Monday, September 29, 2014

Tintoretto, born today in 1518

Jacopo Robusti (September 29, 1518 - May 31, 1594) was born in 1519, the son of a wool dyer; it is from his father's profession that he derived his nickname Tintoretto (little dyer). The tale, probably aprophycal, is that he studied for a few days in Titian's studio, until the old master, seeming his talent, kicked him out.

Early biographers report that Tintoretto worked with a variety of artisans, from muralists to furniture painters, to learn his craft. Although he may also have apprenticed in the shop of a second-tier painter, he was essentially self-taught as an artist. How he got from his beginnings as an artist in the 1540's to his first masterpiece in 1548 is not really known. The early records have been lost, yet the original sources emphasize his intelligence and relentless determination.

Giorgio Vasari, the Florentine artist and writer, disliked Tintoretto's work, yet nevertheless proclaimed he had "the most prodigious brain ever seen in the art of painting." Pietro Aretino, the poet and chief arbiter of taste in Venice, said he was brilliant and headstrong. Carlo Ridolfi, Tintoretto's main biographer, stated that his mind was "filled to the brim with countless ideas" and that "he was always thinking of ways to make himself known as the most daring painter in the world."

John Ruskin during his first visit to Venice wrote: "I never was so utterly crushed to the earth before any human intellect as I was today before Tintoret. Just be so good as to take my list of painters, and put him in the school of Art at the top, top, top of everything, with a great big black line to stop him off from everybody.... As for painting, I think I didn't know what it meant till today."

Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples. 1547
Tintoretto combined originality with superb technical skills. He was also not afraid to paint big. Only in Venice can one see the full scope of his achievement - for instance, the series of paintings he made for the confraternity of the Scuola di San Rocco between 1565 and 1588. Covering the walls and ceilings of two floors of a large building, the paintings are simply an astonishing tribute to his talent and his prodigious imagination. Although much ot Tintoretto's murals have been lost or destroyed, enough remains for visitors to Venice to come away with the impression that he painted every church and public building in the city.

Two of his early works, 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.

Christ's Baptism.
Several characteristics of Tintoretto's painting technique stand out. One is the relative simplicity of layering in the application of successive strata of paint. A Renaissance painting is built of many layers of different hues that combine to create the desired colors and effects. This is especially true in the paintings of Titian and the other Venetian artists who pioneered the technical and pictorial capacities of oil, a comparatively new medium. Painting slowly over many work sessions, Titian would lay down a series of translucent glazes on his pictures, each layer adding to and blending with the pigments already applied.

Not Tintoretto. He devised a new method that entailed a minimum of layering. Working on top of a substratum of dark pigment, he would, with some exceptions, first paint a middle value of the color of an area of the picture; then he would add broad swaths of brighter or darker intensities of that color to indicate passages in light or shade; finally he would apply the highlights and shadows in large and bold strokes of the brush. (Butterfield, Andrew (2007-04-26). "Brush with Genius". New York Review of Books (NYREV, Inc.) 54 (7). Retrieved 2007-04-18.)

The Origin of the Milky Way. 1570

A comparison of Tintoretto's final The Last Supper with Leonardo da Vinci's treatment of the same subject provides an instructive demonstration of how artistic styles evolved over the course of the Renaissance. Leonardo's is all classical repose. The disciples radiate away from Christ in almost-mathematical symmetry. In the hands of Tintoretto, the same event becomes dramatic, as the human figures are joined by angels. A servant is foregrounded, perhaps in reference to the Gospel of John 13:14-16. In the restless dynamism of his composition, his dramatic use of light, and his emphatic perspective effects, Tintoretto seems a baroque artist ahead of his time.For his phenomenal energy in painting he was termed Il Furioso but for the timeless appeal of his work, he should be termed an Immortal of Art.

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