Tintoretto 1518–1594 Venetian Painter

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Venetian painter

One of the major Venetian artists of the Italian Renaissance, Tintoretto was known for his bold brushwork, startling lighting effects, and dramatic treatment of narrative* scenes. His works cover a range of subjects, with particular emphasis on biblical, mythological, and historical themes. Tintoretto had great admiration for both Titian and Michelangelo—Titian for his use of color and Michelangelo for his skill in drawing. Tintoretto often used Michelangelo's work as models for his own drawing and adapted these models in his compositions.

Born Jacopo Robusti in Venice, Tintoretto got his name (which means "little dyer") from his father's occupation as a cloth dyer. Information about the artist's training is sketchy, but according to one tradition Tintoretto served briefly as an apprentice* to Titian. His earliest paintings suggest the influence of a number of other Italian painters, including Bonifazio de' Pitati. Whatever his training, by 1539, Tintoretto was working as an independent artist.

In 1548 Tintoretto attracted much attention with his painting for the meeting hall of the Scuola Grande di San Marco (St. Mark), an important confraternity* in his native Venice. The work, St. Mark Rescuing a Slave, caused a sensation and was initially rejected by the members of the organization. It featured a dynamic use of space and human figures that were shorter than normal, which gave the illusion of depth. Tintoretto's style differed from traditional Venetian mural painting, which had a flat, one-dimensional quality. The work also caused controversy because it had been painted so quickly, with rapid brushwork that made it seem unfinished to many people. Between 1562 and 1566 Tintoretto produced three more paintings of scenes from the life of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice, for the Scuola di San Marco.

Although many continued to find fault with Tintoretto, he enjoyed considerable success. In 1564 the artist was hired to create a painting for the ceiling of a meeting room in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Instead of submitting a small model for approval, the customary procedure, Tintoretto presented the finished painting as a gift. While criticized for not following the usual practices, Tintoretto continued to create other pieces for the room. Among these is a huge Crucifixion, generally considered his grandest painting. Tintoretto became a member of the Scuola di San Rocco and arranged to continue his decorative work. In 1575–1576, he painted the central scene on the ceiling of the organization's large meeting hall, as well as a series of painting on the walls below that illustrate scenes from the life of Christ (1579–1581).

Tintoretto's main patronage* came from within Venice. In addition to his work for San Marco and San Rocco, he played a major role in the redecoration of Venice's Ducal Palace and worked extensively for the city's lesser confraternities. For these groups he painted a number of versions of the Last Supper of Christ, which featured figures and scenes in a humble style. Tintoretto's paintings of the Last Supper differ considerably in this respect from those of Paolo Veronese, another Venetian artist of the time. Various assistants contributed to Tintoretto's later works. His son Domenico, his chief assistant, continued to run the family workshop after Tintoretto's death.

(See alsoArt in Italy; Confraternities. )

* narrative


* apprentice

person bound by legal agreement to work for another for a specified period of time in return for instruction in a trade or craft

* confraternity

religious and social organization of Roman Catholics who were not members of the clergy

* patronage

support or financial sponsorship