Veronese – The Family Of Darius Before Alexander

Continuing our occasional series featuring some of the finest pictures in London’s National Gallery, Nige looks at an under-appreciated Venetian master…

These days restfulness and sheer undemanding beauty are not qualities we value very highly in the art of the past, preferring emotion and drama – hence our preference for Caravaggio over, say, Veronese. Yes, Paolo Veronese, the unfashionable, underrated third in the great Venetian trio, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese…

The Veroneses in the National Gallery are among the most restfully beautiful pictures in the collection, and among the most purely pleasurable to the eye. Yet nobody seems to linger long in front of them. The biggest of them is The Family Of Darius Before Alexander, a grand refectory painting depicting an incident after the Battle of Issus, when the family of the conquered Darius pay homage to Alexander – and Darius’s mother mistakenly makes her obeisances to Alexander’s splendidly dressed friend Hephaeston.

Not that it matters – Veronese makes little of the incident itself (in fact it’s not even clear which is Alexander, which Hephaeston), absorbing its drama into the static repose of a frieze-like, flattened composition. This painting is all about beauty – the beauty of the draughtsmanship, the play of light and shade, and, above all, the beauty of the colours. Even among the Venetians, Veronese is the supreme colourist.

The Family Of Darius is not dramatic, not expressive – it is a painting to enjoy, to let the eye roam at leisure over its surface, enjoying the details (the animal life is great value), relishing the colours and textures of flesh and dress and stone. It is beautiful, it is restful, it is staggeringly accomplished.

Next time you’re in the National, seek it out (it’s in Room 9), spend some time with it, enjoy it – you’ll feel better for the experience.

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About Author Profile: Nige

Cravat-Wearer of the Year Nige, who, like Mr Kenneth Horne, prefers to remain anonymous, is a founder blogger of The Dabbler and has been a co-blogger on the Bryan Appleyard Thought Experiments blog. He is the sole blogger on Nigeness, and (for now) a wholly owned subsidiary of NigeCorp. His principal aim is to share various of life's pleasures.

2 thoughts on “Veronese – The Family Of Darius Before Alexander

  1. Worm
    August 30, 2011 at 11:08

    you definately have a trend towards eye-popping colour Nige (just as I do) I should imagine that the type of paints required to make such lasting brightness must have been pretty rare and expensive in those days

    James Hamilton
    August 30, 2011 at 11:59

    Can only imagine that – ten years before Lepanto – a Venetian would have found a painting about a Western victory over an Eastern despot almost irresistable. The equivalent of the Airfix boxes of my childhood with the chaps dishing it out to Jerry.

    But yes, despite all that, “restful” is right, here, isn’t it? There’s a dignfied quiet: you can almost hear the chatter of fountains from out of shot.

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