Jacopo Comin (Tintoretto)

Creator Name: Jacopo Comin (Tintoretto)
Creator Type: Art
Dates: 1518 - 1594
Language: Italian

Tintoretto ( TIN-t-RET-oh, Italian:[tintoretto], Venetian:[titoeto]; born Jacopo Robusti; late September or early October 1518 31 May 1594) was an Italian painter and a notable exponent of the Venetian school. His contemporaries both admired and criticized the speed with which he painted, and the unprecedented boldness of his brushwork. For his phenomenal energy in painting he was termed Il Furioso ("The Furious"). His work is characterised by his muscular figures, dramatic gestures and bold use of perspective, in the Mannerist style.


The years of apprenticeship

Tintoretto was born in Venice in 1518. His father, Battista, was a dyer, or tintore; hence the son got the nickname of Tintoretto, "little dyer", or "dyer's boy". Tintoretto is known to have had at least one sibling, a brother named Domenico, although an unreliable 17th-century account says his siblings numbered 22. The family was believed to have originated from Brescia, in Lombardy, then part of the Republic of Venice. Older studies gave the Tuscan town of Lucca as the origin of the family.

Little is known of Tintoretto's childhood or training. According to his early biographers Carlo Ridolfi (1642) and Marco Boschini (1660), his only formal apprenticeship was in the studio of Titian, who angrily dismissed him after only a few dayseither out of jealousy of so promising a student (in Ridolfi's account) or because of a personality clash (in Boschini's version). From this time forward the relationship between the two artists remained rancorous, despite Tintoretto's continued admiration for Titian. For his part, Titian actively disparaged Tintoretto, as did his adherents.

Tintoretto sought no further teaching, but studied on his own account with laborious zeal. According to Ridolfi, he gained some experience by working alongside artisans who decorated furniture with paintings of mythological scenes. He lived poorly, collecting casts, bas-reliefs etc., and practicing with their aid. His noble conception of art and his high personal ambition were both evidenced in the inscription which he placed over his studio Il disegno di Michelangelo ed il colorito di Tiziano ("Michelangelo's drawing and Titian's color").

He studied more especially from models of Michelangelo's Dawn, Noon, Twilight and Night, and became expert in modelling in wax and clay method (practiced likewise by Titian) which afterwards stood him in good stead in working out the arrangement of his pictures. The models were sometimes taken from dead subjects dissected or studied in anatomy schools; some were draped, others nude, and Tintoretto was to suspend them in a wooden or cardboard box, with an aperture for a candle. Now and afterwards he very frequently worked by night as well as by day.

Early works

The young painter Andrea Schiavone, four years Tintoretto's junior, was much in his company. Tintoretto helped Schiavone at no charge with wall-paintings; and in many subsequent instances he also worked for nothing, and thus succeeded in obtaining commissions. The two earliest mural paintings of Tintorettodone, like others, for next to no payare said to have been Belshazzar's Feast and a Cavalry Fight. These have both long since perished, as have all his frescoes, early or later. The first work of his to attract some considerable notice was a portrait-group of himself and his brotherthe latter playing a guitarwith a nocturnal effect; this has also been lost. It was followed by some historical subject, which Titian was candid enough to praise.

One of Tintoretto's early pictures still extant is in the church of the Carmine in Venice, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple; also in S. Benedetto are the Annunciation and Christ with the Woman of Samaria. For the Scuola della Trinit (the scuole or schools of Venice were confraternities, more in the nature of charitable foundations than of educational institutions) he painted four subjects from Genesis. Two of these, now in the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, are Adam and Eve and the Death of Abel, both noble works of high mastery, which indicate that Tintoretto was by this time a consummate painterone of the few who have attained to the highest eminence in the absence of any recorded formal training. Until 2012, The Embarkation of St Helena in the Holy Land was attributed to Schiavone. But new analysis of the work has revealed it as one of a series of three paintings by Tintoretto, depicting the legend of St Helena And The Holy Cross. The error was uncovered during work on a project to catalogue continental European oil paintings in the United Kingdom. The Embarkation of St Helena was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1865. Its sister paintings, The Discovery Of The True Cross and St Helen Testing The True Cross, are held in galleries in the United States.

Saint Mark paintings

In 1548 Tintoretto was commissioned to paint a large decoration for the Scuola di S. Marco: the Miracle of the Slave. Realizing that the commission presented him with a singular opportunity to establish himself as a major artist, he took extraordinary care in arranging the composition for maximum effect. The painting represents the legend of a Christian slave or captive who was to be tortured as a punishment for some acts of devotion to the evangelist, but was saved by the miraculous intervention of the latter, who shattered the bone-breaking and blinding implements which were about to be applied. Tintoretto's conception of the narrative is distinguished by a marked theatricality, unusual color choices, and vigorous execution.

The painting was a triumphant success, despite some detractors. Tintoretto's friend Pietro Aretino praised the work, calling particular attention to the figure of the slave, but warned Tintoretto against hasty execution. As a result of the painting's success, Tintoretto received numerous commissions. For the church of San Rocco he painted Saint Roch Cures the Plaque Victims (1549), one of the first of Tintoretto's many laterali (horizontal paintings). These were large-scale paintings intended for the side walls of Venetian chapels. Knowing that the congregation would view them from an angle, Tintoretto composed the paintings with off-center perspective so the illusion of depth would be effective when seen from a viewpoint near the end of the painting that was closer to the worshippers.

In 1550, Tintoretto married Faustina de Vescovi, daughter of a Venetian nobleman who was the guardian grande of the Scuola Grande di San Marco. She appears to have been a careful housekeeper, and able to mollify her husband. Faustina bore him several children, likely two sons and five daughters. Tintoretto's daughter Marietta Robusti was herself a portrait painter. Some believe she was illegitimate and conceived before his marriage to Faustina.

In about 1564, Tintoretto painted three additional works for Scuola di S. Marco: the Finding of the body of St Mark, the St Mark's Body Brought to Venice, a St Mark Rescuing a Saracen from Shipwreck.

Between 1556 and 1560, Tintoretto painted for the church of the Madonna dell'Orto three of his leading works: the Worship of the Golden Calf, the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, and the Last Judgment. He took the commission for two of the paintings, the Worship of the Golden Calf and the Last Judgment, on a cost only basis. This episode was not unusual; throughout his career Tintoretto competed against rival painters by producing paintings quickly at a low cost. He settled down in a house hard by the church. It is a Gothic building, looking over the Fondamenta de Mori, which is still standing.

Scuola di San Rocco

Between 1565 and 1567, and again from 1575 to 1588, Tintoretto produced a large number of paintings for the walls and ceilings of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The building, begun in 1525, lacked light and so was ill-suited for any great scheme of pictorial adornment. The painting of its interior commenced in 1560.

In that year five principal painters, including Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese, were invited to send in trial-designs for the centre-piece in the smaller hall named Sala dell'Albergo, the subject being S. Rocco received into Heaven. Tintoretto produced not a sketch but a picture, and got it inserted into its oval. The competitors remonstrated, not unnaturally; but the artist, who knew how to play his own game, made a free gift of the picture to the saint, and, as a bylaw of the foundation prohibited the rejection of any gift, it was retained in situ, Tintoretto furnishing gratis the other decorations of the same ceiling.

In 1565, he resumed work at the scuola, painting the Crucifixion, for which a sum of 250 ducats was paid. In 1576 he presented gratis another centre-piecethat for the ceiling of the great hall, representing the Plague of Serpents; and in the following year he completed this ceiling with pictures of the Paschal Feast and Moses striking the Rock accepting whatever pittance the confraternity chose to pay.

The development of fast painting techniques called prestezza allowed him to produce many works while engaged on large projects and to respond to growing demands from the clients.

Tintoretto next launched out into the painting of the entire scuola and of the adjacent church of San Rocco. In November 1577, he offered to execute the works at the rate of 100 ducats per annum, with three pictures being due in each year. This proposal was accepted and was punctually fulfilled, the painter's death alone preventing the execution of some of the ceiling-subjects. The whole sum paid for the scuola throughout was 2447 ducats. Disregarding some minor performances, the scuola and church contain fifty-two memorable paintings, which may be described as vast suggestive sketches, with the mastery, but not the deliberate precision, of finished pictures, and adapted for being looked at in a dusky half-light. Adam and Eve, the Visitation, the Adoration of the Magi, the Massacre of the Innocents, the Agony in the Garden, Christ before Pilate, Christ carrying His Cross, and (this alone having been marred by restoration) the Assumption of the Virgin are leading examples in the scuola; in the church, Christ curing the Paralytic.

It was probably in 1560, the year in which he began working in the Scuola di S. Rocco, that Tintoretto commenced his numerous paintings in the Doge's Palace; he then executed there a portrait of the Doge, Girolamo Priuli. Other works (destroyed by a fire in the palace in 1577) succeededthe Excommunication of Frederick Barbarossa by Pope Alexander III and the Victory of Lepanto.

After the fire, Tintoretto started afresh, Paolo Veronese being his colleague. In the Sala dell Anticollegio, Tintoretto painted four masterpiecesBacchus, with Ariadne crowned by Venus, the Three Graces and Mercury, Minerva discarding Mars, and the Forge of Vulcan, which were painted for fifty ducats each, excluding materials, ca. 1578; in the hall of the senate, Venice, Queen of the Sea (158184); in the hall of the college, the Espousal of St Catherine to Jesus (158184); in the Antichiesetta, Saint George, Saint Louis, and the Princess, and St Jerome and St Andrew; in the hall of the great council, nine large compositions, chiefly battle-pieces (158184); in the Sala dello Scrutinio the Capture of Zara from the Hungarians in 1346 amid a Hurricane of Missiles (158487).


The crowning production of Tintoretto's life, the last picture of any considerable importance which he executed, was the vast Paradise painted for the Doge's Palace, in size 9.1 by 22.6 metres (29.9 by 74.1 feet), reputed to be the largest painting ever done upon canvas. While the commission for this huge work was yet pending and unassigned Tintoretto was wont to tell the senators that he had prayed to God that he might be commissioned for it, so that paradise itself might perchance be his recompense after death.

Tintoretto competed with several other artists for the prestigious commission. A large sketch of the composition he submitted in 1577 is now in the Louvre Museum, Paris. In 1583, he painted a second sketch with a different composition, which is in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

The commission was given jointly to Veronese and Francesco Bassano, but Veronese died in 1588 before starting the work, and the commission was reassigned to Tintoretto. He set up his canvas in the Scuola della Misericordia and worked indefatigably at the task, making many alterations and doing various heads and costumes direct from life.

When the picture had been nearly completed he took it to its proper place, where it was completed largely by assistants, his son Domenico foremost among them. All Venice applauded the finished work; Ridolfi wrote that "it seemed to everyone that heavenly beatitude had been disclosed to mortal eyes." Modern art historians have been less enthusiastic, and have generally considered the Paradise inferior in execution to the two sketches. It has suffered from neglect, but little from restoration.

Tintoretto was asked to name his own price, but this he left to the authorities. They tendered a handsome amount; he is said to have abated something from it, an incident perhaps more telling of his lack of greed than earlier cases where he worked for nothing at all.

Death and pupils

After the completion of the Paradise Tintoretto rested for a while, and he never undertook any other work of importance, though there is no reason to suppose that his energies were exhausted if he had lived a little longer.

In 1592 he became a member of the Scuola dei Mercanti.

In 1594, he was seized with severe stomach pains, complicated with fever, that prevented him from sleeping and almost from eating for a fortnight. He died on 31 May 1594. He was buried in the church of the Madonna dell'Orto by the side of his favorite daughter Marietta, who had died in 1590 at the age of thirty. Tradition suggests that as she lay in her final repose, her heart-stricken father had painted her final portrait.

Marietta had herself been a portrait-painter of considerable skill, as well as a musician, vocalist and instrumentalist, but few of her works are now traceable. It is said that up to the age of fifteen she used to accompany and assist her father at his work, dressed as a boy. Eventually, she married a jeweler, Mario Augusta. In 1866, the grave of the Vescovihis wife's familyand Tintoretto was opened, and the remains of nine members of the joint families were found in it. The grave was then moved to a new location, to the right of the choir.

Tintoretto had very few pupils; his two sons and Maerten de Vos of Antwerp were among them. His son Domenico Tintoretto frequently assisted his father in the preliminary work for great pictures. He himself painted a multitude of works, many of them of a very large scale. At best, they would be considered mediocre and, coming from the son of Tintoretto, are disappointing. In any event, he must be regarded as a considerable pictorial practitioner in his way. There are reflections of Tintoretto to be found in the Greek painter of the Spanish Renaissance El Greco, who likely saw his works during a stay in Venice.


Tintoretto scarcely ever travelled out of Venice. He loved all the arts and as a youth played the lute and various instruments, some of them of his own invention, and designed theatrical costumes and properties. He was also well versed in mechanics and mechanical devices. While being a very agreeable companion, for the sake of his work he lived in a mostly retired fashion, and even when not painting was wont to remain in his working room surrounded by casts. Here he hardly admitted anyone, even intimate friends, and he kept his work methods secret, shared only with his assistants. He was full of pleasant witty sayings, whether to great personages or to others, but he himself seldom smiled.

Out of doors, his wife made him wear the robe of a Venetian citizen; if it rained she tried to make him wear an outer garment which he resisted. When he left the house, she would also wrap money up for him in a handkerchief, expecting a strict accounting on his return. Tintoretto's customary reply was that he had spent it on alms for the poor or for prisoners.

Tintoretto maintained friendships with many writers and publishers, including Pietro Aretino, who became an important early patron.


Tintoretto's style of painting is characterized by bold brushwork and the use of long strokes to define contours and highlights. His paintings emphasize the energy of human bodies in motion, and often exploit extreme foreshortening and perspective effects to heighten the drama. Narrative content is conveyed by the gestures and dynamism of the figures rather than by facial expressions.

An agreement is extant showing a plan to finish two historical paintingseach containing twenty figures, seven being portraitsin a two-month period of time. The number of his portraits is enormous; their merit is uneven, but the really fine ones cannot be surpassed. Sebastiano del Piombo remarked that Tintoretto could paint in two days as much as himself in two years; Annibale Carracci that Tintoretto was in many of his pictures equal to Titian, in others inferior to Tintoretto. This was the general opinion of the Venetians, who said that he had three pencilsone of gold, the second of silver and the third of iron.

Tintoretto's pictorial wit is evident in compositions such as Saint George, Saint Louis, and the Princess (1553). He subverts the usual portrayal of the subject, in which Saint George slays the dragon and rescues the princess; here, the princess sits astride the dragon, holding a whip. The result is described by art critic Arthur Danto as having "the edginess of a feminist joke" as "the princess has taken matters into her own hands ... George spreads his arms in a gesture of male helplessness, as his lance lies broken on the ground ...It was obviously painted with a sophisticated Venetian audience in mind."

A comparison of Tintoretto's final The Last Supperone of his nine known paintings on the subject 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 placed in the foreground, perhaps in reference to the Gospel of John 13:1416. 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.

In 2013, the Victoria and Albert Museum announced that the painting The Embarkation of St Helena in the Holy Land had been painted by Tintoretto (and not by his contemporary Andrea Schiavone, as previously thought) as part of a series of three paintings depicting the legend of St Helena And The Holy Cross.

In 2019, honoring the anniversary of the birth of Tintoretto, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in cooperation with the Gallerie dellAccademia organized a traveling exhibit, the first to the United States. The exhibition features nearly 50 paintings and more than a dozen works on paper spanning the artists entire career and ranging from regal portraits of Venetian aristocracy to religious and mythological narrative scenes.


  • Bernari, Carlo, and Pierluigi de Vecchi (1970). L'opera completa del Tintoretto. Milano: Rizzoli. OCLC478839728 (Italian language)
  • Butterfield, Andrew (26 April 2007). "Brush with Genius". New York Review of Books. NYREV, Inc. 54 (7). Retrieved 18 April 2007.
  • Echols, Robert (2018). Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice. Yale University Press. ISBN9780300230406.
  • Ridolfi, Carlo (1642). La Vita di Giacopo Robusti (A Life of Tintoretto)
  • Rossetti, William Michael (1911). "Tintoretto, Jacopo Robusti". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopdia Britannica. 26 (11thed.). Cambridge University Press.

External links

  • 52 paintings by or after Tintoretto at the Art UK site
  • Works at Web Gallery of Art, the most complete gallery of the web
  • www.JacopoTintoretto.org 257 works by Tintoretto
  • Artcyclopedia Tintoretto's paintings
  • Works and literature on PubHist
  • Jacopo Tintoretto. Pictures and Biography

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