The depiction based on the biblical story portrays the moment when the risen Christ, having comes across two of his disciples, thought to be Luke and Cleopas, on the road to Emmaus, joins them for supper. We see Christ at the head of the table being served by the servant whilst at the opposite end of the table sit Cleopas and Luke who have just realised the identity of their fellow diner. This supper scene has been depicted in paintings by all the great Italian painters, such as Caravaggio, Titian, and Tintoretto as well as other European artists such as Durer, Rembrandt, Velazquez and Jordaens. However this painting of the Emmaus Supper by Veronese incorporates into the scene a group family portrait. There are three men, who maybe brothers, a woman, ten children and an infant in the arms of the woman. They are all dressed in contemporary 16th costumes. It could be that is a family who has commissioned the work. Where the work was to be hung is unknown but thought to be in the main hall of one of the new Venetian palaces.
The combination of the biblical scene with a secular scene works well and there is a lavishness about the secular depiction giving it a grand and stately appearance. There is an element of humour about the depiction as we look down below the supper table at the two young girls who play with the large dog. To the left, in the background, we witness a prelude to the supper as we see the two disciples with Christ as they make their way through the countryside to the village of Emmaus and the inn.
It is interesting to note that Veronese liked adding ordinary people into religious scenes and liked to incorporate his love of richness and ornamental embellishment in his religious works as in this painting. However, it was to get him into trouble with the Inquisition, who viewed the combining of secular and religious depictions into another of his painting in which, according to them, he had crowded “irrelevant and irreverent” figures into the work. They took a dim view of it and they looked upon it as a sign of disrespect towards the Catholic Church. I will tell you more about that painting in another blog.