2007: The Facsimile of Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana

Commented by: Matilde Cartolari

Material Description

The photograph shows the lifting of the facsimile of Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana into position on the wall of the refectory of S. Giorgio Maggiore’s monastery in Venice (now Giorgio Cini Foundation). The facsimile was realized between 2006 and 2007 by Factum Arte after the original executed by Veronese in 1563 for the refectory and now in the Musée du Louvre in Paris. This photograph is one of a series representing the complex process of scanning, printing, assembling and placing the facsimile by employing advanced techniques of digital reproduction and expert craft skills.

Short Summary

In 1563 the rear wall of the refectory of S. Giorgio Maggiore’s monastery in Venice was decorated with the large-scale painting The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese. Taken to Paris after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, the painting was never returned. In 2007 the bare wall of the refectory in S. Giorgio Maggiore was filled with an extremely accurate digital facsimile of the missing painting held in Paris. Such replacement challenges our notions of authorship, uniqueness and originality, while indirectly testifying to the sense of loss created by the displacement itself.

Commentary

Since the moment of its first display in 1563, the Wedding at Cana painted by Paolo Veronese for S. Giorgio Maggiore’s refectory was celebrated as one of the greatest masterpieces of Venetian art. The painting was conceived as a sumptuous complement of the architecture of the room designed by Andrea Palladio, with which it maintains a dialogue in terms of space (the fictitious architecture and the real one), color (the colorful feast and the sobriety of the monastery) and function (the holy mensa of Christ and the daily dining room of the monks).

The high quality and worldwide reputation of the painting made it a desirable enrichment of the collection of masterpieces selected for the Louvre museum in Paris, where it was taken after the defeat of the Venetian Republic by the Napoleonic troops in 1797. Given its great dimension (ca. 67 sq. meters), the painting had to be cut into smaller portions in order to be rolled and transported to Paris, where it was restored and exhibited at the Louvre soon after its arrival. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, despite many negotiations and claims for restitution, the painting was never returned, allegedly because of difficulties in its transportation. The Parisian authorities sent a painting by Charles Le Brun (The Feast in the House of Simon) to Venice as a form of compensation. However, Le Brun’s painting was never accepted as such and the Venetians continued to claim the restitution of the lost Veronese.

The claim for restitution was invigorated again in the 1950s, when the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore – until then assigned to the military – became the headquarters of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, an institution for the promotion of culture created by Senator Vittorio Cini in memory of his son. This marked a new chapter in the life of the monastery and the refectory, which had been transformed into a theatre and divided into two floors, was restored to its Palladian aspect. Many parts of the original setting, however, were missing: the wooden panels, the furniture, the marble floor and, above all, Veronese’s painting. The empty wall of the refectory remained for decades as a visible void in the newly restored building and represented an »open wound and source of chagrin« for Vittorio Cini himself until his death in 1977 (Gagliardi 2011, p.8).

In 2005 a first attempt was made to recreate the absent painting by projecting its image on the wall of the refectory. The experiment was unsuccessful: the room had to be darkened and the dialogue between the painting and the surviving architecture was completely erased. A new solution had to be found. The Cini Foundation, subsequently commissioned Factum Arte to create a facsimile of Veronese’s painting in order to replace the missing original. The painting at the Louvre was first studied and digitalized with the most advanced techniques of non-contact scanning, both in two and three dimensions. The digital images were subsequently processed and reproduced by a multi-layer printer. The pigments were applied directly onto a canvas covered with preparatory gesso layers, in order to imitate the composition of the original. Once assembled, the panels were retouched by expert conservators and finally varnished before being installed on the rear wall of S. Giorgio’s refectory.

The high level of truthfulness of the facsimile was achieved by the use of digital technologies able to register, encode and reproduce every aspect of the object, including its materiality. The copy does not only replicate Veronese’s image, but also the texture of the canvas, the painter’s visible brush strokes, the thickness and irregularities of the surface as well as the traces of its history (such as damages and alterations due to the aging of pigments or previous restorations). The facsimile, therefore, is not the reproduction of the painting in a supposedly pristine and original state, which would have been impossible to verify. The aim of the facsimile is rather to recreate the dialogue between the painting and the architecture for which it was conceived, by providing the visitor with a strong aesthetic experience of such unity.

The setting of the facsimile in S. Giorgio Maggiore allows to recreate some conditions (height, lighting, spatial relations) which were lost due to the removal and musealization of the original painting, now displayed in one of the Louvre’s most crowded rooms together with Leonardo’s iconic Gioconda. According to the founder of Factum Arte, Adam Lowe, this in situ relation is part of the originality of the painting and deeply affects the visitors’ experience: »(…) many people have started saying that the experience you get in front of the copy is more authentic than the experience you can get in the Louvre« (The art of facsimiles 2011, p.130).

Together with the sociologist Bruno Latour, Lowe claimed the need to reassess the notion of originality and reproduction: »(…) originality does not exist in a quasi-religious notion of ›aura‹ but it lies in more physical things. (…) It is not fixed and it can be bestowed and removed.« (Lowe 2011, p.73) Latour and Lowe invite us to consider originality as a dynamic and open process, as already happens in the field of performing arts. Therefore, the facsimile would represent just one of the possible performances of Veronese’s painting, a re-enactment that does not threat or diminish, but rather add a new chapter to the history of the original itself. In these respects, the whole process can be seen as an attempt to overcome the »sense of fakery, of counterfeiting, of betrayal« that modern society usually associates with the notion of a copy: »it is almost impossible to say that the facsimile (…) is not about falsification but it is a stage in the verification of Veronese’s achievement, a part of its ongoing biography« (Latour-Lowe 2011, p.109).

The photograph of the installation shows the final step of the process, when the copy is being lifted onto its position on the rear wall of the refectory. The elevated perspective already allows us to appreciate the nascent dialogue between Veronese’s painting and the Palladian architecture: the frame of the vault emerging from the scaffoldings is almost mirrored in the painted architecture of the upper corner visible just below it. This silent artistic dialogue is only disturbed by the prominent mechanism of the bull wheel and the workmen beside and below it, whose major concern is to lift the enormous and high-priced facsimile without damaging it.

The technical effort involved in this backstage operation is made visible in order to prompt the surprise and increase the admiration of the viewer towards the entire process. The facsimile itself does not only represent a further chapter in the biography of a recognized masterpiece –  as Lowe pointed out – but it is also a great technical achievement, a meeting point between computer science and art, history and modernity. Curiously enough, this image of replacement echoes a number of other historical images of artworks at the moment of their displacement, when technical difficulty often appeared as a legitimating and a nobilitating aspect of the removal. Such symmetry reveals – behind the display of high-tech procedures granting truthfulness and accuracy as well as the sophisticated theorization surrounding it – how the process of substitution ultimately represents a symbolical and highly emotional way to re-appropriate a lost masterpiece.

Related Video and Images

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCWY6tMAzl4 (accessed on 02 October 2018)

http://www.factum-arte.com/pag/38/A-facsimile-of-the-Wedding-at-Cana-by-Paolo-Veronese (accessed on 02 October 2018)

Bibliography

»Factum Arte«: Pasquale Gagliardi (ed.), The Miracle of Cana. The Originality of the Re-production, Caselle di Sommacampagna 2011, pp.100-101.

Pasquale Gagliardi, »The return of The Wedding at Cana to the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore«, in: Pasquale Gagliardi, ( ed.), The Miracle of Cana. The Originality of the Re-production, Caselle di Sommacampagna, 2011, pp.7-9.

Bruno Latour, Adam Lowe, »The migration of the aura, or how to explore the original through its facsimile«, in: Pasquale Gagliardi, (ed.), The Miracle of Cana. The Originality of the Re-production, Caselle di Sommacampagna 2011, pp.105-115.

Adam Lowe, »Giving birth to the facsimile«, in: Pasquale Gagliardi  (ed.), The Miracle of Cana. The Originality of the Re-production. Caselle di Sommacampagna 2011, pp.73-92.

Adam Lowe, »Pigments and some practical notes on the recording of The Wedding at Cana«, in: Pasquale Gagliardi,  (ed.), The Miracle of Cana. The Originality of the Re-production. Caselle di Sommacampagna 2011, pp.93-99.

Teresa Stoppani, »After the First Miracle: Greenaway On ›Veronese‹, in: Log, 18 (Winter 2010), pp. 59-64.

»The art of facsimiles or how to keep culture alive (George Stolz interviews Adam Lowe)«, in: Pasquale Gagliardi, ( ed.), The Miracle of Cana. The Originality of the Re-production. Caselle di Sommacampagna (Verona), 2011, pp.128—132.

Cite this article as:
2007: The Facsimile of Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana, commented by Matilde Cartolari, in: Translocations. Ikonographie: A collection of commented image sources on cultural heritage relocations since antiquityhttps://transliconog.hypotheses.org/kommentierte-bilder-2/2007-the-facsimile-of-veroneses-the-wedding-at-cana, published 29.01.2019.