Tintoretto’s Triumph


From Tintoretto, The Triumph of Venice, 1587-94

From The Fortnightly Review:

Judiciously, the exhibition focuses on Tintoretto as a man of his time, Tintoretto as a businessman, Jacopo Robusti as the exhilarating paladin of that ‘creative destruction’ which inspired Venice in the sixteenth century to hang his canvases in its most prestigious rooms. In a city where artistic competition was extremely intense, and where the painters vied with each other to curry favor with this or that client, his imposing Michelangelesque figures in the foreground become the formal pretexts to occupy large portions of his pictures, fundamental to complying with the schedules of those very patrons, and yet harmonious with the noblest circles of Italian Mannerism. Even the stunning strength of his blues, as transparent as they are dark, derives from the need to prepare in advance the backgrounds of his works, according to the dictates of tonal painting, assimilated at this stage—via Titian—by all the artistic studios of the lagoon. In this way, his characteristic pictorial schemes (the garments, the figures in the background), hasty and verging on incomplete, become valuable solutions, linked to the acceptance of assignments that—owing to the schedules and demands—few artists would have been able to carry out.

From Tintoretto, Saint George and the Dragon, c. 1555

The garments sketched with abstract strokes, the extraordinary Michelangelesque figures, the flashes of colour, thus begin to take shape out of a particular necessity: the exigency of speed. A dazzling necessity where genius comes into play, and the achievement amazes us in its respect for the masters and the fashions of the time. Tintoretto’s own motto was indeed ‘drawing like Michelangelo’s, colour like Titian’s,’ but Vasari was the one who qualified him as a ‘swift and resolute’ painter.

From Tintoretto, Man with a White Beard, 1570/78

Starting from this premise of the necessity for speed, the exhibition sheds light on Tintoretto’s stupendous creative genesis. In particular, through the analysis of his studies a great deal can be learned. Indeed, Tintoretto needed no more than the outlines of the figures—no more than their idea—for them to come to life. Hence in Tintoretto the mystical progeny of creative genius, the primal form of the material is still visible: perhaps this truly is Michelangelo’s grand legacy at Robusti’s fingertips. To be sure, in keeping with his nature as a shrewd businessman, Tintoretto made use of preconceived studies, merely traced out, alluding to the shapes and then adapting them to the pictures. In this way his studies reveal the infinite imagination of the painter, capable of rough sketches that today we might attribute to a Kandinsky in his pre-abstract phase.

From Tintoretto, Penitent Magdalene, 1598/1602

The necessity of speed thus imposes on Tintoretto an artistic method that is highly disembodied: it will not only jeopardise his finished works, but also force him to transform himself into a genius in order to triumph in Venice, and leave forever an indelible mark on the world of art.

“Tintoretto is Venice”, Michele Casagrande, The Fortnightly Review

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