11/30/2012 02:34 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2013

"Treasurer of the Art": Veronese in Florida

About Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese, 17th-century writer Marco Boschini raved: "He is the treasurer of the art and of the colors. This is not painting -- it is magic that casts a spell on people who see it produced."

Among those spellbound by Veronese's theatrical canvases were American art collectors Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry Clay Frick and circus impresario John Ringling.

Ringling's Sarasota, Fla., art museum is the venue for "Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice" (Dec. 7, 2012 to April 14, 2013). Seventy Veronese paintings and drawings from North American collections are united for the artist's first comprehensive U.S. survey in 25 years.

"It was easy for Americans to get excited about Veronese," says Virginia Brilliant, associate curator of European art at the Ringling Museum of Art. "Set in beautiful landscapes, with gorgeous fabric and a degree of wonder and color, his works were not overtly religious. And Venice was a Republic -- not out of step with democratic values."

The show is organized around Veronese's sumptuous portraits, his monumental mythological, and biblical subjects, and paintings by his bustling Venice workshop. The centerpiece
is "Rest on the Flight Into Egypt," a large, lushly painted altarpiece John Ringling bought sight-unseen for his fledgling museum in 1925. It was one of several popular biblical themes Veronese returned to throughout his career.

Veronese's vibrant palette is on view throughout -- colors that inspired generations of artists from Rubens to the Impressionists. Dresses and drapery also stand out in Veronese's portraits of aristocratic families and clerics -- the symbolism of Renaissance costume is explored with 16th century textiles from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Also on display are works from Veronese's prolific Venice workshop -- a family operation that employed his brother, Benedetto Caliari, and sons, Carlo and Gabriele. By the 1580s, the workshop was so busy Veronese turned down a commission from Philip II of Spain.

Heralded as one of the most talented draftsmen of his day, Veronese produced drawings for most of his commissions. Examples of the artist's works on paper - from loose preliminary sketches to highly finished chiaroscuro sheets -- offer a deeper understanding of his creative process.

For John Ringling, the son of immigrant parents from Iowa, Veronese personified Venice -- the city he fell in love with during frequent trips to Europe in search of circus acts. In a six-year collecting frenzy, Ringling bought an extraordinary number of Venetian pictures -- including three by Veronese, a painting he thought was a Titian, and a dozen works by Jacopo Bassano.

Ringling's love affair with Venice didn't end with paintings. Though Venetian style architecture was relatively rare in America, adds Virginia Brilliant, Ringling modeled his mansion after a Venetian palazzo.

Today, Ca' d'Zan -- Ringling's 56-room seaside mansion -- is filled with his eclectic collection of European decorative arts. For more information, visit