The piece was commissioned in 1562 by the BenedictineMonastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy, and completed in fifteen months by the year 1563. It hung in the refectory of the monastery for 235 years, until it was plundered by Napoléon in 1797 and shipped to Paris. The painting was cut in half for the journey and stitched back together in Paris. It was not returned in the post-Napoléonic conciliation treaties which pursued some restitution of looted artworks, and in its stead a feeble Charles Le Brun painting (Feast in the House of Simon) was shipped to Venice.
In 1989, the Louvre began a $1 million renovation, comparable to the work done on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. A group of artists calling themselves the Association to Protect the Integrity of Artistic Heritage protested and demanded a review of the restoration. In June 1992, with the restoration incomplete, the Louvre was embarrassed when the painting suffered damage in two separate incidents. In the first, the canvas was spattered by water from a leaking air vent. In the second, two days later, curators were raising the 1.5 ton painting to a higher position on the wall when one of the supports gave way, and the entire painting toppled to the floor. The metal framework tore five holes in the canvas, one of them four feet long; architectural and background areas of the painting were affected, but no faces. The museum was criticized for keeping the incident private for an entire month while rumors swirled.
On 11 September 2007, the 210th anniversary of the looting of the painting by Napoleon's troops, a facsimile of the original was hung in its original place in the Palladian Refectory. The computerized facsimile was commissioned by the Giorgio Cini Foundation of Venice with the collaboration of the Musée du Louvre, Paris, where the original remains, and made by Factum Arte, a Madrid-based team of artists and conservators, founded and directed by the British artist Adam Lowe. It consists of 1,591 computer graphic files. (See Returning "Les Noces de Cana").
The assembly is sumptuously dressed in timeless finery, some with orientalized touches. Behind the musicians, Jesus and his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary (an elder woman in simple dress), are seated with halos. Jesus is perhaps the only one who impassively looks straight on at the observer. Above Jesus, on an elevated balcony or walkway, several men butcher the meat of an unidentified animal. To their right more meat is also being brought in.
Art critics generally think this animal is a lamb, considering Jesus is the sacrificed "Lamb of God", or Agnus Dei. The butchered lamb is therefore symbolic of his future sacrifice. Christ is placed directly under the blade. Towards the bottom right part of the picture, there is a man pouring wine from a huge, ornate jug. Next to him stands a man studying a glass of wine. On the left side, a man is proffered wine by a dark-skinned boy and a dwarf holds a parrot. Although many of the characters in the painting are holding wine glasses, none appear to be intoxicated, but are healthily enjoying the feast.
This vertical axis is also highly symbolic. Above Christ the lamb is being butchered, beneath Christ are musicians. In front of the musicians there is an hourglass, which in art refers to vanity. There coexist earthly pleasures such as music, as well as reminders of mortality.
In this sense, the religious symbolism takes preeminence over the logic of banqueting protocol. Thus, while the guests – Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and some of the Apostles – sit at the center, "the bride and groom are seated at the left end of the table"  (from the point of view of the spectator).
The feast is well attended; over 130 figures crowd the painting, and not a single one is visibly speaking. This is because the painting was commissioned for a Benedictine Monastery, and silence in their refectory was strictly observed. The center of the painting is dominated by a vast blue sky, important because it opened up the room where the painting was originally hung.
This was not Veronese's only sally into the depiction of throngs; the meal in his painting of the House of Levi also depicts a multitude. There were likely many reasons for this choice. Painters were often paid by the figure; it also offered an opportunity to concentrate on festive coloration or demonstrate skill at composition without having to overly dramatize the individual gesture. Painting crowds, however, was not without risk, for the variety of pedestrian intrusions of dogs and sundry persons into the Levi painting drew the attention of the Inquisition.
In addition, the number of figures apt for a painting became a fevered controversy among artists; for example, in the next century, Andrea Sacchi argued that only a few figures (less than a dozen) could permit an artist to honestly depict an individualized and unique expression, while Pietro da Cortona thought armies of figures could consolidate a general image. Joshua Reynolds, the premier English painter of his day, said:
The subjects of the Venetian painters are mostly such as give them an opportunity of introducing a great number of figures, such as feasts, marriages, and processions, public martyrdoms, or miracles. I can easily conceive that (Paolo) Veronese, if ... asked, would say that no subject was proper for an historical picture but such as admitted at least forty figures; for in a less number, he would assert, there could be no opportunity of the painter's showing his art in composition, his dexterity of managing and disposing the masses of light, and groups of figures, and of introducing a variety of Eastern dresses and characters in their rich stuffs.
The figures in the painting are most likely enjoying dessert, as the food on the table is sugar, fruits and (according to at least one art curator at the Louvre[who?]) quince jam. Ironically, it also appears as though the main course is being prepared (butchered animals). This further credits the theory that the animals are lambs, and their purpose is symbolic, not practical.