Death in Venice : Plague. Quarrantine. And Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto.
‘‘I never was so utterly crushed to the earth before any human intellect as I was today before Tintoretto. 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.’’
— John Ruskin
According to standard opinion Michelangelo, Titian, and Raphael were the supreme artists of the sixteenth century; yet often during the last four hundred years, viewers have gazed in awe and surprise at works by Tintoretto, and wondered if he might be the greatest painter of all. I am one such person. The paintings of Jacopo Tintoretto come as a revelation, not a divinely sponsored act for me, but a purely humanistic and artistic one.
Tintoretto was a painter of daring originality and dazzling technical command. Yet the full measure of Tintoretto’s colossal achievement can only be grasped in Venice, the city of his birth where he worked for his entire career. It is only here that he created on such an epic scale, the likes of which had never been seen before. The Crucifixion in the Scuola di San Rocco is more than twelve meters wide; the Last Judgment and the Worship of the Golden Calf at the Madonna dell’Orto, Tintoretto’s parish church, are nearly fifteen meters high, the tallest paintings on canvas made during the Renaissance.
Tintoretto was undoubtedly an artist of epic breadth and dimensional composition but it is his profound sympathy for and deep connection with humanity that has attracted many including myself. Henry James compared him to Shakespeare; Bernard Berenson likened him to Tolstoy.
Jacopo Robusti was born in 1518, the son of a wool dyer; it is from his father’s profession, tintore, that he derived his nickname Tintoretto, ‘‘little dyer’’. He is said as a youth to have been apprenticed for a few days to Titian’s studio until the older master recognized his immense potential, and, feeling threatened, kicked him out. This rivalry was to continue for life.