Reaching success in Tintoretto’s life

Tintoretto reached fame and success with his art in Venice at the age of thirty (see my previous post about it). His provoking and shocking “Miracle of the Slave” was placed in the Capitolo Hall of the Scuola Grande San Marco in 1548. Everyone was impressed. Strangely enough though, his career went uphill and he kept on struggling to get new commissions. 

Tintoretto criticised for his “prestezza”

The rivalry with Titian and especially with Paolo Veronese played a major role in the difficulty he experienced in his career. But also the “unfinished” character of his art and that sense of having painted in a rush, with “prestezza”, are still today the reasons why some don’t like his works. The funny thing is that Tintoretto was originally praised for his furious brushstrokes and the fast speed with which he would conceive a composition. Eventually, he got criticised for the same reasons.

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Battle of Zara, Doge's palace, Venice, detail

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Battle of Zara, Doge’s palace, Venice, detail

I want it all, and I want it now

On the other side, he got bulimic. His desire to work in all possible fields, both public and private, religious and profane brought him to develop a very aggressive marketing strategy. Overpricing some of his art works. Working almost for free in other cases. Arranging a workshop and a team of assistants, including his son Domenico and his daughter Marietta, that could take care of different projects at the same time. Neglecting fairness, taking high risks as when he brought the finished painting instead of a sketch of St. Rocco in Glory at the Scuola Grande San Rocco to get the commission. Daring and challenging.

The exhibition at the Doge’s Palace in Venice

In the Doge’s Palace the exhibition going on till January 6th will give a chance to understand this Venetian painter after 1548. Arranged by the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia with the special collaboration of the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, this exhibit explores Tintoretto literally beyond the surface.

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Battle of Zara, Doge's palace, Venice, detail

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Battle of Zara, Doge’s palace, Venice, detail

Anatomy study in Tintoretto’s art

His love for drawings, to start with. He got accused of not drawing. You won’t say any longer he would not draw once you see what work lay behind his paintings. The study of the anatomy of the bodies, in all possible perspectives, was overwhelming. Because there is not one way to see only.

National Archeological Museum, Venice and on the back, A Study from a male model from the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam

Simone Bianco (1512-1553), Bust in the ancient style (“Julius Caesar”)
National Archeological Museum, Venice and on the back, A Study from a male model from the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam

At the same time, he could disregard his own fascination for the body once it got to portraying men, especially elderly. The body disappears and face and hands get priority. Looking directly at us, the eyes of those men that supported him or simply asked him to seize their official and intimate nature leave us an uncomfortable feeling. As if we had been drawn in those paintings, peeping intrusively into somebody else’s lives.

Tintoretto photoshopping his own images

Moreover, Tintoretto was a master in image editing, too. This was not a new habit in the Renaissance. In fact, it is something that has been going on among painters forever. But while other artists would paint over previously painted canvas, it turns out that Tintoretto considered the canvas surface as a chameleon-like playing field, so while parts of the paintings were painted over, some parts were not and were recycled for different subjects. For economic reasons, it seems.

Storytelling in Tintoretto’s paintings

But what impresses most, is the narrative, storytelling nature of Tintoretto’s art works. As if his main source of inspiration came from the theatre world.

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Battle of Zara, Doge's palace, Venice, detail

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Battle of Zara, Doge’s palace, Venice, detail

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Deposition of Christ, 1562 Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, detail

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Deposition of Christ, 1562 Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, detail

And not just because it seems he used miniature theatre stages with puppets to understand the use of the light and foreshorten the figures in unusual perspective. But also because the spatial nature of his paintings dilated to welcome a relative vision of time. What does this mean?

Frozen, on-going or counterclockwise time

In some paintings Tintoretto chose to represent a moment. A frame freezing an instant for good, caught in a special significant flash. Like miracles, as The Resurrection of Lazarus. Or violent scenes, such as The Rape of Helen, where you can view the tears in Helen’s eyes or Tarquin and Lucretia, where the pearls of her broken necklace are still flying in the air.

In other paintings, such as battles, Tintoretto chose to represent different moments of the event, chronologically the one following the other, but all present at the same time on the canvas. So while your eyes explore the painting, then you follow the story developing from one moment to the other.

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Battle of Zara, Doge's palace, Venice, detail

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Battle of Zara, Doge’s palace, Venice, detail

Such elastic vision of time appears in some portraits, too, where the person portrayed seems to move towards us that very instant. Or in some narrative scenes, where the viewer expects one of the figures to leave the scene soon, when some other figure seems ready to step in.

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Presentation of Christ to the Temple, 1554-1556 Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, detail

Jacopo Tintoretto, The Presentation of Christ to the Temple, 1554-1556 Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, detail

In those years a controversial debate went on: which of the arts, sculpture or painting, was the one with the highest potential for the representation of reality in its complexity? Tintoretto believed it was painting as long as time and space were negotiable concepts. 

Jacopo Tintoretto, St George, St Louis and the princess, 1552 Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, detail

Jacopo Tintoretto, St George, St Louis and the princess, 1552 Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, detail

Tintoretto and Woody Allen (and the art critics)

However, if he had lived in our age, he would have likely replied that neither of these arts would be enough. I believe his preference would have gone to filming, of course with a visionary touch.

In his film “Everybody Says I Love You” in 1996, Woody Allen pursues Julia Roberts through the canals of Venice. He deliberately cheats her —although feeling guilty for this— while he pretends he knows all about Tintoretto to impress her, as this is her favourite painter. In fact, he knows nothing about Tintoretto but is fairly well instructed.

One of the most hilarious scenes in the movie is therefore dedicated to this precursor of the filming art. Praising Tintoretto, Woody seduces Julia, but never looks at his paintings, even for a second, and while making himself ridiculous, he subtly makes fun of art historians and critics. This happens right in the Scuola Grande San Rocco where Tintoretto nearly spent twenty years of his life. 

Therefore, come and look at his paintings which is in the end what he chose to leave us and judge yourself if art and fame in Tintoretto match or don’t. 

by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy
www.seevenice.it

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Showing 2 comments
  • Rob Slapikoff
    Reply

    Great post Luisella, and I like the clip with Woody Allen.

    • Luisella Romeo, blogseevenice
      Reply

      Thank you, grazie, for taking the time to leave a comment! I am glad you liked the post and yes, Woody Allen’s passage is one of my favourite! I can’t stop thinking of his words when I give a tour at the Scuola Grande San Rocco that makes me laugh 🙂 I love the comment: “… only to die again in 1594, but… that’s the way it happens to most of us.”

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