Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti; c. 1518–1594)

views updated May 14 2018

TINTORETTO (Jacopo Robusti; c. 15181594)

TINTORETTO (Jacopo Robusti; c. 15181594), Italian painter. Jacopo Tintoretto was easily the most prolific painter in late-sixteenth-century Venice. The son of a Venetian cloth dyer, he advertised the fact in his professional nickname. Unlike certain other leading artists of the time, Tintoretto"the little dyer"did not seek to conceal his lower-class social origins. He was trained in an unidentified Venetian workshop during the 1530s. Early reports that he was summarily ejected from Titian's shop may represent nothing more than flattering legend. But the older master's professional hostility is nonetheless corroborated by a number of other early sources and was probably an important shaping factor in Tintoretto's career.

In very early works, such as the dramatic Christ among the Doctors (c. 15411542, Museo del Duomo, Milan), Tintoretto's style and technique pointedly depart from Titian's long-established naturalistic idiom. Forms twist and writhe in arbitrary fashion within a vertiginous spatial recession that relegates the protagonist to the far distance. In many of his earlier works, the painter's debt to the art of central Italy, and particularly to Michelangelo, is evident. But Tintoretto's conceptual and formal individualism, like his penchant for leaving the broad (although thinly loaded) marks of his brush exposed on the picture surface, took his art beyond such sources and also beyond anything yet seen within Venetian Renaissance art. His production of paintings at high speed and in great volume, and his readiness to offer them at a low price, quickly became notorious. But the strategy proved very successful at a time in which demand for paintings was rapidly increasing.

Tintoretto did not select between patrons as Titian did: rather than prioritizing prestigious foreign clients, he concentrated on fulfilling local demands. By 1560 he was already the dominant painter across the city. From this point onward, he was almost constantly at work in the Ducal Palace. Following two disastrous fires in the palace (1574 and 1577), Tintoretto and his workshop undertook a series of large-scale commissions, culminating in the vast Paradise (c. 15881590) for the main State Room. He also produced many paintings for the city's non-noble lay confraternities (the so-called Scuole, or Schools). In 1548 he made his name with the startling Miracle of the Slave (Accademia, Venice) for the Scuola di San Marco, and between 1564 and 1588 produced more than sixty paintings for the meeting house of the Scuola di San Rocco.

These included wall paintings showing scenes from the Life of Christ and the Virgin, and typologically related scenes from the Old Testament on the ceiling of the upper room (Sala Superiore). The enormous Crucifixion (1565) is the most important work of Tintoretto's maturity, painted in an epic narrative style that brilliantly combines passages of earthy naturalism with more idealized formal sequences. In later paintings such as The Baptism and The Agony in the Garden (both 15781581), complex formal masses are cloaked in brownish shadow, illuminated only at certain points by angled shafts of golden light, which imply the immanent presence of the divine. But this spiritualized schema is brought alive by the inclusion of startling passages of naturalism, for example in the extraordinary Annunciation (15811582). The unprecedented formal manipulations exacted at San Rocco reflect Tintoretto's mature commitment to an ideal of sacred poverty, which brings together the selfless spiritual ideals of the commissioning confraternity with those of the wider Catholic Counter-Reformation, but also refers to his own lowly artistic identity as the "little dyer."

Tintoretto's dynamic manner dominated for only a short while in Venice: Veronese and even the old Titian were influenced by his art in certain ways, while El Greco and Palma Giovane were probably members of his workshop. After his death in 1594, the Tintoretto workshop continued to operate into the 1630s under the control of his painter sons, Domenico and Marco. But Tintoretto's artistic individualism, particularly in matters of technique, meant that his style was not easily emulated, and it was increasingly perceived as antithetical to the classicism of European artistic tradition. Despite John Ruskin's ecstatic appreciations in the post-Romantic era, Tintoretto has continued to be an elusive figure in the history of art. Recent attempts to see his work as mannerist typically founder on the passionate drama of his style and the radical abbreviations of his brushwork. And while his exposed paint surface owes something to the earlier Venetian Renaissance tradition of coloring (colorito), his approach is very different from that of artists such as Giorgione or Titian. It is, though, the very resistance of Tintoretto's manner to an easy integration within artistic tradition that makes it so interesting for the contemporary viewer.

See also Painting ; Titian ; Venice, Art in .


Nichols, Tom. Tintoretto: Tradition and Identity. London, 1999.

Pallucchini, Rodolfo, and Rossi, Paola. Tintoretto. Le opere sacre e profane. 2 vols. Milan, 1982.

Rossi, Paola, and Puppi Lionello, eds. Jacopo Tintoretto nel quarto centenario della morte. Venice, 1996.

Tom Nichols


views updated May 18 2018


The Italian painter Tintoretto (1518-1594) excelled in grandly agitated and often deeply moving history paintings and dignified portraits of members of the Venetian aristocracy.

The real name of Tintoretto was Jacopo Robusti, but he is better known by his nickname, meaning the "little dyer, " his father having been a silk dyer. The artist was born in Venice and lived there all his life. Even though his painting is distinguished by great daring, he seems to have led a rather retired life, concerned only with his work and the well-being of his family. His daughter Marietta and his sons Domenico and Marco also became painters, and Domenico eventually took over the direction of Tintoretto's large workshop, turning out reliable but un-inspired pictures in the manner of his father. Some of them are, on occasion, mistaken for works of the elder Tintoretto.

Tintoretto appears to have studied with Bonifazio Veronese or Paris Bordone, but his true master, as of all the great Venetian painters in his succession, was Titian. Tintoretto's work by no means merely reflects the manner of Titian. Instead he builds on Titian's art and brings into play an imagination so fiery and quick that he creates an effect of restlessness which is quite opposed to the staid and majestic certainty of Titian's statements. If Tintoretto's pictures at first sight often astonish by their melodrama, they almost inevitably reveal, at closer observation, a focal point celebrating the wonders of silence and peace. The sensation of this ultimate gentleness, after the first riotous impact, is particularly touching and in essence not different from what we find (although brought about by very different means) in the pictures of Titian and Paolo Veronese.

Tintoretto was primarily a figure painter and delighted in showing his figures in daring foreshortening and expansive poses. His master in this aspect of his art was Michelangelo. Tintoretto is supposed to have inscribed on the wall of his studio the motto: "The drawing of Michelangelo and the color of Titian." Unlike Michelangelo, however, Tintoretto worked and drew very quickly, using only lights and shadows in the modeling of his forms, so that his figures look as if they had gained their plasticity by a kind of magic. In the rendering of large compositions he is reported to have used as models small figures which he made of wax and placed or hung in boxes so cleverly illuminated that the conditions of light and shade in the picture he was painting would be the same as those in the room in which it was to be hung.

Early Style

Tintoretto's earliest work to be dated with certainty, Apollo and Marsyas (1545), was painted for Pietro Aretino, who, in a letter written expressly for publication, noted the quickness of its execution and recommended the artist to the world as a genius of note. At about the same time Tintoretto painted the large and deeply moving Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles (Madrid), in which greatness of gesture and extreme foreshortening are balanced by the dramatic light which pervades the painting and the intensity of feeling which distinguishes the movement of each of the participants in the scene. The picture is so arranged that we see Christ and St. Peter (in the extreme right corner) last, even though—and yet exactly because— they matter most in the story the picture brings to life. The action which binds these key figures together is dramatized chiefly by an exchange of glances. Throughout Tintoretto's career these elements of procedure, though richly varied and always in harmony with the sense of the story he represents, remain central to his art.

Other early paintings of note in Tintoretto's oeuvre are his Last Supper (S. Marcuola, Venice), St. George and the Dragon, Presentation of the Virgin, and St. Mark Rescuing a Slave, where St. Mark is shown coming from heaven and through the air, headfirst into the depth of the picture, to rescue an ever so nobly painted enslaved Christian who is awaiting execution at the hands of a group of pagans dressed in richly shining Turkish costumes.

Mature Style

The works of Tintoretto's mature style, though often even more dramatic than his early one, s are distinguished by a greater compositional unity and a richer splendor of muted colors. As before, the actions of his figures are breathtakingly daring, but now they hardly ever strike us as extravagant, so well and with such majesty do they serve their function in the dramatization of the story. Examples of this style are the Last Supper (ca. 1560; S. Trovaso, Venice), the Last Judgement (ca. 1560; S. Maria dell'Orto, Venice), the Adoration of the Golden Calf (ca. 1560), the Finding of the Body of St. Mark (ca. 1562), and the Removal of the Body of St. Mark (ca. 1562), in which a thunderstorm is painted with the same dramatic intensity as the principal figures.

The triumph of Tintoretto's art is his paintings for the Scuola di S. Rocco in Venice, which he executed intermittently between 1564 and 1587. The walls and the ceilings are almost completely covered with works invented and, to a great extent, executed by him in their entirety. The paintings celebrate great events of the Old and New Testaments and the lives of the saints. St. Roch, under whose patronage the confraternity to which the Scuola belonged performed its works of charity, is especially honored.

The culmination of the whole work is the vast Crucifixion (1565) in the Sala dell'Albergo. The action is represented at the moment when the sponge is being dipped in vinegar to be lifted up on a stick to Christ. A multitude surrounds the cross—soldiers, followers of Christ, mockers, pagans, and contemporaries of Tintoretto (clearly marked as portraits), who behold the sacred scene as if it were happening now. The cross of the good thief is being pulled into position; a ladder, ready for the deposition, lies on the ground and leads our eye far back into the painting; the bad thief is about to be nailed to his cross, which lies on the ground. Mary, at the foot of the cross, has fainted into the arms of her companions. The work is virtually a night piece built around a glory of light which emanates from Christ on the cross. The whole composition revolves around Christ, and this is accomplished by a most sophisticated arrangement of dramatic gestures, an extraordinarily daring use of foreshortening leading from our space into that of the painting and back, and, above all, a management of lights which connects our time with that of the Crucifixion and the timelessness of the event with the natural world.

The great majority of Tintoretto's large canvases were history paintings with religious subjects. Among his late works, which are distinguished by the joining of a noble naturalism with an ever greater and touching spirituality, is the vast representation of Paradise in the Sala del Gran Consiglio of the Doges' Palace (1588), in which the Madonna and saints, led by St. Mark, recommend the Great Council of Venice and its decisions to the grace of Christ. The countless figures are bathed in a strange, phosphorescent light. Another late work, of incredible daring and yet ultimately quiet in its effect, is the Last Supper (1592-1594; S. Giorgio Maggiore, Venice). Tintoretto fills the air of the great hall with a rush of adoring angels; their presence is made visible by subtle highlights accentuating the darkness of the room.

Secular Paintings

Tintoretto's allegorical works and scenes from ancient and modern history include the ribald Mars, Venus, and Vulcan (ca. 1550), which shows Mars hiding under a bed to escape detection by Vulcan, who, having returned home unannounced, is approaching Venus; the melodramatic and yet affecting Rape of Lucretia (ca. 1556-1559); and a number of paintings for the Doges' Palace in Venice. These include tightly knit battle scenes on land and sea and allegories in praise of Venice that feature, with much dedication to their beauty and grace, the gods of classical antiquity. Perhaps the noblest among the allegorical paintings is Bacchus and Ariadne (1578). The god walks through the sea to offer Ariadne the ring that will unite them in marriage. Above the couple a personification of the air (or Venus) with one hand holds Ariadne's hand and with the other holds aloft Bacchus's gift to his beloved, a starry crown. On the allegorical level this painting may be interpreted as the loving homage of the mainland, represented by Bacchus, to the beauty, grace, and merit of Venice.

Tintoretto was much sought after as a portraitist. His figures are almost always elegant and extraordinarily decorous, the women gentle and the men impressive, both tinged with a certain loneliness. Infinitely moving is his self-portrait as an old man (1588, Paris) in a very simple pose, en face, resigned and wise.

Further Reading

The most useful work on Tintoretto in English is still Hans Tietze, Tintoretto: The Paintings and Drawings (1948), although it shows touches of an expressionist bias. A remarkable and far-reaching study, perhaps confused in its search for standards of taste by which to judge Tintoretto's art appropriately, is F. P. B. Osmaston, The Art and Genius of Tintoret (2 vols., 1915); it is a very dated work but worth reading if only for its bravery in the questions it raises. John Ruskin's discussions of Tintoretto's art in Modern Painters (5 vols., 1843-1860) and The Stones of Venice (3 vols., 1851-1853) are passionately evocative and sometimes severely critical. □


views updated Jun 27 2018

Tintoretto (1518–94) Italian painter, b. Jacopo Robusti. Tintoretto was the outstanding Venetian painter in the generation that succeeded Titian. Among his notable works are The Finding of the Body of St Mark (1562), The Last Supper (1592–94), and the huge Paradiso (1588–90) in the Doge's Palace, Venice. Some of Tintoretto's finest paintings are in the series of the life of Christ (1565–87).

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk; http://www.nga.gov