Tintoretto


Tintoretto
(Jacopo Robusti; 1518-1594)
   Leading master of the Venetian School, along with Titian and Paolo Veronese. Tintoretto is a nickname that resulted from his father's profession as a fabric dyer (in Italian, tintore). Carlo Ridolfi, who wrote Tintoretto's biography in 1642, informs that the artist was apprenticed to Titian who influenced him and with whom he had a turbulent relationship that led to his eventual expulsion from the master's studio. His works are known for their dynamism and spontaneity that at times lead to the raw canvas peeking through his pictorial surfaces. Tintoretto, in fact, is said to have worked with very large brushes that allowed him to apply the colors swiftly. Also characteristic of his style is the mixing of deep reds with black for application in the shaded areas, which add a visual richness to his scenes.
   The work that established Tintoretto's reputation is the commission he received from the Scuola di San Marco, one of the six large confraternities in Venice. This was his St. Mark Freeing a Christian Slave (1548; Venice, Galleria dell' Accademia) for the Scuola's meeting hall, where a slave is punished for having visited the saint's relics in Alexandria without his master's consent. He and the foreshortened St. Mark who comes to his rescue form two parallel diagonals that rapidly recede into space, one of Tintoretto's favored compositional arrangements. The astonished figures who witness the miracle twist and turn in dynamic poses as do the draperies in response to their movements. When the painting was unveiled, Titian's pupils criticized it to the point that the discouraged Tintoretto removed the work. It was not until 1562 that he returned it to the Scuola and then received two further commissions that continued the story of St. Mark, patron saint of the confraternity and also of Venice.
   The first of these works, the Transport of the Body of St. Mark (1562-1566; Venice, Galleria dell' Accademia), relates how the saint's body was rescued from his tormentors, who wished to burn it. A major storm broke out that impeded them from carrying out the desecration, which allowed Christians to recover the body for proper burial. Among the rescuers is Tommaso Rangone from the Scuola, who arranged for the commission, and Tintoretto himself. To enhance drama, a stormy sky lurks above the scene and water runs down the stairs of a nearby building. The Discovery of the Body of St. Mark (1562-1566; Milan, Brera) takes place centuries later when Venetians travel to Alexandria to recover the saint's body from the Saracens. As they remove corpses from their sarcophagi, Mark appears to them to prevent further desecrations, his raised hand on the vanishing point of perspective. Rangone is again included, here kneeling at the saint's feet. In these works, the rapid recession and heavy fore-shortenings are even more pronounced, the brushwork has become much looser, and the drama has intensified.
   The success of these paintings led in 1564 to a commission from the members of the Scuola di San Rocco — a Crucifixion for the Sala dell' Albergo in their meeting hall. This scene was a tremendous undertaking as it measures 40 feet in width and offers a panoramic view of Golgotha populated by a large number of figures. Soldiers pull up the crosses of the thieves who were crucified alongside Christ, others engage in a game of dice to see who will win the Savior's garments, and the Virgin faints in the foreground. The scene is noisy and filled with action and emphasizes the human aspect of Christ and his followers, not their divinity. Tintoretto eventually was asked to render close to 50 scenes from the Old and New Testament in the Scuola's Sala Grande and the ground floor. These include the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Last Supper, Christ before Pilate, and Road to Calvary, works that offer innovative interpretations of traditional scenes. Like the Crucifixion, these paintings are filled with pronounced diagonals and extreme fore-shortenings, resulting in vigorous compositions that stress the mundane aspects of the lives of the religious protagonists.
   By the early 1590s, Tintoretto began to mix the mundane with the otherworldly, as his Last Supper at San Giorgio Maggiore (1592-1594) demonstrates. Here, translucent angels witness the event from above, servants clear the dishes, a cat attempts to steal a morsel, and a dog chews on a bone. To this period also belongs Tintoretto's Paradise (1588-1592) in the Great Council Hall at the Doge's Palace, Venice. A large fresco in this room by the Paduan painter Guariento da Arpo, rendered in the early 14th century and depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, was destroyed in 1577 by fire. Tintoretto was asked to replace it with a large complex scene that included some of the same elements as Guariento's earlier work, specifically a Christ and Virgin in the center of the composition and the Virgin Annunciate on the upper left to reference the founding of Venice on 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation. Surrounding the main figures are the Evangelists, saints, prophets, and angels, with St. Michael holding the scales used to judge the souls on the upper right. The Great Council Hall was the meeting room where the patricians who ruled the city made their political decisions, so the work reminded these men to judge wisely and to look to Christ and the Virgin for divine inspiration.
   Tintoretto was as accomplished a painter of mythologies and allegories as of religious works. His Susanna and the Elders (c. 1555— 1556; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), the Origin of the Milky Way (c. 1570; London, National Gallery), and Ariadne, Bacchus, and Venus (1576; Venice, Doge's Palace) demonstrate that he was as adept at rendering erotic female nudes as Titian. Tintoretto proved to be a major force in the development of Baroque art. His sharp oblique arrangements, heavy foreshortenings, and noisy, active scenes became common elements of the Baroque repertoire.
   See also Last Supper, San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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