The year of birth of jacopo Robusti, 1519, has been derived from the artist’s death certificate that stated that he was seventy-five years old. Seventeenth century art historians said he was a pupil of Titian and wrote about the serious conflicts between the two, conflicts that prompted the young Tintoretto to leave his master’s atelier. Even if we do not know when he began his independent career, it must have been before 1539 when Jacopo already had his own atelier in Campo San Cassiano and signed his works “maestro.” In June 1544 he signed a deposition stating his father’s name (Giambattista) and trade (dyer). [Tr. note: the Italian word for “dyer” is tintore, hence the nickname Tintoretto]. The decorations of two ceilings with mythological subjects in the Venice home of Pietro Aretino date from 1545. Two years later he signed the altarpiece of the Last Supper in the Venetian church of San Marcuola. In 1548 he painted the Miracle of Saint Mark for the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The painting aroused great interest as we can see from the letter of approval that Aretino wrote in April of that year. This important commission was followed by others, the altarpiece in the church of San Marziale, completed in 1549 and the Saint Roch Healing the Plague Stricken, for the church of San Rocco in Venice. During the sixth decade of the century the artist worked even more intensely: between 1551 and 1556 he painted the doors of the organ in the church of Santa Maria dell’Orto and, on commission from Giulio Contarini, those in the church of Santa Maria del Giglio. In 1559 he painted the Probatic Pool in San Rocco and the Last Supper that was originally in San Felice in Venice and now in the church of Saint-François Xavier in Paris. His marriage to Faustina Episcopi that probably was celebrated in 1553 brought the couple eight children, some of whom such as Giambattista and Marco carried on their father’s profession. His work accelerated even more in the fifteen seventies, along with portraits of the most illustrious Venetians and the ceiling in the square atrium of the Ducal Palace he painting many religious scenes: The Adoration of the Golden Calf and The Last Judgment for the presbytery of the church the Madonna dell’Orto (1562), the Descent into limbo, and the Crucifixion for the church of San Cassiano in Venice (1568). In 1564 he began what was to become a nearly thirty-year long project, the decoration of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, with the paintings of Saint Roch in Glory (1564), the Crucifixion (1565), Saint Roch in Prison Comforted by Angels (1568), and then, over the following decades, several series of paintings on canvas and altarpieces. By this time he was one of the greatest artists in Venice, and during the last twenty years of his life he also worked on the Ducal Palace: in 1578 he completed the four Allegories in the Sala dell’Anticollegio and in 1583 the Battle of Zara in the Sala dello Scrutinio. Between 1578 and 1580 he painted the eight large canvases, the Gonzaga Cycle, for the Ducal Palace in Mantua. The two large canvases for the presbytery of the Venetian church of San Giorgio Maggiore, completed between 1592 and 1594 marked the end of Tintoretto’s career, as he died on 31 May 1594.
Conversion of Saint Paul
In his youth, Tintoretto was attracted to the art of Andrea Schiavone and specifically his fluid and chromatically exuberant brushstrokes. In this painting there are also other cultural references, from Raphael to Pordenone to Titian. Each concept, however, is reabsorbed into an innovative layout characterized by dramatic furor and dynamism that were foreign to the work of his predecessors. The subject, that lends itself to a portrayal in terms of agitated gestures and forced poses was particularly congenial to the temperament and Mannerist language of the twenty-five year old Tintoretto.Iconography
The Miracle of Saint Mark
This painting, done for the Scuola Grande di San Marco, was the artist’s first major public success. The subject is drawn from The Golden Legend by Jacopo da Varagine that Jacopo Sansovino had sculpted in a bronze bas-relief for St. Mark’s Basilica. The composition is centered on the flight of the audaciously foreshortened saint who hurtles from the sky and triggers a multitude of movements and gestures around the cleverly foreshortened nude body. Tintoretto used two light sources, the background light bathes the scene in a natural atmosphere, while the external light exalts the bodies and gestures of the protagonists in the foreground.Iconography
Cain and Abel
Tintoretto set Cain’s murder of Abel in a setting of lush nature that dominates the canvas from the foreground. He delivers feelings and emotions into the wooded landscape, emphasizing the violent drama of the action with luministic contrasts and daring poses. The dynamic play of the figures, centered on the contraposition of muscular masses is derived from Titian’s contemporary Michelangesque compositions. This painting was done for the Scuola della Trinità along with other scenes from Genesis. It is a brilliant example of the artist’s narrative skills and the ease with which he treated Biblical themes.Iconography
Venus, Vulcan and Mars
The scene is animated by a serene and subtly sensual atmosphere. The affair between Venus and Mars is consummated in a definitely Venetian setting. She is forced to hide her young lover dressed in helmet and armor and is frightened by the idea that the lively little dog could reveal his presence to her old husband, Vulcan. Tintoretto used a light and ironic narrative key, without stinting on demonstrations of his technical skill and intellectual sophistication (one example is the mirror reflecting Vulcan’s back). A vibrant light illuminates the soft flesh of the goddess and adds brilliance to the fine fabrics.
The Jesuit fathers had decided to commission Paolo Veronese to make the altarpiece for their church. According to Ridolfi Tintoretto promised that he would do it “in the exact same style as Paolo”, and he obtained the commission. If the glaring colors and bright luminosity of the painting reveal a closeness to Veronese’s style, the artist proved his autonomy and expressive freedom in the power impressed on the plastic figure of the Virgin and the flight of angels.
Susanna and the Elders
This is one of Tintoretto’s finest paintings, bathed in an atmosphere that is both fairytale-like and enigmatic. Susanna is grooming herself and admiring herself in the mirror while the two old men, dressed in loud colors and hidden by the lush plants, gradually approach her. The pale, diffuse light that for once replaces the artist’s preferred contrasting and darker tones, exalts the female body without impacting its integrity. The perspective acceleration towards the rear gives the composition its dynamism. The importance of the decorative details reflects Tintoretto’s interest in the works of his contemporary, Paolo Veronese.Iconography
Tintoretto began painting portraits early in his career. As he became more and more famous, the requests from the wealthy and powerful kept on growing. In this painting the renowned humanist, Alvise Cornaro, is portrayed very late in life. The artist cleverly illuminated only his face and hands, so that the figure barely emerges from the dark background, taking on an almost haunted look. His intellectual and moral superiority are concentrated in the lively gaze and severe pose.
Elevation of the Brazen Serpent
Tintoretto donated this painting to the Confraternità di San Rocco of which he was a member, and it was placed in the central section of the ceiling of the salon on the piano nobile. Following the enthusiasm that the painting aroused, in 1577 he was authorized to painted the other canvases for the ceiling, the walls and the main altarpiece. The composition is constructed on the two longer diagonals: at the bottom is the tangle of snakes and human figures engaged in a desperate battle, while above we see the hosts of angels. An accentuated epic air characterizes the painting that was undoubtedly modeled along the lines of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment. The figures are depicted in the pangs of suffering, in the gestures of a desperate struggle, in the surge of flight. Marked contrasts between light and shadow and the cold palette heighten the sense of cosmic calamity.Iconography
Tintoretto painted this subject several times from his youth to his final years. The foreground of this painting focuses on the two beggars who were given food; they are set like coulisses at the edges of a large room taken up by an oblique table. Christ institutes the Eucharist and announces his betrayal causing a lively reaction among His apostles. In the background the servants are engaged in domestic tasks. A continuous alternation of tones, the many motifs and details enrich the tale, suggesting different states of mind. A quivering, unstable light strikes the flat surfaces as well as the fabrics and the utensils.Iconography
Francesco II at the Battle of Taro
This is one of a series of eight paintings known as Gonzaga Cycle that the duke Guglielmo Gonzaga commissioned at two separate times for the ducal palace in Mantua to commemorate the salient episodes in the family’s history and the glorious deeds of its members. Here the painter presents the central moment of the battle, when the head of the army, with an authoritarian gesture orders the final assault on the enemy troops. In the painting characterized by a close-up vantage point and a broad panorama, we see the master’s proven ability to dominate large areas.
The Adoration of the Shepherds
A master in “staging” dramatic events, Tintoretto also showed remarkable skill in creating elegiac or pastoral scenes, and this painting is a prime example. The scene is organized on two planes, inside a barn populated by lively figures and humble objects, illuminated by a supernatural light that shines in through the open roof. The artist does not place the Holy Family, which is in the upper part, together with the world of the peasants. Attention to the everyday aspect and the “truth” of some details contributed to the success of Tintoretto’s religious paintings even during the Counter-Reformation.Iconography
This is Tintoretto’s last self-portrait. Neglecting the tools of his art, he depicted himself full-face as a simple old man. What is striking about the face, framed by an unruly white beard is the modest and sad expression in the eyes. Ridolfi says that after having completed Paradise, the immense canvas in the Great Council room of the Ducal Palace, Tintoretto stopped working frenetically and “gave himself over to the contemplation of heavenly things.” Manet liked the painting so much that in 1854 he painted a copy of it that is now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon.