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Tintoretto, Jacopo Robusti

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Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto PAINTINGS and Biography

 Tintoretto Paintings
Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto
1518 - 1594
Tintoretto was a Venetian painter, originally named Jacopo Robusti. Tintoretto's nickname derives from his father’s profession of dyer (tintore). Although Tintoretto was prolific and with Veronese the most successful Venetian painter in the generation after Titian’s death, little is known of his life. Tintoretto is said to have trained very briefly with Titian, but the style of his immature paintings suggests that he may also have studied with Bonifacio Veronese, Paris Bordone, or Schiavone. Almost all of Tintoretto's life was spent in Venice and most of his paintings are still in the churches or other buildings for which it was painted. Tintoretto appears to have been unpopular because he was unscrupulous in procuring commissions and ready to undercut his competitors. By 1539 Tintoretto was working independently, but the little that is known of his early paintings suggest that Tintoretto was not precocious.

The first painting in which he announced a distinctive voice is The Miracle of the Slave (Accademia, Venice, 1548), in which many of the qualities of his maturity, particularly his love of foreshortening, begin to appear. To help him with the complex poses he favoured, Tintoretto used to make small wax models which he arranged on a stage and experimented on with spotlights for effects of light and shade and composition. This method of composing explains the frequent repetition in Tintoretto paintings of the same figures seen from different angles. Tintoretto was a formidable draughtsman and, according to Ridolfi, he had inscribed on his studio wall the motto “The drawing of Michelangelo and the colour of Titian”. However, Tintoretto was very different in spirit from either of his avowed models, more emotive, using vivid exaggerations of light and movement. His drawings, unlike Michelangelo’s detailed life studies, are brilliant, rapid notations, bristling with energy, and his colour is more sombre and mystical than Titian’s.

Tintoretto’s greatest paintings are the vast series of paintings he did for the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice from 1565 to 1587 - scenes from the life of Christ in the upper hall and scenes from the life of the Virgin in the lower hall. The complicated scheme was probably not conceived by Tintoretto himself, but Tintoretto interpreted it with a vividness and economy of colour and detail that give a wonderful cohesion to the whole scheme. Its personal conception of the sacred story overwhelmed Ruskin, who devoted eloquent pages to it, and Henry James wrote of the stupendous Crucifixion (1565): “Surely no single painting in the world contains more of human life; there is everything in it, including the most exquisite beauty.” The unorthodox rough brushwork of such paintings incurred the censure of Vasari, but later generations recognized it as a means of heightening the drama and tension.

As well as religious paintings, Tintoretto painted mythological paintings and he was also a fine portraitist, particularly of old men (a self-portrait in old age is in the Louvre). Some of the weaker portrait paintings that go under his name may be the product of his large workshop. Tintoretto's son Domenico (c. 1560-1635) became his foreman and is said to have painted many portrait paintings, although none can be attributed to him with certainty. Another son, Marco (1561-1637), and a daughter. Marietta (c. 1556-90), were among his other assistants. The later paintings can thus be divided into those which are largely studio productions on the one hand and the visionary inspirations from Tintoretto’s own hand on the other. A prime example of the latter is The Last Supper (S. Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, 1592-94), the culmination of a lifetime’s development of this subject, from the traditional frontal arrangement of his youth to this startling diagonally viewed composition painting.

Tintoretto had great influence on Venetian painting, but the artist who most fruitfully absorbed the visionary energy and intensity of Tintoretto paintings was El Greco.

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