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European Paintings - Ital. 16th c.

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Three Cherubim

1570s (?)
16th century
105.41 cm x 81.92 cm (41 1/2 in. x 32 1/4 in.)

Paolo Veronese (Verona, Italy, 1528 - 1588, Venice, Italy) Primary

Object Type: painting
Artist Nationality: Europe, Italian
Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
Accession Number: 2017.1417

This painting is a fragment from a much larger composition. Cherubim along with seraphim form the highest order of angels in the Christian celestial hierarchy. In Byzantine and medieval art they were represented as heads surrounded by six wings. Varied and humanized in the Renaissance, they evolved into the sweet-faced, two-winged creatures seen here, and further into the baby angels, or putti, that populate many paintings. Veronese used groups of cherubim, first in the background of the upper reaches of altarpieces, then more prominently at the boundary between heavenly and earthly zones in various religious works. The group just above Saint Michael in the Petrobelli Altarpiece is typical. Judging by the size of these heads, the heavy weave of canvas, and the broad handling of paint, this fragment must come from a comparably large work, probably an altarpiece.

While the type and function of these cherubim are evident, their realization is problematic. The arrangement of the three heads seems awkward, with their foreshortening uncoordinated and the upper two badly crowded. The individual heads lack volume, tending to flatten into simple shapes with no connection to their wings. Even allowing for condition––moderate abrasion and scattered paint losses throughout––the brushwork seems coarse, the accents in heavy pigment––the curls of the cherub on the right––superficial, and the surface inert. The habits are those of Veronese, but the hand shows little understanding of structure or sensitivity. Whatever the source of this fragment, an assistant was responsible for its execution.

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