The Vision of St Helena by Paolo Veronese


There is much that is strikingly beautiful about this painting, The Venetian Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari) (1528-1588) is said to have painted this c.1580 and it is currently held in Room X of the Pinacoteca at the Vatican.

Here we see Helena (ca.248/50 – 330) adorned as a noblewoman, and so captures Veronese’s gift for combining religious motifs with worldly splendour. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, was the first Roman Augusta to be baptized. She had a vision in which it was revealed that she would discover Christ’s cross at Golgotha during a trip to Palestine and this painting seeks to capture that vision.

We see her resting her head on her hand, lost in the moment of the vision, while almost as part of that vision we see a winged putto supporting the uprights of a cross. There is a sense created here by Veronese that we are to be quiet, for we are watching a moment in time, when perhaps we should slowly and silently back away and leave her to her vision.  What captures my attention here the richness and sumptuousness of her attire – the heavy folds of her dress almost shimmer while the depth of colour both in her cloak and in the wall behind evoke almost a tangible feeling of velvet. The translucent scarf beneath her crown is ethereal and just such a delicate contrast to her surroundings and attire.

It is not known what the original purpose of the painting was but it was acquired by the Pinacoteca Capitolina from the collection of the princes of Pio di Savoia in 1750.

A beautiful artwork to contemplate…..


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