‘Thus it will be our concern, however difficult the undertaking may be, to tell of the doings of the great Tintoretto….’

May 23, 2019 at 1:41 pm (Art)

….and through our narrative to make his works known, to tell how he reached the arduous apex of art; and how with his brush he brought to the images that he painted the greatest state of perfection and how he adorned painting with the most novel and rare inventions, so that nature, which at times is defective, obtained through his hands grace and grandeur.

Carlo Ridolfi, ‘Life of Tintoretto’: from The Marvels of Art, 1648, excerpt included in The Lives of Tintoretto

I do not know how to train my mouth to sing your praises adequately. How there could be so much intelligence in a small man’s body remains as much a mystery to me as a crocodile in the fourth clime.

….but you, twiddling with your paintbrush and a small dash of white lead, and mixing some red earth…you create a figure portrayed from Nature in half an hour….I also knew that you had so fine a conception for presenting gestures, postures, front-faces, foreshortenings, profiles, distant views and perspectives as anyone riding the modern Pegasus; and it would be very fair to say this truth, that if you had as many hands as you have stpirit and knowledge, there wouldn’t be a difficult thing that exists in Nature that you couldn’t create.

Andrea Calmo: ‘Further  delightful and ingenious letters from Calmo to Messer Giacomo Tinitoretto the Painter, the favourite of Nature, the Commixture of Aesculapius, and Stepson of Apelles’, 1548

Also from Lives of Tintoretto

[This post is a sort of addendum to a recent one entitled “A day at Washington’s National Gallery, Part One: The Little Dyer and his Outsized Genius.”]

Click to enlarge each of the following images;

The Miracle of St Mark Freeing the Slave, 1548

Man in Armour, 1550

St Louis, St George, and the Princess, ca 1553. Our docent told us that the Princess’s depiction on the dragon was considered, at the time, to be indecorous. This led to a discussion as to whether there existed anywhere specific instructions on how ladies should ride dragons. (Side saddle, maybe?)


The Origin of the Milky Way, 1570. This painting possesses a rather bizarre back story. From Wikipedia: ‘According to myth, the infant Heracles was brought to Hera by his half-sister Athena who later played an important role as a goddess of protection. Hera nursed Heracles out of pity, but he suckled so strongly that he caused Hera pain, and she pushed him away. Her milk sprayed across the heavens and there formed the Milky Way With divine milk, Heracles acquired supernatural powers.’


The Last Supper, ca 1563-64


Deposition of Christ, ca 1562

Venus, Mars, and Vulcan, ca 1551. Vulcan catches his wife Venus in the act of cheating on him. Mars, the other guilty party, is hiding under the bed.


Portrait of a Procurator of St Mark’s, 1570s

Portrait of Doge Pietro Loredan, 1567

For a while now, I’ve been curious about those strange round objects found going down the edge of the Doge’s ceremonial robe, and probably elsewhere as well. They’re especially noteworthy in Giovanni Bellini’s masterful 1501 portrait of the Doge Lorenzo Loredan:

The docent explained that those round objects  contained within them a selection of aromatic herbs. The purpose was to sweeten the air around the person wearing the cloak – remember, bathing was an infrequent activity in those days – and more important, to ward off the Plague.


Self-Portrait 1588. Tintoretto had lived a long, eventful and largely successful life. By this time, he was elderly and tired. He died in 1594, age 75.

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.
Nature I loved and, next to Nature, Art:
I warm’d both hands before the fire of life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

Poem by Walter Savage Landor, 1849


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