Tintoretto was an Italian painter and a notable exponent of the Renaissance school. For his phenomenal energy in painting he was termed Il Furioso. His work is characterized by its muscular figures, dramatic gestures, and bold use of perspective in the Mannerist style, while maintaining color and light typical of the Venetian School. In his youth, Tintoretto was also known as Jacopo Robusti as his father had defended the gates of Padua against the imperial troops during the War of the League of Cambrai.
Tintoretto was born in Venice, as the eldest of 21 children. His father, Giovanni, was a dyer, or tintore; hence the son got the nickname of Tintoretto. In childhood Jacopo, a born painter, began daubing on the dyer's walls; his father, noticing his bent, took him to the studio of Titian to see how far he could be trained as an artist. Tintoretto had only been ten days in the studio when Titian sent him home once and for all, the reason being that the great master observed some very spirited drawings, which he learned to be the production of Tintoretto; and it is inferred that he became at once jealous of so promising a scholar. This, however, is mere conjecture; and perhaps it may be fairer to suppose that the drawings exhibited so much independence of manner that Titian judged that young Jacopo, although he might become a painter, would never be properly a pupil.
From this time forward the two always remained upon distant terms, Tintoretto being indeed a professed and ardent admirer of Titian, but never a friend. The latter sought for no further teaching, but studied on his own account with laborious zeal; he lived poorly, collecting casts, bas-reliefs..., and practising by their aid. His noble conception of art and his high personal ambition were evidenced in the inscription which he placed over his studio Il disegno di Michelangelo ed il colorito di Tiziano ("Michelangelo's design and Titian's color"). He became expert in modelling in wax and clay method. The models were sometimes taken from dead subjects dissected or studied in anatomy schools; some were draped, others nude, and Tintoretto was to suspend them in a wooden or cardboard box, with an aperture for a candle. Now and afterwards he very frequently worked by night as well as by day.
The two earliest mural paintings of Tintoretto are said to have been Belshazzar's Feast and a Cavalry Fight. These are both long since perished, as are all his frescoes, early or later. The first work of his to attract some considerable notice was a portrait-group of himself and his brother with a nocturnal effect; this also is lost. One of Tintoretto's early pictures still extant is in the church of the Carmine in Venice, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple; also in S. Benedetto are the Annunciation and Christ with the Woman of Samaria. For the Scuola della Trinity he painted four subjects from Genesis. Two of these, now in the Venetian Academy, are Adam and Eve and the Death of Abel, both noble works of high mastery, which leave us in no doubt that Tintoretto was by this time a consummate painter - one of the few who have attained to the highest eminence in the absence of any formal training. Towards 1546 Tintoretto painted for the church of the Madonna dell'Orto three of his leading works - the Worship of the Golden Calf, the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, and the Last Judgment now shamefully repainted. In 1548 he was commissioned for four pictures in the Scuola di S. Marco. These four works were greeted with signal and general applause.
In 1550, Tintoretto married Faustina de Vescovi (or Episcopi ?), daughter of a Venetian nobleman who was the guardian grande of the Scuola Grande di San Marco. Faustina bore him several children, probably two sons and five daughters. The mother of Jacopo's daughter Marietta Robusti, a portrait painter herself, was probably a German woman, who had an affair with Jacopo before his marriage to Faustina.
Between 1565 and 1567, and again from 1575 to 1588, Tintoretto produced a large number of paintings for the walls and ceilings of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The building, begun in 1525, was very deficient in light and thus ill-suited for any great scheme of pictorial adornment. The painting of its interior was commenced in 1560. In that year five principal painters, including Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese, were invited to send in trial-designs for the centre-piece in the smaller hall, the subject being S. Rocco received into Heaven. Tintoretto produced not a sketch but a picture, and got it inserted into its oval and it was retained in situ, Tintoretto furnishing gratis the other decorations of the same ceiling. In 1565 he resumed work at the scuola, painting the magnificent Crucifixion. In 1576 he presented gratis another centre-piece accepting whatever pittance the confraternity chose to pay.
Tintoretto next launched out into the painting of the entire scuola and of the adjacent church of San Rocco. He offered in November 1577 to execute the works at the rate of 100 ducats per annum, three pictures being due in each year. This proposal was accepted and was punctually fulfilled, the painter's death alone preventing the execution of some of the ceiling-subjects. The scuola and church contain fifty-two memorable paintings. It was probably in 1560, the year in which he began working in the Scuola di S. Rocco, that Tintoretto commenced his numerous paintings in the Doge's Palace; he then executed there a portrait of the doge, Girolamo Priuli. Other works (destroyed by a fire in the palace in 1577) succeeded—the Excommunication of Frederick Barbarossa by Pope Alexander III and the Victory of Lepanto. After the fire, Tintoretto started afresh, Paolo Veronese being his colleague. In the Sala dell Anticollegio, Tintoretto painted four masterpieces.
The crowning production of Tintoretto's life, the last picture of any considerable importance which he executed, was the vast Paradise, reputed to be the largest painting ever done upon canvas. A painted sketch, held in the Louvre Museum (Paris), was submitted as a proposal by Tintoretto for a picture in the Doge's Palace. It is a work so stupendous in scale, so colossal in the sweep of its power, so reckless of ordinary standards of conception or method, so pure an inspiration of a soul burning with passionate visual imagining and a hand magical to work in shape and colour, that it has defied the connoisseurship of three centuries, and has generally passed for an eccentric failure; while to a few eyes it seems to be so transcendent a monument of human faculty applied to the art pictorial as not to be viewed without awe. When the picture had been nearly completed he took it to its proper place and there finished it, assisted by his son Domenico for details of drapery, etc. All Venice applauded the superb achievement, which has since suffered from neglect, but little from restoration. After the completion of the Paradise Tintoretto rested for a while, and he never undertook any other work of importance, though there is no reason to suppose that his energies were exhausted had his days been a little prolonged.
He died in 1594 and was buried in the church of the Madonna dell'Orto. Tintoretto had very few pupils; his two sons and Martin de Vos of Antwerp were among them. His son Domenico Tintoretto frequently assisted his father in the groundwork of great pictures. There are reflections of Tintoretto to be found in the Greek painter of the Spanish Renaissance El Greco, who likely saw his works during a stay in Venice.
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