A powerful contradiction verging on psychic whiplash is built into the grandiose visual machines that are Paolo Veronese’s five Allegories, currently on glorious view in the Oval Room at the Frick Collection. Not only does this contradictory whiplash fuel Veronese’s paintings, allowing them to have one foot firmly planted in the art-historical firmament and the other in the shifting sands of the ephemeral, it produces one of the most jolting splits between subject matter and content in all of art.
The meta-subjects of Veronese’s Allegories, painted in Venice between 1565 and 1575 by an artist at the height of his powers and vying for top-dog status, include virtue, fortitude, rectitude, and wisdom. Veronese renders an empire of high standards and honor, a realm where you are an empowered poet-philosopher, looking on not in awe but with a sense of Platonic contemplation.
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