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Jacopo Robusti nicknamed il Tintoretto (1519-1594)

Tintoretto: The Painter of the Movement

Jacopo Robusti, nicknamed il Tintoretto was born in Venice in 1519 (ou 1518) and died in May 31 1594.

He was nicknamed “Il Tintoretto”, meaning the little dyer, because his father was a dyer on silk and velvet fabrics in the Merceria merchant district.

When little Jacopo admired the beautiful colours he saw in his father's studio, he did not think about dyeing luxury fabrics but painting beautiful frescoes on the walls, such as those painted by Titian and Giorgione of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

The father did not want to upset his son's vocation for drawing and painting.

After learning to draw, Jacopo was admitted, aged fifteen, into the famous Titian workshop, which promised him a bright future.

But the young man's genius turned out to be such that the master eventually considered him a rival; he sent him away, telling him that he had nothing more to teach him.

If such a referral amounted to a true master's certificate, it also meant depriving a job in the workshop of a famous master where orders flocked. Thus, Jacopo Robusti found himself alone with his talent.

Mr Robusti Sr, whose quality of work ensured him a solid income, felt stuck in the lively by “this proud master who imagines that no one can do without him”.

Since his son knows how to paint, he will give him a workshop with all the necessary equipment, “and such a lavish benefit that no artist will have started in this way”.

A few days later, Jacopo settled in San Luca in a large workshop well equipped and decorated by himself.

Relieved from all material concerns and free of obligations towards a school, he was ready to face the challenge launched by Le Titian.

And he immediately began to work on colours and drawing in a series of serious studies, imitating Le Titian and drawing inspiration from Michelangelo.

Tintoretto: The Drawing of Michelangelo and the Colour of Titian

Immediately settled in his workshop, Jacopo Robusti, nicknamed Tintoretto, wanted to be head of a new school that would perfect Titian's one by adding what it lacked.

Tintoretto had a vast idea, where one recognizes a great soul that redoubted efforts without being discouraged after being driven out of the Titian's workshop.

He wrote on his wall as a motto for his work: “Michelangelo's drawing and the colour of Titian”.

Tintoretto constantly recreated the works of Titian. And he had bought, by spending much, plasters of Michelangelo statues from Florence; he studied them day and night.

He did the same with many plasters of antique statues and low reliefs.

Often he drew his models in the light of a torch to obtain strong shadows and thus accustom himself to a large chiaroscuro.

He also made models of wax and earth, and after covering them with clothes, he delicately placed them in tiny houses that he built with pieces of cardboard and wooden sticks.

Then he placed outside his little house a lamp whose clarity penetrated through the windows. He observed, by varying the position of his small models, the different effects of light.

He suspended models on the ceiling in different attitudes, and he thus drew them from diverse points of view to gain mastery of “sotto-in-su” ( drawing from below to high) in which the Venetian School was much less gifted than Lombardy.

He did not forget the anatomy and avidly seized every opportunity to draw nude figures in various positions and under various shortcuts so that he could one day give his compositions the variety of nature.

Despite being deprived of a master, he had followed the best method of learning to draw.

He began by drawing the shapes of antiquity statues, then his imagination full of these beautiful contours sought to correct the defects of the nude he was drawing.

Tintoretto got an excellent studying method stimulated by his imagination, always rich in new ideas.

His fantasy made him conceive the most substantial characters of passions and left him only after expressing their minor details on the canvas.

Initially, Tintoretto made himself known by performing portraits in the manner of Titian.

He was also appreciated by distributing his sketches to his friends and not hesitating to invite those whose faces interested him to come and pose to get a portrait free of charge!

This liberality promoted him because they began to talk more and more of the painter nicknamed the Tintoretto.

And he mastered Titian's style to such an extent that some were mistaken.

But that was a simple step in this man's work, for whom living and painting were one in his passionate and generous surge of creation.

Tintoretto: Learning Large and Small Format

During Tintoretto's youth, the only work in his workshop, yet considerable, didn't satisfy his energy and his need to improve his art continually.

Therefore he found elsewhere the means and pleasures to paint in all the forms that his workshop could not offer him.

Sometimes he helped painters who painted and decorated furniture.

Thus the Suzanne of the Barbarigo house, where a large number of small animals and all the things that made a charming place appear in a small space, reveals her skills as a miniature painter.

He also followed masons he knew well on their “mainland” construction site to paint frescoes on the newly built walls without receiving any salary. It was a great way to practise painting on large dimensions.

The colours of Schiavone

He also worked with Schiavone, a painter considered a great colourist capable of beautifully imitating natural colours, who taught him a lot.

However, he added: “Painters should imitate the colour of Schiavone, but they would be very wrong not to draw better than him.”

Tintoretto could imitate him to such an extent that some believed that his “Circumcision” in the Church of the Carmini was a work of Schiavone!

Later, Tintoretto never forgot to recommend Schiavone's services if Schiavone did not get orders.

When he finally felt able to produce large-scale paintings meeting the artistic requirements of a former student of Titian, he offered his services to priests in exchange for the only reimbursement of material costs (scaffolding, canvas and colours).

His reputation grew as commissions flocked so that he had painted about thirty works for public monuments at the age of twenty-eight and about sixty paintings of more modest dimensions, to which were added countless portraits!

Aretino and Sansovino judged Tintoretto

Letter CLXVII from the Aretino to Jacopo Tintoretto: you paint too fast!

Aretino, a famous writer contemporary of Tintoretto, admired the “relief effect” and “the colours that are flesh” of the body of the fully naked Slave lying on the floor.

“These colours and formal beauty are those of a living being.”

He also appreciated the correctness of the characters' attitudes and mimics, which give “an impression of reality rather than painting.”

But this was not enough: “If Tintoretto wants to rise to a higher degree of perfection, he will have to control his youth's impetuousness.

If he brought the speed of execution to the patience of achievement, his reputation would greatly benefit.“

Poet Aretino opposed Tintoretto's prestezza, meaning his speed, to the “patienza di fare”, meaning “careful making” of the accomplished artist.

Sansovino shared this opinion by speaking of “Tintoretto, whose invention is fertile, but who lacks the great patience that usually allows everything to come to an end, and, indeed, he does too much at once.”

It should be noted here that Aretino, Sansovino and Vasari had found refuge in Venice after the plundering of Rome in 1527.

They were admirers of Michelangelo and Raphael.

They appreciated these artists figurative style and knew how to enjoy the artistic ideal in the perfection of the outline characterizing Roman and Florentine painters' works.

These Renaissance men considered Tintoretto's work could not sufficiently approach this ideal of beauty in the ancient way attained by these great artists.

Tintoretto as man and musician

Tintoretto loved music and singing and gave concerts at home, attended by his daughter Marietta and Joseph Zarlino de Chioggia, a talented musician.

According to Vasari, he knew how to play several instruments.

The Marriage of Cana by Paul Veronese shows us Tintoretto playing the violin.

In the painting, in the interior of the triclinium, Titian plays the bass, Veronese plays the viola, Tintoretto the violin, and Bassano the flute.

In 1550 he married Faustina Episcopi, daughter of Marco Episcopi elected Guardian Grande de la Scuola di San Marco in 1547.

Three of their children were painters: Marco, Domenico and Marietta, his favourite daughter who combined musician talents with her portraitist talents.

Tintoretto was an affectionate father; her daughter, Marietta's features, can be seen in several works of him:

At the Doge's Palace, he represented himself with Marietta among the crowd of the immense canvas of Paradise that adorns the Grand Council Hall.

At the Madonna dell Orto church, close to the house of Tintoretto, one can admire one of her most beautiful paintings, The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple.

Little Mary climbing the stairs is Marietta.

In 1574, Tintoretto bought the house where he had already been a tenant for a few years.

This house is located in the sestier of Canareggio at No. 3399 of the Fondamenta dei Mori, where he died on May 31, 1594.

At the time, there were predominantly warehouses of goods, and the inhabitants were essentially craftsmen.

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