Venice, 1570s, and Paolo Veronese, who had been commissioned by the Dominicans to paint the Last Supper, finds himself up against the Venetian version of the Spanish Inquisition. His depiction of this biblical scene seemed irregular, to say the least. Perhaps even blasphemous?
The Lost Last Supper – Yale University Press Blog
That dog, what is the dog doing there, a dog in the vicinity of Jesus, this is surely blasphemy? He should have painted Mary Magdalene there, should he not?
Yes, but he did not think she would look right in that spot.
And that bloody nose? That’s not fitting, is it?
Yes, but it was intended as a servant who had had an accident.
And what about that man there, the one who looks so German, armed with a halberd? That would take some time to explain. Please answer!
You see, we painters are accustomed to taking the same liberties as poets and madmen, and so I painted those two halberdiers, one eating and the other drinking at the foot of the stairs, yes, but so that they can immediately be of service, because I believe that a man as wealthy as the host would have had such servants.
And that fellow who looks like a court jester, with a parrot on his fist, what is he doing there?
He is there for decoration, as is customary.
And who is sitting at the Lord’s table?
The twelve Apostles.
What is Saint Peter doing, the first one sitting there?
He is carving the lamb into portions for the whole table.
And the man beside him?
He is holding up his plate.
And the next one?
He is picking his teeth with a fork.
Who do you think was actually present?
I believe there was only Christ and his apostles, but if there is any space remaining in a painting then I fill it with figures of my own invention.
So did someone commission you to include Germans and jesters and people of that sort?
No, Sirs, but I saw that I had lots of space, so I could add a great deal.
The Holy Tribunal determines that this rabble is not worthy to accompany such a sacred event, and orders the dog, the bloody nose, the tooth-picker, the Germans, all of it, to be painted over. But the artist, with the permission of the Dominicans, has a better idea.
He barely changes the painting at all, he just gives it a different name, and that is what it is still called today in the Accademia: Feast in the House of Levi, and if paintings were allowed to have a subtitle, in this case it might be: or, Hoodwinking the Inquisition.