Tintoretto in Venice
Celebrating 500 years from Tintoretto’s birth: #Tintoretto500
A few days ago I was very lucky to be asked, thanks to Electa Editore, to take part in the preview and press conference for #Tintoretto500, the presentation of a new series of exhibitions in Venice, to celebrate the birth of the Venetian painter par excellence, the most representative and fascinating artist from the Serenissima: Jacopo Robusti known as Il Tintoretto.
These are some of the best exhibitions I have had the pleasure in visiting! One is held at the Doge Palace and the other one in Gallerie Dell’Accademia.
Tintoretto, Venetian painter par excellence
Tintoretto was nicknamed “the furious” for his energy and the dramatic use of perspective and light. He emerged in the Venetian painting scene in the decade in which the controversy on the Tuscan-Roman mannerism was most alive, that is between 1540 and 1550.
Already from the beginning, his painting style, which went beyond the classical rules, was more real and moving, with the inclusion, never seen before, of characters from every social class.
His painting style is, nowadays, considered the Venetian one par excellence: Tintoretto was more involved than any other in a vast series of public and private works such as those in the Palazzo Ducale, in schools, churches and even on the facades of the buildings.
He was loved and hated by his contemporaries for his ability not only in painting, but also in knowing how to promote himself through clever tricks.
“The most terrible brain that painting has ever had” – as Vasari defined it.
Well, he was a true Venetian, I would like to add myself! 😉
When he died in 1594, his “bottega” was a small business, where his son Domenico, his successor, and previously also his daughter Marietta, who Tintoretto loved dearly and who died prematurely in 1590, helped him complete the works for schools, churches and private homes.
The master was generous especially with his hometown: Venice can count many places where you can admire the works of the painter, often large paintings that narrate spectacular events that happened in the everyday, with such mastery in making the movements of the characters and in creating an intricate play of light and shadow to enchant the audience.
Tintoretto – The beginning
I am not an art critic, art expert or an historian; I used as a source for information ”Tintoretto by Francesca Marini, I Classici Dell’Arte.”; please bear with me if I made any mistakes!
Venice, April 1548.
Pietro Aretino sends a letter to his friend Jacopo Sansovino. In this letter he expresses his delight in the consecration of Sansovino in Venice, where he accomplished the restructuration of Piazza San Marco.
In his own words:
“Only you are without the hassle of emulation”,
because, according to Aretino, all the other artists were either competing or in a war against each other, even though, according to him, only one was going to win the price: Jacopo or “Tintorello”, as he called him.
Tintorello, or as we now know him, Tintoretto, was about to turn thirty the same period the letter was written. And at the same time he was also making his official debut on the Venetian artistic scene, with a large oil painting, Miracolo di San Marco, for the Sala Capitolare della Scuola Grande di San Marco.
But how did this young Venetian painter managed to win the most important commission of his time, to become a great friend to Sansovino and also to receive an official consecration by Aretino, although being so young?
Let’s take a look at his life and see how he managed to achieve such a success in such a short time!
Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto, was born in Venice, but his date of birth is uncertain, since his birth certificate got burnt during a fire at the Venice Archives. The year was definitely 1519. His father, Battista, probably coming from Lucca in Tuscany, was a “tintor”, that is a dyer of silks, and Jacopo, who, allegedly, was very short, was given the nickname of “Tintoretto”.
It seems that Battista Robusti was, not only an artisan dying fabrics, but the owner of a very important commercial activity, selling the same fabrics to the important Venetian families. This allowed him to become a “cittadino” and not a simple “popolano” in the city of Venice, allowing him to have access to important public roles in the city.
Therefore Jacopo, from a very young age, was totally immersed in a very intellectual environment. Think that his parents soon realized he was very gifted, when he came to drawing, and sent him to school to become a painter; at the same time they allowed his brother Domenico to follow his musical inclination and he became the court musician for Gonzaga in Mantova.
Jacopo knew from the start what he wanted to do in his life and it seems that already when he was 20, he declared to be an “independent painter”, not an apprentice.
Working in his “bottega” in Campo San Cassian, he lived through a very interesting time for Venice.
“…The city was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe: safe refuge for intellectuals and politicians, witnessing in those years the development of Printing and the multiplying of academies, inner sanctums and comedy theaters. It was a city which lived of exchanges between East and West, of artisanship, but also of politics and diplomacy, where religious and public celebrations, the regattas, the tournaments and public events in the honor of famous visitors were frequent and sumptuous…..”
During this period there is the possibility that Tintoretto travelled to Mantova, where his brother lived, and had the opportunity to view the works of art of Giulio Romano, taking inspiration on how to paint short figures seen from below.
Tintoretto used the method of suspending some models with the wires to the beams to observe the effects they produced when seen from below.
Tintoretto also made small figures in wax and clothed them to see what the effect of “luci e ombre”, lights and shadows, would be on the bodies and on the fabrics. He also built small wood houses, placing lanterns inside them to see the effect of the light.
Tintoretto, The Furious
All of this studying will later gain him the nickname of “the furious”, as I said before, for the dramatic use of perspective and light.
But at the same time Tintoretto was also a decorator, practicing his art with other fellow painters in San Marco, decorating furniture, an artisanal art that could be more easily sold.
This allowed Jacopo to acquire different styles, models and references, allowing him to become the young talented artist to whom Aretino referred to in his letter to Sansovino.
In 1540 we find his signature on a famous “Sacred Conversation” and also the two ceilings with mythological subjects painted for the Venetian house of Pietro Aretino belong to Tintoretto.
The first, true commission of which there is a certain trace, concerning Tintoretto, is that for Vettor Pisani, noble and owner of a bank, around 1541, on the occasion of his wedding. Pisani calls the young twenty-three-year-old painter for the restoration of his residence in San Paterniàn: sixteen panels centered on the theme of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Towards 1546 Tintoretto painted for the church of the Madonna dell’Orto three of his principal works: Adoration of the Golden Calf, the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple and the Last Judgment.
In 1555, the artist, now nicknamed “Il furioso”, for his trait and for the dramatic use of perspective, paints the famous altarpiece with “L’Assunta” in the Jesuit Church of Venice, and “Giuseppe and the wife of Putifarre “, another famous work, then bought by Diego Velasquez for Philip IV.
The following year, instead, he painted “Susanna and the Elders”.
In 1548 he was hired for four images in the Scuola Grande di San Marco. In his works the Titian imprint is still evident, especially in the chromatic choices and Michelangelo’s perfection in the anatomy of the bodies.
Tintoretto and Scuola di San Rocco
But the greatest effort of Tintoretto is represented by the paintings of the Scuola di S. Rocco. The painter devoted himself to it three times: 1564-66 with works for the Albergo; 1576-81 works for the upper hall; 1583-87 works for the ground floor hall.
In May 1564 the councilors of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco decided to decorate, at their own expense, the ceiling of the “Albergo” – the meeting room of the “junta” – in the new building built behind the apse of the Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa of the Frari.
Tintoretto, invited to take part in the competition, presented a model for a painting representing “The glory of San Rocco”.
Thus began a collaboration destined to last twenty years, which ensured that the rooms of the Scuola di San Rocco would be filled with works of the artist, to constitute an immense poem, whose importance has sometimes been compared to that of the Brancacci Chapel. of Florence or of the Sistine Chapel of Rome.
In 1547 Tintoretto, who moved to the parish of Santa Maria dell’Orto, began to collaborate with the canons of S. Giorgio in Alga: in this church he created different works, from the decoration of the organ with the Presentation of Mary to the Temple, to the Contarini Chapel.
His house, beautiful and evocative, is located in Fondamenta dei Mori, not far from the Campo dei Mori in Cannaregio.
Tintoretto and the Doges Palace
But the work of Tintoretto exquisitely characterized the interiors and halls of Palazzo Ducale too: a true Venetian painter for the most important palace of the Serenissima; from the son of a humble dyer to the true image of Venetian pictorial art.
In 1588, at the death of Veronese, he took over the latter in the decoration of the wall of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio. The resulting work, an immense canvas of more than 7 meters in height and 24 in length, depicts the Paradise with the Christ Pantocrator in the center.
Tintoretto died at the age of seventy-five after having completed three last works for the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore: the Jews in the desert and the fall of the manna, the Last Supper and the Deposition in the sepulcher (1592 – 1594).
Tintoretto and his pictorial art
His pictorial art is characterized by the great expressive energy and the daring use of perspective. In his works we often find great dramatic compositions and audacious contrasts of light and shadow. At the same time these characteristics crowned him as a great innovator of the Venetian Renaissance and a precursor of Baroque art.
Today Venice wants to celebrate her son through a rich program of exhibitions and events, made possible thanks to the cooperation between cultural institutions linked to its territory (Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Palazzo Ducale di Venezia, Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia) as well as international institutions (National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, Save Venice), given that the fame of the Venetian painter is known all over the world.
From 7th September 2019 till 6th January 2019, two important exhibitions will be on display to the public: “Tintoretto 1519-1594” in the magnificent seat of the Doge’s Palace and “Il giovane Tintoretto/Young Tintoretto” in the prestigious setting of the Gallerie dell’Accademia.
Both of the exhibitions are destined to cross the ocean to merge into a large exhibition “Tintoretto. Artist of Renaissance Venice”, hosted at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
Then all over the city of Venice in more than 30 sites, among churches, museums and exhibitions, there will be many events and itineraries centred on 500th Anniversary of Tintoretto’s birth.
A map is available at the museum with all the locations of the events.
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