The world has been wrestling with good versus evil forever, and the great artist Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) posed the issues by creating allegorical paintings, five of which are on view at The Frick Collection through July 16, 2006. The title of the small but impressive exhibition is “Veronese’s Allegories: Virtue, Love, and Exploration in Renaissance Venice.” Installed in the Frick’s Oval Room, it is the first show in the United States devoted to the artist since 1988.
The five huge paintings include “The Choice Between Virtue and Vice,” “Wisdom and Strength,” “Venus and Mars United by Love,” “Allegory of Navigation with an Astrolabe” and “Allegory of Navigation with a Cross-Staff.”
Each work is brilliantly executed and reflects tension in the juxtaposition of figures and the supportive or contrary details. For example, there is complexity in the “Venus and Mars” painting, with the nearly nude Venus cradling Mars to her bosom, one of Venus’s breasts lactating, two cupids in each lower corner, water dripping at the left, a horse included in the total picture and elaborate scenic detail providing the setting.
There is similar complexity in “The Choice Between Virtue and Vice,” a tug of war suggested as the male figure is embracing the female representing virtue, with another figure representing vice grasping him from the rear
While the paintings are allegorical, the detail is rooted in reality. For example, in “Wisdom and Strength,” the folds of the garment cloaking the female figure are painted so effectively that one can almost feel their weight and texture.
Although there are but five fascinating works, they open the viewer to the world and accomplishment of this master, as well as to the concepts that he strove to evoke. The paintings dealing with exploration suggest early methods of telling time and of navigation technique. Of course, it is one thing to be allegorical. It is quite another to accomplish the goal with the artistry that Veronese was able to achieve. At the Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street. Phone: 212-288-0700.