Magazine article The Spectator

Working with Veronese

Magazine article The Spectator

Working with Veronese

Article excerpt

Roderick Conway Morris talks to Peter Greenaway about creating a 'painting with a soundtrack'

Peter Greenaway is standing against the backdrop of Paolo Veronese's enormous 'The Wedding at Cana' in the Palladian refectory of the Venetian monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore and is in rhetorical mode: 'When we put art and cinema in the balance, what do we have? At least 8,000 years of painting and a miserable 114 years or so of cinema. Nothing in cinema has not already been essayed in still images in painting at one time or another. So I think it a very good idea to have a dialogue between painting and cinema.'

The occasion is a preview of The Wedding at Cana, subtitled A Vision by Peter Greenaway, the director's latest excursion into what might be called avant-garde sacred theatre.

It opened in the same week as the Venice Biennale and, bringing to a nearly 450-yearold painting 21st-century cinematic techniques, music, lighting and dizzying digital devices, emerged as the most stimulating installation of the whole event.

'"The Wedding" is an ideal picture for a dialogue between film and painting, not least because its dimensions are the size of a cinema screen and it has a wealth of characters. Some reckon there are 134 of them in the canvas, but we've counted 126, and we've given them all lines of dialogue. So what we've created is essentially a painting with a soundtrack, ' said Greenaway.

'But what language are these people speaking? The setting, the clothes, the architecture are Venetian, so they're certainly not speaking Hebrew, Aramaic, Hellenic Greek or Latin. They must be speaking Veronese's own language: Venetian. So, we've made the soundtrack in Venetian and English.'

Welsh-born Greenaway studied art and began life as a painter. But in 1965 he found a job at the Central Office of Information, which diverted him into film-editing and then directing. His first feature film, The Draughtsman's Contract, was completed in 1982, and since then a steady stream has followed, including Drowning by Numbers, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and 8 and a Half Women.

His recent return to the world of painting has stirred up deep reservoirs of youthful enthusiasm. 'The Wedding at Cana' is the third of a series of 'Nine Classic Paintings Revisited'. His previous 'animations' of great works featured Rembrandt's 'Nightwatch' at the Rijksmuseum and Da Vinci's 'Last Supper' in Milan. (Velazquez's 'Meninas', Picasso's 'Guernica' and Michelangelo's 'Last Judgment' are among those projected to follow. ) Veronese's masterpiece appears to have evoked in Greenaway an almost holidaylike joie de vivre. He describes the work in his director's notes as 'an ebullient painting, a feast, a wedding, a celebration, a grand event, a tumult, a swirl of bright convivial conversation, laughter, music, with a permissible promise of future sensuality and an expectation of happiness everlasting. Once upon a time and happily ever after. Here comes the sun. There is certainly a broad blast of bird-filled bright sky between grand architecture that opens a Palladian building to excitement, joy and the Italian sky.'

'The Wedding at Cana' is the largest and most peopled of all Veronese's banquet scenes. So large, indeed, that its almost 80 sq yards of canvas had to be painted in situ in the refectory. …

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