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Il Tintoretto

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Italian painter, b. at Venice, 1518; d. there 1594. His father was a dyer; hence his surname of Tintoretto (the little dyer). In his early youth he displayed an extraordinary taste for the fine arts. He played well on the harp, but his aptitude for painting was still more pronounced. His parents made him an apprentice of the aged Titian, but Jacopo, eager to distinguish himself, soon set up a studio of his own. His ambition was nothing less than to transform Venetian painting by adding to its distinguishing qualities of brilliantly harmonious colouring and pleasant grace of form the merits of the Florentine and Roman schools, a knowledge of anatomy which excels in the nude, dramatic mise en scène , a pose full of movement, a vigorous contrast of light and shade. According to his biographer, C. Ridolfi, he summarized his ideal in the ambitious formula: "The drawing of Michelangelo and the colouring of Titian " (Il disegno di Michelangelo, il colorito del Tiziano). To fit himself for carrying out this magnificent but difficult programme Robusti devoted himself to unremitting labour. He studied the ancient statues ; he had sent to him from Florence the reductions which Daniel of Volterra had made in plaster of Michelangelo's masterpieces, "Dawn", "Noonday", "Twilight", and "Night"; he drew incessantly from the living model or the draped lay figure; he dissected dead bodies; he worked not only by sunlight but also by the flicker of torches in order to master the varied play of light. This intense labour was not fruitless. Being gifted with wonderful facility he executed a countless number of works, and even to the end of his life sustained a veritable fever of production.

In order to make himself known he proposed to the clergy of Santa Maria dell'Orto to paint two large pictures for that church (49 feet high, by 19 feet 6 inches wide), asking no payment but what would cover their cost. His offer was eagerly accepted, and Robusti painted the "Adoration of the Golden Calf " and the "Last Judgment". In this rapidly executed and spirited work he displayed a precocious virtuosity, assembling in a tumultuous whole a great number of figures with agitated gestures and attitudes. His aim was to attract public attention and in this he fully succeeded. He painted several other pictures for this church, in which his talent, having grown more confident, shows more poise. These were: "St. Peter venerating the Cross"; "The Martyrdom of St. Paul"; "St. Agnes recalling to life the Prefect's Son"; the "Presentation of the Blessed Virgin". His latest pictures were painted for the Ducal Palace and the Confraternity of San Rocco ( Scuola di San Rocco ). For the Doges' Palace he first painted four scenes from the life of St. Mark (now scattered). The most remarkable is the "Miracle of St. Mark" (the saint releasing a slave about to be tortured), painted in 1548, which is now in the Venetian Academy of Fine Arts. Robusti's eminent qualities as a draughtsman, colourist, and composer are most happily combined and harmonized in this picture. Other pictures painted for the Sala dello Scrutinio perished in the fire of 1577. But the Ducal Palace still preserves many of his works. As examples of plastic beauty so popular at that time may be mentioned: "Pallas in chase of Mars"; "Ariadne crowned by Venus"; "St. George overcoming the Dragon"; "The Marriage of St. Catharine". In this line he succeeded but without excelling, for his manner is not free from heaviness. Among the historic paintings may be mentioned: "The legates of the Pope and the Doge at Pavia before Frederick Barbarossa "; the "Defence of Brescia in 1483"; the "Capture of Gallipoli in 1484"; "Venice, Queen of the Sea".

In 1560 the Confraternity of San Rocco near the church of that name opened a contest for the decoration of a central ceiling whereon the "Glorification of San Rocco" was to be depicted. Tintoretto had formidable competitors: Paolo Veronese, Giuseppe Salviati, Federigo Zuccaro. Instead of submitting the required sketch, Tintoretto, with his feverish ardour, in a short time completed a picture which he quickly put in place. It pleased the Brothers of San Rocco, who confided to him the entire decoration, to the great displeasure of his rivals, who were offended by the indelicacy of the proceeding. Tintoretto worked on this vast undertaking from 1560 to 1594. It consists of 56 compositions, many of them, such as the "Calvary", of colossal size. "It displays such fullness of light, such a triumphant blossoming of genius and success, that one comes away from it as from too full and loud a concert, half deafened, missing the proportion of things and not knowing whether to believe one's senses" (Taine). Tintoretto also painted pictures for several Venetian churches, the chief of which were the "Crucifixion" and the "Resurrection" at San Cassiano, the "Marriage Feast of Cana " at Santa Maria della Salute, the "Baptism of Christ" at San Silvestro, the "Last Supper" at San Giorgio Maggiore and San Giovanni, and the "Life of St. Rocco" at San Rocco.

Robusti was not without merit as a portrait painter. At the Ducal Palace there is a series of portraits of the doges; the museum of the Uffizi at Florence has the portrait of Sansovino, the Louvre that of the painter himself. His last religious composition, begun at the age of seventy and finished shortly before his death, is in the Hall of the Grand Council of the Doges' Palace. This gigantic work, measuring 32 feet 10 inches high, by 72 feet 2 inches wide, represents the "Last Judgment". "Although the colouring has grown dark we cannot but admire the broad lines, the close and picturesque grouping, the enormous masses set in motion with extraordinary vigour" (E. MŸntz). Also, it may be added, we cannot but admire the spirited strength of the old man who is able to depict about 500 persons. Jacopo Robusti did not full realize the ambitious programme he outlined for himself. He could not equal the drawing of Michelangelo, whom he took for his model, but he emphasized its defects by exaggerating the anatomical outlines and foreshortenings. These feats of skill are always out of place, but especially so in religious subjects, which Tintoretto too often treated unbecomingly. However, it is to his credit that he infused into some scenes from the Passion a communicative tragic emotion. His colour is inferior to Titian's, whom he hoped to surpass; it is heavier and less brilliant. But he discovered certain sombre tints which are wonderfully adapted to the expression of sad and sorrowful sentiments and which accentuate the bright contrasts. In point of time he is the last of the great Venetian painters, but he belongs already to the period of decadence, because he never succeeded in overcoming his unstudied impetuosity or fusing into a harmonious whole his eminent but warring qualities.

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