A blockbuster exhibition celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of Jacopo Tintoretto, one of the greatest artists of all time. The relationship between the artist and the city goes well beyond transient events. Where® offers you a complete itinerar
The relationship between Jacopo Tintoretto and Venice goes well beyond the celebration of the 500th anniversary of his birth. Where offers you a complete itinerary in the city.
ive hundred years have passed since Jacopo Robusti was born in a beautiful Gothic house in the Cannaregio district. The son of a ‘tintor', an artisan who dyed fabrics, Tintoretto (meaning
‘liitle dyer') was a nickname that was destined to go down in history. It was quickly apparent that, like his father, he had a gift for colour. The only difference was that Tintoretto used them to depict bold innovative compositions, dramatic figures, chiaroscuro effects, and perspectives that had never been seen before on canvas. The ‘Little Dyer' was talented. So talented that he ended up revolutionizing art. “The fellow outlines a human figure with ten brushstrokes, and colours it with as many more”. Thus wrote John Ruskin, the 19th century English writer, artist, poet and art critic in a letter dated 1845, after a visit to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. “As for painting,” he continued, “I think I didn't know what it meant until today.” And, after contemplating Tintoretto's ‘crucifixion' in the church of San Cassiano, the American novelist Henry James remarked:
“It seemed to me that I had advanced to the uttermost limit of painting.”
Today, five centuries after the artist's birth, his works continue to amaze viewers. And there's another distinctive trait that makes Tintoretto an extraordinary artist: his relationship with Venice.
He is the only artist among the titans of 16th century Venetian art who was actually born in
Venice. Tintoretto dedicated a number of works, unequalled by any other artist, to his native city. Churches, confraternities, civic buildings and private ‘palazzi' abound in his artworks and are so much part of their settings that they cannot be moved. Long before the concept of ‘site-specific art' was fashionable, Tintoretto was renowned for having a special relationship with his places of work. Among other things, he was a Venetian with a Venetian temperament. He was also known for his business acumen. At the beginning of his career, he managed to depose his rivals by offering lower prices or accepting almost
impossible deadlines. He gave paintings away to increase his reputation, and to cultivate potential customers. It is possible that Tintoretto initially developed his surprising pictorial technique in order to be more efficient and profitable.
His peers criticized him for the ‘unfinished' appearance of several of his works. In 1568, when writing about Tintoretto, Giorgio Vasari said: “His strange whimsies are even beyond extravagance, and his work seems to be produced rather by chance, than in consequence of any previous design.” It appears that Tintoretto was mostly selftaught because, according to an anecdote that is very hard to verify, his master, Titian threw him out of his workshop in a fit of jealousy. However, the power of his style soon became apparent, winning over his peers, and future generations. The work that made him famous and sealed his success was The Miracle of the Slave for the Scuola Grande di San Marco (1548, currently housed at the Accademia) which, more than any of his other creations, exemplifies the achievement of his aesthetic ideal. In fact, throughout much of his career, Tintoretto had sought to combine “Michelangelo's drawing style with Titian's colours.”
THE ARTIST WHO EPITOMIZED THE GRANDEUR OF VENICE
When Giorgio Vasari wrote: “Tintoretto has painted and paints most of the works in Venice,” Tintoretto was only mid-way through his career and had not yet begun to paint his most important works. In the 1550s, his status had been threatened by the arrival in the city of the brilliant Paolo Veronese who was ten years his junior. Tintoretto reacted by painting two magnificent, large-scale works for the church of the Madonna dell’Orto,The Universal Judgment and the Adoration of the Golden Calf. In 1564, he began decorating the Scuola Grande di San
Rocco, which many consider ‘his Sistine Chapel'. Tintoretto's works are literally spread throughout Venice, with a particular concentration of his earliest works in the sestiere of Cannaregio, the neighbourhood in which he was born. This means that it is necessary to visit Venice in order to fully understand the greatness of the maestro's body of work. In addition, his most famous pieces include at least nine versions of The Last
Supper, all located in Venice. Among these, the most priceless can be found in the churches of San Marcuola (1547), San Trovaso (circa1563), San Polo (1574-75) and San Giorgio Maggiore (159294). The presence of Tintoretto's work became even more widespread at the end of the 1570s, when the artist transformed his workshop into a family-run business. Tintoretto employed his son Domenico (born in 1560), his best assistant and successor, but also his daughter Marietta (born in 1554) who made a name for herself as a renowned portraitist. Tintoretto's works in Venice range from authentic autograph paintings to others which, despite carrying his ‘trademark', were actually executed by his assistants. Among Venice's many treasures, few are more spectacular than Tintoretto's Paradise, which hangs in the
Sala Maggior Consiglio of the Doge’s Palace. The painting, the largest in Venice, was commissioned in 1592 when Tintoretto was 70 years old and was executed with the help of his son Domenico. When Jacopo died, in the same house in which he was born on 31 May 1594, Domenico continued to run the workshop until his death in 1635. It is therefore no surprise that the tomb of Tintoretto is located in the parish church of Madonna dell'Orto, the same church that made him famous throughout the world.
But where can these numerous works by Tintoretto be found? In addition to those mentioned above, there are at least another eighteen that deserve a special mention, because they have been beautifully restored and returned
to their original places. These include Saint Martial in Glory with Saints Peter and Paul (1549), in the church of San Marziale in Cannaregio; Saint Jerome’s Vision of the Virgin Mary (circa 1580), in the Venetian University; the Marriage at Cana (1561), in the Church of Santa Maria della Salute; the Crucifixion (1554-1556), currently on display at the Gallerie dell'Accademia; Saint Roch in the Desert (circa 1580); Saint Roch Curing the Animals (1567), and Saint Roch Captured at the Battle of Montpellier (circa 1580), at the Church of San Rocco in Santa Croce; Saint Justinian with Three Treasurers and their Secretaries (1580) on display at the Correr Museum; the entire cycle found on the ceiling of Palazzo Ducale's Square Atrium and the cycle on the ceiling of the Sala dell'Anticollegio, in the same building; and, lastly, as previously mentioned, Tintoretto tomb in the church of Madonna dell'Orto. It's interesting to note that the American non-profit organization Save
Venice raised the 25 million dollars required to restore these treasures. “When someone asks us why Americans should help restore art works by a 16th century Italian painter,” says its President Frederick Ichman, “we answer that the Italians only hold these treasures in trust for all of us, and it is our shared responsibility to do what we can to help. It's like saying: we are all descendants of the Renaissance, we are all Venetians.”
AN AMAZING ABUNDANCE
Even though this treasure trove will make your head spin, the list is not yet complete. In the church of Santa Maria Assunta (known as “i Gesuiti”) there's the altarpiece of the Assumption of Mary, an early work by Tintoretto, initially given as a commission to Veronese. In San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti, the second altar houses Jacopo Tintoretto's Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins (circa 1555). The church of San Zaccaria is home to The Birth of Saint John the Baptist, an altarpiece painted between 1546 and 1548. The church of San Giuseppe di Castello is the place where Tintoretto painted The Archangel Michael Vanquishing Lucifer in the presence of Michele Bon.
In addition to The Last Supper (1579-80), Santo Stefano, where the sacristy houses a real museum of illustrious names of the Venetian Renaissance, also houses The Resurrection, Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles and The Oration in the Orchard; works that were executed at the same time as those for the Scuola Grande of San Rocco. San Moisè, Santa Maria Zobenigo, San Silvestro, San Simeone Profeta, Santa Maria Mater Domini and the Carmini also host works by the maestro. And, finally, there's the Basilica di San Marco where Tintoretto designed a preparatory sketch for one of its most famous mosaics. It is here, in the beating heart of Venice that Jacopo Robusti of Cannaregio, nicknamed Tintoretto, after his father, the cloth dyer, belongs.
Jacopo Tintoretto, The Last Supper (1579-1580), Santo Stefano church.
Jacopo Tintoretto, The Last Supper (1592-1594), San Giorgio Maggiore basilica.
COURTESY OF THE THIN WHITE DUKEDavid Bowie was an immense admirer of Tintoretto's expressive power. As a collector, the rock star preferred contemporary art, but made an exception for ‘The Angel Foretelling Saint Catherine of Alexandria of Her Martyrdom' dated 1570. Negotiations are under way to bring the canvas to Venice in 2019.