○ The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes (1545-1550);
○ The Crucifixion (1565);
○ The Origin of the Milky Way (1575);
○ Paradise (1588-1592);
○ The Last Supper (1592-1594).
Mediums: fresco paintings
Tintoretto was one of the most prominent artists during the late Renaissance, an Italian painter of the Venetian School, known for his Mannerist style. His style is characterized by rushed brushstrokes, and dramatic compositions and lighting, something that made him being both criticized and praised by his contemporaries.
Tintoretto, was one of the top Venitian artists that gained exposure after Titian, in the 16th century. His paintings are very dramatic, not only through light effects, but also by the unusual application of perspective in an oblique way, and by the crowded nature of his scenes. Tintoretto is considered to be the most loyal painter to the mannerist expression, even more than Titian and Veronese themselves.
16th century Venice was marked by territorial battles, and although the Republic was in political and economical decline, even before the century started, the Venetian art scene was a rich and powerful one. The Republic of Venice, up until then the most powerful Italian city, controlled at that point most of Italian territory, the terraferma, including Padua, Brescia and Verona. This century, however, marked the peak of Venitian painting, having begun with Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430–1516) and his brother Gentile Bellini (c. 1429–1507), in the 15th century. One thing to note is that the majority of the artists who contributed to the success of the Venetian style rarely were native to the city in question, ranging all across the Venetian outer territories. The Venetian School, truly several schools in fact, were confraternities, which resemble what we now know as educational institutions. The most notable artists were Giorgione (c. 1477–1510), Titian (c. 1489–1576), Jacopo Bassano (1510–1592), Tintoretto (1518–1594), and Paolo Veronese (1528–1588).
Although unpopular, with a strong and unscrupulous personality, Tintoretto was a very important and sought after Venitian painter, calling himself an independent professional man (as he wrote on a will of 1539). The artist was also known as “The Furious” (Il Furioso in Italian) for his strong, rushed and dynamic brushwork. From a young age, he showed an appreciation for all the arts, having played several instruments (some of which were inventions of his own). His love for the dramatic and the theatrical also went well beyond his paintings, having designed many costumes and settings. In addition, Tintoretto adventured himself in mechanics, a true Renaissance, some might say. Although he could be very easygoing with his friends and clients, always with a humorous expression up his sleeve, he rarely smiled and was very secretive when it came to his painting techniques, and preferred to be alone with his collection of casts. He was also a very religious man and, closer to his death, even though the payment for the Paradise (1588-1592) commission was still pending, the artist carried on the the work, having actually said to the senators he had prayed to God to have that chance, to paint such a subject, and may have been his reward after death.
Jacopo Robusti, born in 1518, in Venice, was most commonly known as Tintoretto, a nickname given for the fact his father was a dyer (tintore). Not much is known about his origins and training, however, it is believed his family descended from either Brescia, in Lombardy, part of Venice at the time, or Lucca, in Tuscany. The eldest son of 21 children, Tintoretto had shown an artistic inclination since a tender age, drawing on the walls of father’s workshop. Acknowledging little Tintoretto’s talent, his father put him in under the training of Titian (1490-1576), in the hopes that he would become a great traditional painter. This might have been the artist’s only formal training, as claimed by Carlo Ridolfi (1594-1658) and Marco Boschini (1602-1681), Tintoretto’s earliest biographers. Instead it is believed he went on as a self-taught artist, working initially as an artisan, painting mythological scenes which adorned furniture. During the very early stages of his career, he lived in an impoverished, and saw a means of practice in his growing collection of casts and reliefs. He was firstly mentioned as a master in 1539, and started gaining exposure after he painted a series of ceiling panels in octagonal shape, with mythological compositions, for a private Venetian palace that no longer exists. After that, the artist collaborated with Andrea Meldolla (better known as Andrea Schiavone) in the painting of frescoes for Palazzo Zen. A few months after painting his earlier version of the Last Supper (1547), for the church of San Marcuola (1547), he painted the Miracle of the Slave (1548), which put him in the Venetian spotlight.
Miracle of the Slave (1548).
He became a friend of the writer Pietro Aretino (1492-1556), who greatly praised this work in his letters. Their friendship would eventually fade, however, Tintoretto still received commissions from him to paint family portraits, and one of the recurrent figures in many of his paintings, alongside others like Tommaso Rangone and Tintoretto himself. The artist married Faustina de Vescovi in 1550, who came from a noble family and whose father was the guardian grande of the Scuola Grande di San Marco. They later moved to a Gothic house, close to the church of Madonna dell’ Orto, looking over the Fondamenta de Mori (which still exists). Together they had many children, believed to have been five daughters and two sons, from which Marietta Robusti (also known as La Tintoretta) was a portrait artist herself (although some claim she was an illegitimate child, who was conceived before Tintoretto’s marriage). She would die at the age of thirty, in 1590. Before that, the artist competed to paint panels for the rooms of the Doge’s Palace, with the Paradise (1588-1592), a commission that would be accepted in 1877, and started in 1588. Later, in 1592, the artist became part of the Scuola dei Mercanti, and after completing the painting monumental Paradise, he did not accept any major works. He perished just two years later, from a stomach illness, on 31 May 1594 – buried alongside his beloved daughter Marietta, at the church of Madonna dell’ Orto.
Portrait of Pietro Aretino, detail from Miracle of the Slave (1548).
The only training Tintoretto is believed to have received is in the workshop of Titian at a very young age. The young man only lasted 10 days due to jealousy of the elder, as some believed, sending him home on the claims the boy was not teachable, after seeing his drawings. However, the young artist pursued his career in admiration for Titian, whether the elder liked his work or not. When Tintoretto started adventuring himself in the artistic sphere, as a self-taught painter really, he mostly dedicated his works to mythological themes, showcasing early signs of his distinctive gift for storytelling and technical understanding of perspective, dealing mainly with fresco painting. Even at this early stage, he started to show what would later become his signature technique, que quick and expressive brushwork. Two of his earliest works are the Belshazzar’s Feast and the Cavalry Fight (frescoes that no longer exist), which were commissioned for a very low value, as did most of his commissions at this first stage. On the other hand, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (1550-1555), in the church of the Carmine in Venice, is also one of his earliest works, and still exists today.
Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (1550-1555).
Still in 1548, the artist received a commission for the Scuola di San Marco, the Miracle of the Slave (1548). Tintoretto made the best of this opportunity to improve his chances of success as a great artist. In this particular work, he maximised the dramatic effect to its fullest by the way he arranged the figures in the composition. This work set the pace for his theatrical narratives, atypical colour palette and expressive brushwork. This painting, also known as San Marco Freeing the Slave, presents a clear Michelangelesque influence. Even though we can’t be certain, it is believed Tintoretto travelled to Rome and produced study drawings of copies of Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Giambologna’s (1529-1608) paintings, that seem relevant even in his later works, where light became crucial. According to Marco Boschini, the artist performed studies of light by creating sets with small wax figurines, in a similar disposition as in his painting.His success was confirmed by his mastery in the paintings of The temptation of Adam and Eve (1550) and the Death of Abel (1551-1552), among the Genesis works executed for the Scuola della Trinità. His success can be seen even higher if we attend the fact he, unlike most of his contemporaries, did not receive a proper formal training.
The temptation of Adam and Eve (1550).
Death of Abel (1551-1552).
Tintoretto started receiving more and more commissions, upon his success, including the decoration of the Scuola di San Rocco, which reflected the quality of his work and range at its highest. From these paintings, which would adorn the walls of several Venetian chapels, Saint Roch Cures the Plague Victims (1549) stands out for being the artist’s first laterali (a term used for horizontal paintings). Other commissions included paintings for the church of Madonna dell’ Orto – Worship of the Golden Calf (1560-1562), the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple (1552-1553), and the Last Judgment (1560-1562) are three of the most prominent -, three additional works for Scuola di S. Marco – Finding of the body of St Mark (1562-1566), St Mark’s Body Brought to Venice (1562-1566), and St Mark Rescuing a Saracen from Shipwreck (1562-1566) -, and all of the painting decoration for the Scuola Grande di San Rocco – the Crucifixion (1565), The Brazen Serpent (1575-1576) and Moses Striking Water from the Rock (1577). Most of these works were painted either for free or for a symbolic amount of money, as Tintoretto chose low charges and speed in order to compete in the Venetian art scene.
The Last Judgment (1560-1562).
Finding of the body of St Mark (1562-1566).
Moses Striking Water from the Rock (1577).
Tintoretto continued to produce great amounts of paintings, fulfilling many commissions, continuing his works for San Rocco until his death – the Massacre of the Innocents (1582-1587) for example, and pursuing others, including commissions for the Sala dell Anticollegio – Bacchus, with Ariadne crowned by Venus (1578), the Three Graces and Mercury, Minerva discarding Mars (1578), and the Forge of Vulcan (1578). In Tintoretto’s later works, his religious compositions became more somber, where the thick and rushed brushwork, combined with the dramatic light effects, reflect, through its intense expression, the passionate involvement of the artist. Paradise (1588-1592), for Doge’s Palace, was his last major work, resulting in the pinnacle of his artistic expression and goals, being argued that this is in fact the largest painting ever created on a canvas, measuring 9 by 22.6 metres.
Tintoretto believed in the moving power of emotion, something that could only be achieved through dramatic compositions, of contouring bodies, dark colour palette and theatrical light effects. For him, the foundation of emotion did not lie in beauty, on the contrary, it was not nearly enough to reach the desired impact on the viewer. The biblical stories went beyond perfection, and Tintoretto made sure his compositions were full of excitement, drama and tension, in order to accurately portray the right emotion of the story he was telling. Ultimately, his artistic ambition is summarized in an inscription he made on his studio: “Michelangelo’s drawing and Titian’s colour” (Il disegno di Michelangelo ed il colorito di Tiziano) – an ambitious goal of Renaissance painting.
Tintoretto painted many portraits of distinguished Venetians, but some of these are not anatomically correct, especially if we look at the hands, which don’t seem to belong to those bodies. He deeply valued the role of drawing in his art, the disegno technique, which enhances shapes by defining them through lines. The artist drew his studies directly from nature, statues (likely including Michelangelo’s) and little wax models positioned in different ways. In addition, he also used the latter to stage his compositions, experimenting with different lighting in order to create the best dramatic compositions. As a very skilled draughtsman, the artist produced a lot of large sized paintings about the Miracle of Saint Mark, between 1548 and 1563. His works are very distinctive for the exciting energy of the bold foreshortened bodies and their exaggerated gestures, very innovative in Venitian painting, along with the plastic modelling of the shapes, that went further than the conventions of Michelangelo. This also resulted from his big and energetic workshop, that welcomed every commission, and most of them were often biblical or mythological paintings. His fast working pace led to the creation of a new technique, the prestezza, a fast way of sketching or painting which lent him more time to deal with bigger and more ambitious works, and still respond to every commission. The virtuous effect of Tintoretto’s monumental paintings, of crowded compositions, a unity interrupted by flickering lights, is mostly recognizable by the drama, vivacity, energy, scale and, most of all, the use of an oblique perspective. This was especially used in works commissioned for the small and tight spaces of Venitian churches. These paintings were meant to be seen by standing or kneeling at one side, in order to reinforce this unusual perspective, and its dramatic effect. Beyond his simple studies using wax models, he took his methods even further by staging his most important compositions of unusually posed bodies (a characteristic that would be intrinsic to Mannerism) by using corpses (borrowed from anatomy schools) – suspended in atypical and contorting poses inside cardboard or wooden boxes with small apertures to experiment with light, and while some were simply nude, others were dressed with drapes (this specific method is what made his figura serpentinata, or ‘serpentine figure’). With these methods, Tintoretto pulled off his characteristic energetic paintings filled with the fluidity of the human movement. His use of the prestezza technique, sketching frantically with chalk or paint, complemented with an equally frenetic brushwork, made his style uniquely emotional. Despite being unpopular at first, and highly criticized for what some considered to be a lazy way of painting, his style eventually rose to popular standards.
Influences of Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Titian (1488-1576) are most clear in Tintoretto’s earlier works, even though he remained especially influenced by the shapes of Michelangelo in all of his works. The Holy Family (1540) is an example of how the young artist drew from the Venetian style and Titian’s rich colour palette and how he borrowed from Michelangelo’s compositions. Tintoretto has studied the works of Michelangelo numerous times, as it is proven by his many drawings, especially Day, Night, Dusk and Dawn, in the Medici chapel in Florence. The power of the twisting and moving bodies can be seen in most of Tintoretto’s paintings, for example in Tarquin and Lucretia (1578-1580).
Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-1523) by Titian | The Holy Family (1540) by Tintoretto.
Giorno (Day) (1524-1527) by Michelangelo | Study after Michelangelo’s Giorno (Day) (c. 1550-1555) by Tintoretto.
Study of an Ignudo (c. 1511) by Michelangelo | Tarquin and Lucretia (1578-1580) by Tintoretto.
Tintoretto’s energetic and dramatic style would later become the hallmark for Mannerist painting that would have a deep impact on artists from the following century. His use of dramatic lighting went on to influence the Baroque movement that further explored it by the keen use of the chiaroscurotechnique. El Greco, in particular, is influenced by Tintoretto’s style, characteristics he most likely borrowed from seeing his works in person when visiting Venice.
Venus und Mars surprised by Vulcan (1551-1552) by Tintoretto | The Last Supper (1596) by El Greco.
Tintoretto had also other nicknames through the course of his life. Initially, he was called Jacopo Comin, from the spice cumin; then Jacopo Robusti, as his father was known for being quite the robust fighter during the Venetian Wars, a name that would become the family name; after that, he was also known as Il Furioso, for his energetic way of painting; but he was ultimately remembered as Tintoretto, after the profession of his father, meaning “little dyer” or “dyer’s little boy.”
Only the name of one of his brothers, among the many siblings of Tintoretto, is known; his name was Domenico.
The Embarkation of St Helena in the Holy Land (1545-155) was thought to have been created by Andrea Schiavone, up until 2012. The new research, upon the cataloging of European oil paintings present in the United Kingdom, has disclosed the fact that this was one of three paintings created by Tintoretto, a series narrating the story of Saint Helena and The Holy Cross.
“Beautiful colours can be bought in the shops on Rialto, but good drawing can only be bought from the casket of the artist’s talent with patient study and nights without sleep.”
“You can never do too much drawing.”
“Grant me paradise in this world; I’m not sure I’ll reach it in the next.”