabesques but the harmony of the colors together those warm golds that you were talking about those oranges those rich Pink's against the cool stone and then against that neutral sky creates this abstraction in this very narrow palette with this very narrow tonal range that highlights the subtle differences between these colors and really amplifies them in some ways you can see both the way that he's using whitish paint sometimes a little bit with yellows in it or sometimes with a little bit of reds and oranges but also then these deep almost brick red colors in her skirt where in between her knees there's a shadow it's that loose open brushwork and this interesting color and then sue allottee that will be so important for later artists like Rubens and Velazquez look how very nazy contrasts the sensuality as you said of that brushwork on her body with the much more linear frozen handling of the architecture I'm really struck by for instance the physicality of the cross in her dream in contrasts the playful and organic qualities of the angels there's the secondary contrast of the dream out the window versus the physical space we inhabit so this is a painting that really is about setting up kinds of contrasts the loose handling of the paint the concreteness of the architecture the dream and reality this is a painting that will be really important for later artists who are interested in exploring the formal values of art he the handling of paint the handling of light and color and harmonies of color