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Jacob Tintoretto was born during a flood in Venice, the year was 1519. Known as Tintoretto-the “little dyer”-because his father was a dyer by trade. He is described as a stormy and exalted spirit, a fiery passionate nature. Like all other Venetians of the day, Tintoretto had studied with Titian, and appears in his first works as a master of the Renaissance, tranquil in sentiment, gleaming and golden in color. He painted the radiant nudity of the youthful female form, studied the play and reflection of light as it softly caresses the back, and by means of a fairy-like landscape imparted to his paintings a solemn and majestic splendor. His representation of Christ Washing the Feet of His Apostles signifies, in its joyous Renaissance spirit, the zenith of his work as a worldly painter. The sunlight floods across the hall, and through the rows of shimmering palaces and the glittering mirror of lagoons.

“While in Titians portraits the most beautiful women of Venice pass by, among Tintoretto’ s few woman occur, and such as do are harsh and mannish, massive and heavy. The portraits of dogs and procurators which he painted in an official capacity are the only ones which reveal him in his full greatness. Here also a harsh objectivity differentiates him form Titian. While the latter seeks beautiful poses and graceful movement, and by use of columns and a curtain imparts to the background also a festal and decorative effect, Tintoretto’ s backgrounds are somber, enlivened with a coat of arms at most; and he is unable to render a beautiful pose because he never paints entire figures but mostly a three-quarter piece. Even the hands, upon which Titian bestowed so much attention, he subordinates to the head, either concealing them in Danish gloves or completing them in a few brushstrokes. By means of this simplification and also because he never paints transient traits, he achieves even more powerful and monumental effects than Titian. Velasquez learned much from Tintoretto’ s portraits of senators.

In his portrait groups he appears as a predecessor of Frans Hals. He was the first to paint pictures intended for public buildings, which, like the Dutch doelenstukke, united a number of officials in a single group. But while the Dutch, in order to unite the figures, represented them at a banquet, Tintoretto’ s nobility were far to proud to show themselves to the people in exalted condition. Without any bond of union, without any loss of composure, gloomy and reserved, they stand there, like Spanish grandness upon Italian soil.

But the real Tintoretto, the diligent master workman of the wild and fanatical style which dominated the following decades, can only be studied in his religious pictures. It seems as if suddenly a dark cloud had overcast the bright heaven of Venetian art. Instead of enchanting festal music of Veronese, funeral marches and trumpet blasts sound; instead of smiling woman, bloody martyrs and pale ascetics appear.

In order to become a painter of the Counter-reformation Tintoretto had formed a quite new technique. In contrast to other Venetians who portrayed the nude in repose, he learned to represent it in most dramatic action. By the study of Michelangelo and the use of the dissecting knife, he learned the extreme play of muscles that could be applied to his stormy figures. The rounded, classic forms of Titian were not suitable for these nude bodies which, inflamed with the ardor of faith, twist and contort themselves as if in illness. No superfluous flesh could make men phlegmatic or restrain the eccentric pathos of their gestures. He therefore introduces s new, emaciated and distended type of Venetian painting. His women, especially, with their pale, livid features and encircled eyes, strangely sparkling as if from black depths, have nothing in common with the soft ideal, of form which he followed in his youth. The color is used to strengthen the convulsive sentiment.

The inscription that proudly hung above the door of Tintoretto’ s studio read: “The line of Michelangelo, the color of Titian,” but this is an error. For Titians color resembles that of a beautiful autumn day, when everything gleams in rich harmonious colors, and the sun, before sinking in the west; but in the presence of Tintoretto’ s paintings one does not think of an autumn day, but rather a dismal night, when the lightening flashes or the flames of smoldering autos de fe ascend to heaven. Important portions of the painting lie in deep shadow, while others are illuminated in a ghostly fashion by harsh greenish lights. In place of the rich harmonies of the Renaissance he has substituted the gloomy color of the Baroque; the serene brightness of the Hellenic spirit is followed by medieval night.

The fifty-six paintings of the Scuola di San Rocco show the whole greatness and boldness of this daemonic artist. While the Renaissance had avoided the representations of physical suffering and given even to martyrs the smiling expression of a Ganymede, the picture of Tintoretto’ s St. Roch Healing a Sick Man already reveals the extraordinary naturalism which the Spaniards later employed in such representations. In his Crucifixion he found methods of heightening the feelings which were not developed until the panoramic paintings of the nineteenth century.” From Richard Muther, The History of Modern Painting, Henry and Co., London, 1896
Jacob Tintoretto’ s Greatest Paintings
Crocifissione (1565)- Chiesa di S.Rocco, Venezia
Miracolo di San Marco (1565) – Brera, Milano
La Cena (1594)- S. Giorgio Maggiore, Venezia
Miracolo dello Schiavo (1548)- Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venezia
Paradiso (1592)- Louvre, Paris
Piscina Probatica (1559)- Chiesa di S.Rocco, Venezia
Raccolta della Manna (1577)- S. Giorgio Maggiore, Venezia
Susanna e i Vecchi (1557)- Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien
Trafugamento del Corpo di San Marco (1566)- Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venezia
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