tintoretto and madonna dell'orto church Venice

On this day in history: Artist Tintoretto dies

Culture History of Italy News

On May 31, 1594, the art world lost one of its most dynamic and influential figures, Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto.

Born in Venice in 1518, Tintoretto earned his nickname due to his father’s profession as a dyer (“tintore” in Italian). Throughout his prolific career, Tintoretto became renowned for his vigorous and dramatic painting style, characterised by bold brushwork, vibrant colour, and innovative compositions.

Tintoretto’s journey into the world of art began early. As a child, he daubed on his father’s walls, prompting his father to take him to the studio of Titian, the leading artist of the time, to see if he could be trained. However, things did not work out, and Tintoretto was quickly sent home. Undeterred, Tintoretto studied on his own and practiced his technique day and night, shaping his distinctive style through relentless self-discipline and experimentation.

Although he later claimed to admire Titian, the famous artist remained distant toward him. Indeed, a motto attributed to him shows the biggest influences on his work: ” l disegno di Michelangelo e il colorito di Tiziano” (Michelangelo’s drawing, and Titian’s colour” (Hale, 315)), showing two of the biggest artistic influences on his work.

On this day: Titian dies

Style and technique of Tintoretto

Tintoretto was renowned for his bold use of color, dramatic lighting, and dynamic compositions, which imparted an emotional and expressive quality to his works that was exceptional for his time.

Tintoretto used chiaroscuro, a technique that employed contrasting tones to create the illusion of depth and volume. He also often structured his compositions with diagonals, a device that heightened the drama within his paintings. This technique is exemplified in his magnificent work “Venus, Vulcan, and Mars,” showcasing his mastery in creating dynamic and powerful visual narratives.

Venus, Vulcan and Mars by Tintoretto
Venus, Vulcan and Mars by Tintoretto

Tintoretto and church works

One of Tintoretto’s early works, “The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple,” still resides in the Church of the Carmine in Venice. This painting marks the beginning of his remarkable career, which would see him produce numerous masterpieces. He went on to paint four subjects from Genesis, including “Adam and Eve” and “The Death of Abel,” both now housed in the Accademia Museum in Venice.

In 1546, Tintoretto created three major works for the Church of Madonna dell’Orto in Canareggio: “The Worship of the Golden Calf,” “The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple,” and “The Last Judgement.” These paintings highlight his ability to blend complex narratives with striking visual effects.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco and portraiture

Two years later, in 1548, Tintoretto was commissioned to create four paintings about the life of St. Mark for the Scuola Grande di San Marco.

From 1565 onwards, he produced many paintings for the walls and ceilings of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, often regarded as his magnum opus. This cycle includes masterpieces such as “The Crucifixion,” “The Annunciation,” and “The Last Supper,” celebrated for their dramatic use of light and shadow, intricate detail, and emotional intensity.

Close ups of works by Tintoretto in Scuola Grande is San Rocco, part of six works showing Christ's arrest, execution and resurrection. These are Jesus in Gethsemane, before Pilate, ascent to Calvary.
Christ in the Garden; Christ before Pilate; the Ascent to Calvary.
Close ups of works by Tintoretto in Scuola Grande is San Rocco, part of six works showing Christ's arrest, execution and resurrection.
These are curcifixion, resurection, ascension
The crucifixion; the resurrection; the Ascension

Tintoretto’s influence extended beyond his religious commissions. He was also a master of portraiture, capturing the essence of his subjects with psychological depth and realism. His portraits of Venetian nobility and intellectuals showcase his keen observation and technical skill.

One of his last significant works was the vast canvas “Paradise,” which occupies an entire wall of the Great Council Chamber in the Doge’s Palace. A painted sketch of this monumental piece is in the Louvre in Paris.

A man of Venice

Tintoretto lived most of his life in Cannaregio, Venice, in a house near the Church of Madonna dell’Orto, overlooking the Fondamento dei Mori. He is believed to have left Venice only once in his life.

Despite facing competition and scepticism, his dedication to his craft and innovative spirit secured his legacy as one of the giants of the Italian Renaissance.

In May 1594, after suffering severe stomach pains and fever, Tintoretto died at the age of 75. His body lies in the Church of Madonna dell’Orto.

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