The Oppé sheet was in the past associated with a number of Veronese’s paintings, but as both Cocke and Rearick (in the Washington exhibition catalogue) pointed out, it clearly consists of studies relating to the theme of Rebecca and Eleazar, a subject treated by Veronese in a number of painted versions, all generally dated around 1582, of which the earliest and most monumental is now at Versailles.2 Rearick rightly noted that the closest version to the present drawing is actually the one, mostly if not entirely executed by Veronese himself, now in the Yarborough Collection at Brocklesby Park (fig. 1).3
In the lower part of the Oppé drawing, Veronese has, in his very characteristic style, made a series of rapidly noted figure studies. The two standing figures close to the centre of the sheet can be identified as the main protagonists in the story of Rebecca and Eleazer, but the artist is here focussing mainly on resolving the position of a servant with a jewel case. First he places this figure in between the two main figures, then he tries out an arrangement with the servant to the right, experimenting with different possible attitudes, before finally placing him to the extreme left, kneeling and seen from the back, as he would appear in the final painted version. Above these quickly sketched ideas, Veronese has studied several camels’ heads, which seem closely related to the camel feeding in the right foreground of the Brocklesby Park painting. The last part of this drawing to be executed, drawn over the camel’s heads at the edges, is the beautiful pair of female hands holding a glove.
This last, very realistic, image, totally unrelated to the main subject of the drawing, would appear to have been drawn from life. Veronese has first sketched the hands in pen and ink, and has then embellished them with abundant dark brown wash, which makes them not only by far the most striking motif within the page, but also almost three dimensional in their visual effect. As Rearick noted, such a motif would most likely occur in an elegant portrait of a lady, though no related portrait by Veronese has so far been identified. This is, according to Rearick, a drawing from the last years of Veronese’s life, executed between 1586 and 1588,4 a time when the artist seems to have favoured the use of a very heavy and pictorial dark brown wash to define and strongly emphasize the chiaroscuro in his compositions; see, for example, the Studies for the Raising of Lazarus and the Consacration of St Nicholas, in Berlin.5
Following Paolo Veronese’s death in 1588, and that of his son Carletto only some eight years later, the vast accumulation of unfinished pictures, cartoons, painted modelli, and around 1500 drawings, executed by various members of the family, passed to Veronese’s grandson Giuseppe Caliari. He lived to a considerable age, but after his death in 1681 all this material was finally dispersed, and a large number of the drawings entered the vast and famous Sagredo collection in Venice.
In the story of Rebecca and Eleazer at the Well, taken from the Old Testament and referred to in the truncated inscription, in Veronese's own hand, to the left of the sheet, we read how Eleazer, a servant of Abraham, was sent to Mesopotamia to find a wife for his master's son Isaac. Encountering Rebecca when he stopped with his camels by a well, he asked her for water, and she gave some not only to him but also to his attendants and their camels. Convinced by this kindness that she would make a good wife for Isaac, Eleazer presented her with jewels.
1. Cocke, op. cit., p. 227
2. Ibid., p. 238, reproduced fig. 71
3. Exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, loc. cit.
4. loc. cit.
5. Berlin, Staatlische Museen, inv. no. KdZ 26361; see R. Cocke, op. cit., p. 237, no. 100, reproduced p. 236
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