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Tintoretto: Movement, “Far Presto”, Colors and Fame


Tintoretto: Movement and Liveliness

Even in his works illustrating solemn or sacred subjects, his models' faces and attitudes belonged to the people of his homeland.

His characters, slender and full of life, seem to move constantly.

They can never remain severe and calm; their attitudes and faces are animated and as vivid as the brushstrokes of their creator!

The Italians recognized in him a great master in the art of animating figures. They said, “One must study the Tintoretto movement. In his pictures, the old men are very passionate”.

Some talk about picturesque fury!

Hence the mixed praise of the famous Aretino contemplating the no less renowned painting that made Tintoretto's glory: “The Miracle of St Mark releasing the Slave” installed in 1548 in the Capitular Hall of the Scuola di San Marco.

The far presto of Tintoretto

According to Aretino, Tintoretto's execution speed would make him miss the Ideal Beauty, which requires slow and patient research.

The execution speed, the “far presto” of the Tintoretto, was the subject of criticism and controversy about the canvas “Saint Mark releasing the Slave”.

Since his “Saint Mark releasing the Slave” displeased, Tintoretto picked it up and brought it back to his studio.

After some time, he was asked to bring back his painting to regain its place at the Scuola di San Marco.

Indeed, it is enough to look closely at St Mark's Miracle releasing the Slave to come to realize that it was not sloppy work.

Nothing is missing from the characters surrounding the Slave: the reflections of the soldier's armour, the pompoms of the man's jacket next to him, the beards and curly hair, the patterns of the fabric of the man's dress to the turban, everything is perfectly rendered.

The same applies to the bodies' formal beauty and the drapes; the executioner's garment showing his broken hammer is as fluid as silk.

The Colour range is just as rich, and the whole picture is well built.

Tintoretto: Venetians' use of colour

With the Miracle of the Slave, Tintoretto had succeeded in realizing the motto of his youth:
Michelangelo's drawing and the colour of Titian, to which he added the movement.

Tintoretto's way of working is no longer that of an artist imitating the ideal model he discovers in himself to represent a stylized, stable and timeless beauty.

He didn't work like the Italian Renaissance painters who considered drawing paramount to design the lines or contour.

These artists developed and represented their ideas by drawing the lines: they first traced the shapes and built a harmonious whole. The colour came next.

As Vasari said, “For them, it was a matter of spreading the colours on the figure of a good design made of curved lines drawn on a wooden panel, a wall or a canvas.”

The drawing was the principle, or the foundation of architecture, sculpture and painting.

First and foremost, Venetian painters were colourists, for whom the contours in nature were noticeable as colours, as tones.

Venetians regarded the line as an invention, an abstraction that does not exist in nature; thus, it is not essential to properly imitate this nature full of shades.

These shades, often fugitive, can only be rendered by colours prepared, worked, mixed and applied according to the rate and pressure of the brush at the end of an expert hand, giving them this character peculiar to the Venetian “colorito”, meaning the Venetian use of colour.

The brush touch and knack rather than drawing!

Tintoretto's hand drew and painted in a single gesture because he made his picture simultaneously as he conceived it: sketch and painting are only the same work.

That was the explanation he told later to the members of the Scuola San Rocco, who blamed him for providing them with a finished work instead of the requested sketch!

So his prestezza di fare, his achievement speed was unique and revolutionary in its results.

He freely used all the means offered by drawing and colour in his creative momentum: dizzying perspective shortcuts reflecting exaggerated movements, a light that is not the one we usually see, striking colours, a space different from ours.

Tintoretto was not only able to improvise, but he also had the genius of inventions full of originality in the effect of depth and the harmony of shades.

He did not hesitate to push the limits of technique and style, even challenging the finishing and the care's values of a considered complete pictorial work!

Tintoretto, The Portraitist

Venetian painters received aristocrats and wealthy burghers who wanted to leave their person's memory and prestige by having their portrait painted.

Tintoretto had portrayed the famous Veronica Franco, a courtesan and poet born in 1553, who was the mistress of France's King during his visit to Venice in July 1574.

Veronese and Tintoretto had then decorated the triumphal arch built in the Lido by Palladio, under which King Henri III of France was to pass.

After a stay rich in pleasures and festivities, Henri III left Venice with the portrait offered by the beautiful Veronica in her memory, accompanied by two poems of her composition.

This portrait is currently in the United States at the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.

Henri III wanted to honour the Tintoretto talents as he had done for the glassmakers of Murano.

“He refused to be made a knight by Henri III, who, passing through Venice, returning from Poland to France, made several knights there.“
Stendhal - Venice School of Painting

One day Tintoretto portrayed a gentleman rather superficial and full of his person, who kept recommending him return the laces well, jewels and rich fabrics with which he was dressed.

Finally, Tintoretto lost patience and shouted:
“So go get painted at Bassano's house!”
Bassano was known to be an excellent animal painter.

A group of prelates and senators had come to his studio, and, seeing the speed with which he handled the brush, they told him that Giovanni Bellini and other painters were less in a hurry and provided much more careful work.

Tintoretto replied dryly:

“Sure, these painters were not surrounded by troublesome like you!”

This remark remained unanswered and showed the degree of freedom accorded to Venetian artists when the rest of Italy's princes and prelates were immensely grateful for the flattery and praise by the artists they maintained.

These two little anecdotes show us a painter constantly criticized for his “prestezza”, his “speed”, because he drew directly with a brush.

In addition, Tintoretto was endowed with a too strong personality to obey anyone's demands and whims.

But this is not surprising because he was less concerned about making a fortune than to constantly find new orders for the sole need to exercise his art.

The way he managed to win the contest hold by Scuola Rocco is very revealing.

Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto in Scuola Grande di San Rocco

On May 31 1564, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco opened a competition of sketches to choose the work intended to decorate the ceiling of its Albergo.

The participants are famous: Schiavone, Veronese, Salviati, Zuccari and Tintoretto.

After inquiring about the exact dimensions of the site, the Tintoretto had completed its painting of Saint Roch in Glory by June 22.

And he managed to have it installed directly on the ceiling of the Albergo Hall, while the other competitors had barely finished their sketches!

When Rocco's brotherhood pointed out, they had not asked for a finished painting but a sketch, according to Vasari, Tintoretto replied: “It's my way of drawing, I don't know how to do otherwise, and the sketches and works must be like that so as not to mislead anyone; and finally, if you don't want to pay me for my work and efforts, get it as a gift.”

According to Scuola's rules, a gift offered as a sign of devotion to the Saint could not be refused.

Saint Roch in Glory remained in place, and Tintoretto completed the rest of the ceiling decoration free of charge with about twenty other canvases.

Then, becoming a member of the brotherhood of San Rocco, he painted in 1565 the immense Crucifixion that occupies the entire wall facing the entrance to the Albergo, where the Titian had proposed to place one of his paintings in 1553.

The success of the Crucifixion was so great that Tintoretto was entrusted with all the decoration of the Albergo with works illustrating Christ's passion.

In 1567 he had fulfilled his contract with Christ before Pilate, Ecce Homo and the Road to Calvary.

In 1575, when the Scuola decided to renovate the Grand Hall of the Chapter with “Teleri” (large-format canvases), he offered to paint free of charge the canvas that will occupy the centre of the ceiling: The Miracle of the Bronze Serpent.

Then he offered to paint the other two large canvases of the ceiling; in exchange, he should get the mere reimbursement of material costs.

So much so that he ended up being chosen to decorate the Scuola and the church of San Rocco, getting a mere reimbursement of the equipment in return, plus an annual annuity of one hundred ducats.

He worked there until 1588.

In twenty-four years, Tintoretto covered the Scuola di San Rocco walls and ceilings with about fifty paintings.

A true dedication, knowing that the usual price of only one of these great paintings, which can be admired today at the Scuola San Rocco, was precisely a hundred ducats!

One can imagine all sorts of reasons or explanations for such dedication: love of art, desire for glory, willingness to impose oneself at any cost, crazy generosity or need to fill all possible spaces of his painting correlated to a creative fury.

But the fact remains that Jacopo Robusti did not use his art to make a fortune.

Tintoretto Life and Career | Colors and Fame | Kings and Emperors
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