Tintoretto’s 500th anniversary, and Venice today

Feasting on Tintoretto

Venice is currently celebrating the 500th anniversary of the painter’s birth, in 1518 or 1519. Almost all his major works remain in his home city, spread among 29 locations.

I imagined that the exhibition The Young Tintoretto at the Accademia was going to be a rerun of the one at the Musée du Luxembourg seen earlier this year in Paris, but it ranged wider. The highlight was his breakthrough work, nearly 18 feet across, “The Miracle of the Slave,” from 1548.

St Mark plunges earthwards, smashing the instruments of torture being used on a slave as punishment for worshipping him.



“The Miracle of the Slave” – detail



A massive crowd of onlookers cranes to see the victim, and the debris scattered around his unconscious body.

Jacopo Tintoretto was renowned for the speed at which he worked. He turned this to his advantage when he was invited to submit a design for a centrepiece for the ceiling of the magnificent Scuola Grande di San Rocco, in competition with three or four of the best painters in Venice.

When the time came to unveil his sketch, he revealed a finished painting, and cleverly offered it as a “gift to San Rocco”, knowing that the Scuola would thus be obliged to accept it.



“San Rocco in glory”



Also in the Scuola di San Rocco is his panoramic “Crucifixion”, completed in 1565. The tranquil figure of Christ looks down on the seething turmoil of soldiers and executioners below, in an unusual moment of stillness. At 40 feet across, it’s one of the largest oil paintings ever made.



“The Crucifixion”, Scuola di San Rocco



Tintoretto admired his contemporary Michelangelo (who spent time on Giudecca) and his work anticipates the drama of Caravaggio and the Baroque. His freely executed paintings are dramatically lit depictions of muscular bodies in turbulent motion, often plunging through the air or writhing in torment. Jean-Paul Sartre described him as “the first film director in history”.

Tintoretto lived and worked in a house in Cannaregio near the Madonna dell’ Orto church, where three more of his giant canvasses hang, and where he is buried.



Madonna dell’ Orto


Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Calle Fianco de la Scuola, 311, 30125 Venezia



Tintoretto’s major paintings have rarely been seen outside his home city, but in March 2019 the National Gallery of Art in Washington will present a major exhibition “Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice”


After feasting on Tintoretto, we needed dinner. Four, in fact, which will be the subject of the next post….



Sardines and soft-shell crabs ‘in saor’ at Alle Testiere








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