Italian Renaissance / Mannerism

c. 1518–1594


Tintoretto, 'Self-Portrait' c. 1546







Jacopo Robusti, referred to as Tintoretto or "the little dyer" was born in 1518 and is known for his immaculate paintings during the High Renaissance in Venice. Tintoretto was of "noble birth" — although noted with humble beginnings & didn't begin formal training until quite later in life. His nickname "the little dyer" refers to his father's dyeing business, yet it is still unknown how the name 'Tintoretto' came to be.  There is much speculation in regards to Tintoretto's earlier life, with historians still not quite sure how he developed his craft to such a mature style at a young age.



Tintoretto started an apprenticeship under the great Renaissance painter Titian, but again, much mystery surrounded the training. It could even have been just a number of days in which Tintoretto studied under him, for it is known that Titan quickly became jealous of the young scholar. Tintoretto admired Titian, but Titian recognized Tintoretto's talent & foresaw his popularity, dismissing him early on. After his brief training, Tintoretto embarked on the ambitious task of self-instruction. He began copying the works of various artists at the time, but in turn developed his own unique & rather controversial style.









The Renaissance was at it's peak when Tintoretto started becoming noticed. Venice, being a major influence of the era at the time, was the perfect environment for Tintoretto to enter in. Where the Mannerist style was popular throughout the rest of Italy, Venice had it's own unique approach, deemed "The Venetian School."  Both styles had extreme influence on Tintoretto, but what set him apart was the fact that he incorporated both throughout his work. Much in contrast to the other Venetian School painters ( Titian, Veronese, Bassano ) Tintoretto inspired the most controversy & received the most criticism from his peers.



While showing a definite Michelangelesque influence, Tintoretto took a more Mannerist approach to his work, as well as including many aspects tied with The Venetian School. These two styles often contrasted, which in turn ( arguably ) made Tintoretto's work all the better. The Mannerist features in his works include crowded scenes, the twisting & linking of figures, drama in gestures and poses. However, the Venetian Color still remains: warm reds, golds, & greens. His figures typically were arranged in real three-dimensional space, opposite of the typical compressed compositions of Mannerist works. With Tintoretto's intensely theatrical, stage-like displays encompassing his paintings, it was clear that he was a forerunner of Baroque.


early works

Tintoretto was extremely imaginative in his work, and became a dominant force in Venetian painting during the second half of the 1500s. Some of his early works include 'The Holy Family with Saints', 'The Conversation of Saint Paul', 'Venus and Mars Surprised by Vulcan', 'Self Portrait', and 'Allegory of the Dreams of Men', with his first accredited "masterpiece" being 'The Miracle of the Slave'. 




Tintoretto, 'The Conversion of Saul' c. 1545



Tintoretto, 'The Miracle of the Slave' c. 1548





The Miracle of the Slave



'The Miracle of the Slave' is considered to be one of the great masterpieces in the history of art. It was constructed in 1548 in the Scuola Grande di San Marco, one of the most prestigious confraternities in Venice. The Scuola Grande di San Marco was very active in the civic life of Venice and was indeed the most prominent commissions Tintoretto had received yet. Around 30 years of age at this time, Tintoretto painted a total of four canvases representing a narrative of the patron saint of Venice, St. Mark.


THE story

Saint Mark descends from heaven to save a slave from torture who had disobeyed his master in order to respect the saint's relics. First the slave's master orders for his eyes to be gouged out, but the instruments break & in turn he orders that his legs be broken off, the instruments breaking once again. Finally, the master orders that a hammer be used on the slave's mouth so he cannot call to St. Mark anymore, but the hammer is broken & at once everyone is aware of the miracle. 



Some fascinating tactics to note: the slave & St. Mark are both foreshortened in different directions, the brushstroke is extremely loose and looks as if the piece is unfinished ( a defining characteristic of Tintoretto's ), linear perspective is used, and there is a distinct focus on line and color. In regards to the color palette, red & gold are both used intentionally in the piece to provide emphasis & structure, making your eye wander throughout. Rejecting the usual attribute of legibility associated with High Renaissance, "The Miracle of the Slave" is in fact a very hard piece to read. Tintoretto went on to continue this pattern.




Tintoretto, 'Crucifixion' c. 1565.




Tintoretto, 'The Adoration of the Magi' c. 1582.








After the major success of "The Miracle of the Slave", Tintoretto immediately became flooded with commissions. He went on to paint important works for the multitude of churches in Venice, as well as frescoes on palace façades. He managed to maintain a busy portraitist career in conjunction with his commissions — a practice in which he earlier based his success on. Despite his fame, Tintoretto did not appeal to everyone. In particular, many thought that his "loose" style lacked the essence of a finished piece. This lead to a rather 'bumpy'  two decades, but by the mid-1570s, Tintoretto's mature style began to show. After years of constant speculation & judgement from the public, Tintoretto finally started receiving the recognition, critical respect, and international renown he so deserved. No better piece encompasses this than his praised 'Paradise ( The Coronation of the Virgin )'.



In 1564, the Venetian authorities considered coverting Guariento's fresco of 'The Coronation of the Virgin' onto the wall of the Doge's Palace in Venice. Three turbulent decades passed by, in which Renaissance artists fought over who should paint the enormous commission. Finally, a competition was held in which Tintoretto, Veronese ( his most known rival ), Giovani, and Bassano all submitted sketches to be considered. Veronese & Bassano ended up winning, but quickly got delayed due to financial issues & arguments over disagreeing views. They could not continue, ultimately making space for Tintoretto to step in.



'Paradise' is considered to be Tintoretto's crowning work. At 74.1 x 29.9 feet, it is the largest painting ever to be done on canvas, to date. Portraying the coronation of the Virgin Mary, God the Father is at the center of it all. This was a common narrative at the time. A full description of the piece is below:

"Tintoretto's sea is made of people.  Even the white crests are filled with people.  His earlier sketch for the painting was also punctuated by white forms, but these were clouds.  The final version is astonishing in part because there is no negative space.  Every inch of the surface teams with figures ascending into Paradise.  These figures are layered on top of each other, with the highest layer occupied by winged angels hovering into the composition from all directions.  At the center there is an ball of orange light, the gateway to heaven, but the rest of the painting seems almost devoid of orientation. There is no up or down, no sky or earth, no stable point on which to perch. Tintoretto's Paradise is a crowded place. It would be suffocating were it not for the overall all sense of flow. Each individual body is part of a larger whole here. It is a paradise in which identity gives way to dynamic unity."

'Paradise' was completed in 1588, with Tintoretto's earlier sketch held at the Louvre, and his final work remaining at Doge's Palace in Venice.




Tintoretto, 'Paradise ( sketch )' c. 1565.



Tintoretto, 'Paradise' c. 1588.



Dodge's Palace Interior ( for context )



Later Years



Tintoretto hardly ever travelled out of Venice for the duration of his life, and after the completion of 'Paradise' remained quite sedated in his home. He was no longer taking commissions, but still managed to stay an active member in the civic community of Venice. His last official piece was another variation of 'The Last Supper,' a much different approach that that of Leonardo Da Vinci's. Tintoretto surprisingly had very few pupils, ( some say in part to his strong ego ) and passed away in 1594 at the age of eighty-eight.



While rebellious in his actions, Tintoretto became known for his ever changing & dramatic style — continually pushing the boundaries of Renaissance art. Known as one of "the greats" in relation to Venetian painters, Tintoretto paved way for the Baroque's genesis in Italy towards the start of the 17th century. Having received harsh critiques & much discouragement throughout his life, Tintoretto was able to overcome and even outlive many of his rivals.




Tintoretto, 'Self-Portrait' c. 1588








"Painting in Renaissance Venice." Peter Humfrey. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1995. Print.

"The Sacred Image in the Age of Art." Marcia B. Hall. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2011. Print.

"Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese. Rivals in Renaissance Venice." Frederick Ilchman. Boston: MFA Publications, 2009. Print.

"Tintoretto." Miguel Faus Falomir. Madrid: Museo Nacional Del Prado, 2007. Print.



Bayer, Andrea. "Sixteenth-Century Painting in Venice and the Veneto" The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

Britannica. "Tintoretto." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.

Prinz, Jesse. "Tintoretto's Paradise." Artbouillon. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2016.







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