When the Venetian painter Tintoretto was born in 1518, the Italian Renaissance was coming to a close. During that age, artists had developed many new painting techniques. Tintoretto used those techniques very skilfully, added to them, and helped produce a style of painting known as mannerism.
Tintoretto’s real name was Jacopo Robusti. As his father was a dyer of silks, Jacopo was nicknamed Tintoretto, which means “little dyer.” At 14 Tintoretto was sent to study with the master Titian, whose Venice workshop was near Tintoretto’s home. He kept his apprenticeship in the studio of Titian for only a few days. Titian, another great Italian master who was in his prime when Tintoretto was in his youth, immediately called for his dismissal when he saw a few of the boys’ sketches. Some have felt that it was jealousy which made Titian act in this manner that seeing the drawings, he feared that young artist might become a serious rival.
However, the generally accepted opinion now seems to be that Titian was much displeased with the careless and rapid technique and the display of “unbridled vehemence” shown in the sketches. So it happens that Tintoretto’s art was almost entirely self-taught. Despite his dismissal, he continued to study Titian.
Produced Great Volume of Work
Tintoretto left behind him a significant volume of work more than produced by any other Italian artist during this time. Not only are Tintoretto’s paintings more numerous, but they surpass most others in size. He preferred to work on enormous canvases, and the last picture he ever painted, done when he was 70 years old is the largest oil painting in the world. This is the “Paradise,” now in the Ducal Palace in Venice, which contains about 500 figures.
One reason for Tintoretto producing this significant amount of work may be seen in his excellent persistence in securing commissions for his paintings and in placing his work. This was coupled with his great enthusiasm and rapidity in expressing his ideas.
If Tintoretto could not dispose of a painting in any other way, he would give it away. If he were unable to secure payment for a piece of work, he would do it without reward. Giorgio Vasari, a contemporary of Tintoretto, tells, in his “Lives of the Painters,” how Tintoretto contrived “by the most singular proceedings in the world” to be continuously employed. When the good offices of his friends, and other methods, had failed to procure him any work of which there was a question, says Vasari he would nonetheless manage to obtain it. He either accepted it at a meagre price or by doing it as a gift or even seizing on it by force.
Strength in Style
Tintoretto attained a particular elevation of his style. Mass in the movement was the element that he abstracted from the human form. With it, he developed intricate and powerful pictorial symphonies so persuasive that we overlook the impersonal nature of his figures as our eyes follow the glorious visual counterpoint of his design.
A connection with music was common to all Venetian painting. By the time of Giorgione and Titian the more apparent relationships between the two arts as epitomised in the famous picture by those artists, “The Concert,” in which the visible pleasure of people hearing music is combined with the analogous forms in instruments, bodies and hills – had been thoroughly treated in painting.
Tintoretto grew up in a city where people took a bold if refined sensual pleasure in colours and textures. Venetian painting abounds in deep velvets and satiny skins. The heavy moralising of Rome or the finely drawn intellectuality of Florence were equally foreign to Venice. There one lived for the pleasures of sense.
Tintoretto, a true middle-class Venetian, was no intellectual. He was a craftsman with such an insatiable urge to create that all his life he underbid his competitors and even gave away his work rather than let them get the job.
By developing a kind of painting in which forms were made with colours instead of being drawn sculpturally and coloured afterwards, Titian brought Renaissance paintings to its end.
So ardent and individual an artist as Tintoretto was forced to devise something new. He early proclaimed his aim to join the drawing of Michelangelo to the colour of Titian. In a sense he was able to achieve this, becoming thereby the first of a long line of mannerists.
Tintoretto was the first of those inherently romantic painters – El Greco, Rubens and Delacroix – who valued the poetry of vigorous movement more than form and colour portraiture and with it developed compositions of a sophisticated grandeur and vitality comparable only with the most significant achievements of lyrical, musical compositions.