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Ajman 1972. Tintoretto: "Vulcan surprises Venus and Mars". c. 1551.

Jacopo Tintoretto
(originally Jacopo Robusti)

1518-1594

The First Modern Painter ?

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Paraguay 1972. Tintoretto: Self-Portrait.

Tintoretto was born Jacopo Robusti. His nickname, which means “little dyer,” is an allusion to his father's profession. As a young man he studied briefly with Venetian master Titian, who soon discharged him from his studio. The animosity between the two painters lasted throughout their careers. Unlike Titian, who worked and traveled throughout Italy, Tintoretto lived and worked exclusively in Venice. His output was earmarked for the churches, religious organizations, and rulers of the city, and for the Venetian republic.

Throughout historical time men have used different means for self-promotion to demonstrate their power, social status and wealth.  Today, as well as in earlier times, such self-promotion took priority to the historical facts.  A splendid example of this is the "Gonzaga-Cycle", currently displayed at Die Alte Pinakothek in Munich (Germany), painted by Tintoretto on the order of Guglielmo Gonzaga (1528-1587), the third duke of Mantua between 1558 and 1580, whose family at that time was among the most influential in Italy. The cycle consists of 8 large paintings, each well over 2 x 3 meters, telling about the rise of the Gonzaga-family beginning in the 15th century and reaching its peak by the end of the 16th century.  As well as these paintings show the self-promotion of the Gonzaga's, they also show the creativity of Tintoretto's mind by developing new ways of describing historical- and war events of the time which followed in the keel water of the Italian renaissance. 

Tintoretto: The Margrave.         Tintoretto: Study for The Margrave.

The Margrave. 
The painting shows Tintoretto's interpretation of the Investiture in 
1433 of Giovanni Francesco Gonzaga as Margrave.  The drawing to
the right shows how the artist first made a nude study of the slightly
stooped Margrave, before he was clad in colours on the canvas. 

The first painting in the cycle describes how Giovanni Francesco Gonzaga in 1433 was awarded the noble title of Margrave by Emperor Sigismund.  History confirms that Giovanni paid the Emperor not less than 12.000 Fiorini for the right to bear the title.  X-rays of these paintings reveal the artistic techniques Tintoretto applied in his works, showing for example that he first made nude studies of his figures on canvas before he clad them in colours. He applied this technique throughout his whole career. (see also the Rubens-painting of Francesco IV Gonzaga, son of Vincenzo Gonzaga). 

"Ludovico II Gonzaga defeats the Venetians on the Adige River, Legnano, 1439" is the impressive title of the cycle's second painting, which also proves falsification of history for the benefit of the glorification of the family.  During his reign Ludovico had no military victories, and this is why he was painted as the conqueror of a battle won by his father !  

The painting shown is typical for Tintoretto. He has painted the leading figures in strong colours, while the rest are blurred out, and painted nearly only in grey-white, as if he was too lazy to paint them properly, or even couldn't afford to buy the expensive colour pigments.  

This was a new style for his time and was very much criticized by his contemporaries, but has made the posterity ask the question whether Tintoretto was really the first modern painter? 

Over time, Tintoretto's style intensified without essentially changing, and the large number of commissions he received attests to its enthusiastic reception. Despite his skill he could not cope with the resulting workload, and he was increasingly aided by a sizable corps of assistants. Notable among them were his daughter Marietta and his son Domenico, whose contributions are often difficult to distinguish from Tintoretto's own. 

There is a large number of modern stamps depicting Tintoretto's paintings, issued by various post offices world wide, but most of such stamps were issued by less serious postal administrations located in Africa, South America and elsewhere. For your viewing pleasure here are those issued by Italy and The Vatican, which seem "natural" in the context. 

Italy 1994. 400th death anniversary of Tintoretto. "Venus and Bacchus". Oil painting c. 1576. The Vatican 1994. Tintoretto. Se-tenant set of Christmas stamps showing "Nativity". The Vatican 1994. Tintoretto. Detail of the painting "Nativity".

Romania 1969. Tintoretto School. "Venetian Senator".

To a certain extent Tintoretto formed "school", which his assistants executed for the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale), but in these works the level of inspiration is less consistent and the assistant's share larger. 

Two of his most known assistants are said to be his daughter Marietta, who died already at the age of 30, and his son Domenico. Both Marietta and Domenico were gifted artists, strongly influenced by their father, but their works are hardly traceable today, if they exist any longer. 

I have only been able to find one stamp of this type, issued by Romania in 1969, showing a Venetian Senator. It is clearly a young Tintoretto who has executed this painting; it is unknown whether it is the master himself, or his assistants, or both. 

  • Romania 1969. Tintoretto School. Venetian Senator. 

As a mature artist, Tintoretto tended progressively to rely on contrasts of brilliant light and cavernous dark that rendered color relatively insignificant, on eccentric viewpoints and extreme foreshortenings, and on flamboyantly choreographic groupings to heighten the drama of the events portrayed. 

 
The full power of this method is best exemplified by Tintoretto's treatment of the theme of supernatural incursion into human events -- as in three paintings of miracles from the legend of Saint Mark executed from 1562 to 1566 for the Scuola di San Marco; 

the Last Supper (1594) in the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, 

and many of the biblical paintings with which Tintoretto adorned the ceilings and walls of the Scuola di San Rocco between 1564 and 1587. These last constitute the greatest pictorial enterprise of his career and a masterpiece of Renaissance art. 

  • Republic of Togo 1969. Tintoretto: "The Last Supper". 

Republiv of Togo 1969. Tintoretto. "The Last Supper".

Tintoretto's preference for diagonal compositions that plunge or zigzag into deep space, the commanding theatricality of his lighting, and the overall dynamism and expansiveness of his style were emulated by such pioneers of the baroque style as Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens and members of the Italian Carracci family. His effect on Venetian painting was still greater, but after his death in 1594, Venetian painting declined precipitously. 

Sources and links: 

Other Renaissance Artists on this site: 

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