If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Veronese, the Dream of Saint Helena

Paolo Veronese, The Dream of Saint Helena, c. 1570, oil on canvas, 197.5 x 115.6 cm (The National Gallery, London). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(upbeat piano music) Dr. Zucker: Depicting the world before us is hard enough, but how does an artist depict a dream. Dr. Harris: Not just a dream, but a figure having a dream. We're looking at Vernoses, The Dream of Saint Helena. Dr. Zucker: This is a stunning image and although we can't credit Veronese with the composition, which by the way, I love, because it comes apparently from a print that was based in turn on a drawing by Raphael. We see this really stark, spare composition. Dr. Harris: 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. Dr. Zucker: What we see, is the softly handled gold beige atmosphere. In it are two rather cute angels, holding up what seems like a massive weighty and very solid cross. Dr. Harris: 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. Dr. Zucker: Think about this as a really important relic and think about the mysticism that is imbued in that object. Dr. Harris: And the power of that object. Dr. Zucker: According to legend, Saint Helena actually made a trip, part diplomatic and part spiritual. Dr. Harris: On behalf of her son Constantine. Dr. Zucker: Constantine is at that moment where he makes Christianity no longer a crime. His mother is in fact a Christine. Dr. Harris: Constantine himself converts to Christianity later in his life. Dr. Zucker: Right. On his death bed, according to legend. 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 Veronese is one of the great Venetian painters. Dr. Harris: Color is what Venetian painters were known for. This painting has an amazing harmony of cool greens and warm golds and oranges. It's painted in a way that's really seductive. Even from far away, one can see really loose brushworks that bring out the highlights of the garments that's she's wearing, also the deep folds. Dr. Zucker: I don't think I've seen brushwork that is so self evident, until perhaps the late work of Lascaux. Dr. Harris: The brush work almost seems like an end in itself. If you look at the white highlights between her sleeve and the cape that she wears, it swirls and makes these lovely arabesque. Dr. Zucker: The harmony of the colors together, those warm golds that you were talking about, those oranges, those rich pinks against the cool stone and then against that neutral sky, creates this abstraction in this very narrow palette. It's very narrow total range that highlights the subtle differences between the colors and really amplifies them in some ways. Dr. Harris: You can see both the way that he's using a whitish paint, sometimes a little bit with yellows in it, or sometimes with a little bit of reds and oranges, 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 his interest in color and sensuality that will be so important for later artist like Rubens and Velazquez. Dr. Zucker: Look how Veronese contrast the sensuality, as you said, of that brushwork on her body, with much more linear frozen handling of the architecture. I'm really struck by, for instance, the physicality of the cross in her dream. It contrast with the playful and organic qualities of the angels. There's the secondary contrast of the dream out the window, verses the physical space we inhabit. This is a painting that really is about setting up kinds of contrast. Dr. Harris: 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 artist who are interested in exploring the formal values of art; paint, the handling of paint, the handling of light and color and harmonies of color. (upbeat piano music)