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Jacopo Robusti called Tintoretto online

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The Great Masters

in Painting and Sculpture
Edited by G. C.Williamson




Edited by G. C. Williamson, Litt.D.

Cheaper re-issue, 35. td. net each

BOTTICELLI. By A. Streeter.
BRUNELLESCHI. By Leader Scott.
CORREGGIO. By Selwyn Brinton, M.A.
CRIVELLI. By G. McNeil Rushforth, M.A.
BELLA ROBBIA. By the Marchesa Burlamacchi.
GERARD DOU. By W. Martin, Ph.D.
FRANCIA. By George C. Williamson, Litt.D.
GIORGIONE. By Herbert Cook, M.A.
GIOTTO. By F. Mason Perkins.
FRANS HALS. By Gerald S. Davies, M.A.
LUINI. By George C. Williamson, Litt.D.
MANTEGNA. By Maud Cruttwell.
MEMLINC. By W. H. James Weale.

MICHAEL ANGELO. By Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, F.S.A.
PERUGINO. By George C. Williamson, Litt.D.
PINTORICCHIO. By Evelyn March Phillipps.
RAPHAEL. By H. Strachey.
REMBRANDT. By Malcolm Bell.
RUBENS. By Hope Rea.
SIGNORELLL By Maud Cruttwell.
SODOMA, By the Contessa Lorenzo Priuli-Bon.
TINTORETTO. By J. B. Stoughton Holborn, M.A.
VAN DYCK. By Lionel Cust, M.V.O., F.S.A.
VELASQUEZ. By R. A. M. Stevenson.
LEONARDO DA VINCI. By Edward McCurdv, M.A.
WATTEAU, By Edgcumbe Staley, B.A.
WILKIE. By Lord Ronald Sutherland Gower, F.S.A.




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B.A. OXON., F.R.G.S.







IT should perhaps be stated that this little book is an
abridgment in essay form of a much larger work at
one time contemplated and partially completed. This
fact may account for what will be felt by the real
student of Tintoretto to be a somewhat uneven treat-
ment of the subject. The author takes this opportunity
of expressing his thanks to all those who have so kindly
assisted him, especially friends in Venice. To Miss
Holborn of Aberdeen Park his gratitude is particularly
due, as without her aid the book would never have been
written, and to her he would dedicate this small effort

Oxford, /'

March^ 1903.

A 2




List of Illustrations ix

Bibliography xi

I. The Man i

II. The Morning of Impressionism 15

III. Tintoretto's Pictures : their Condition and

Preservation. Earlier Work 24

IV. Titian and Tintoretto 36

V. Great Works in Venice 50

VI. Colour, Drawing and Composition 67

VII. S. Rocco 78

VIII. His Legacy 85

List of Pictures 95

Index 153



The Temptation Scuola di San Rocco^ Venice


Bacchus and Ariadne Dog^s Palace^ Venice 4

Tintoretto's Last Portrait of Himself Uffizi Gallery^ Florence 12

The Finding of the Body of St. Mark Brera Gallery^ Milan 22

Adam and Eve Accademia^ Venice 30

Cain killing Abel Accademia, Venice 32

Part of the Descent of Christ into'


Ganymede (artist unknown)

S. Cassiano, Venice 34

Facing one another.

National Gallery^ London 34

The Presentation of the Virgin Madonna delP OrtOy Venice 42
Figure from the Presentation of^

the Virgin I Madonna delP Orto^ Venice 44

Figure from the Presentation of j Facing one another.

the Virgin (by Titian) . . j Accademia, Venice 44

The Crucifixion S. Cassiano, Venice 46

Luna and the Hours Berlin 50

The Adoration of the Shepherds Scuola di San Rocco, Venice 52

The Miracle of St. Agnes . . . Madonna delP Orto^ Venice 56

The Last Supper S. Paolo, Venice 58

St. George and the Dragon . . National Gallery, London 60

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple . Gesuiti, Venice 60

The Forge of Vulcan o Doge's Palace, Venice 62

Mercury and the Three Graces . . . Dog^s Palace, Venice 62

The Battle on Lake Garda .... Dogis Palace, Venice 64

Study for II Paradiso Prado Gallery, Madrid 64

St. Ursula and the Virgins . Church of the Hospital, Venice 66




The Finding of the True Cross

S. Maria Mater Domini^ Venice 66
Moses and the Purification of the Women of Midian

Prado Gallery^ Madrid 70
Origin of the Milky Way (study for picture in the National

Gallery) Accademia^ Venice 74

St. Michael overcoming Lucifer .... Gallery^ Dresden yb

The Annunciation Scuola di San Rocco^ Venice 80

The Crucifixion Scuola di San Rocco, Venice 80

The Massacre of the Innocents Scuola di San Rocco^ Venice 82

The Ascension Scuola di San Rocco^ Venice 82

Christ before Pilate .... Sciwla di San Rocco, Venice 84

Unknown Portraits Gallery^ Vienna 86

Sebastian Veniero Gallery^ Vienna 86

The Last Supper S. Giorgio Maggiore^ Venice 88

Part of the Crucifixion . . . Madonna del Rosario^ Venice 90

Part of picture of Madonna and Saints . Accademia^ Venica 90

The Woman taken in Adultery .... Accademia, Venice 90


Carlo Ridolfi. De maraviglie dell' arte, overo le vite degl'
illustri pittori Veneti. Venice, 1648.

G. Vasari. Lives of Seventy of the most eminent Painters,
Sculptors, and Architects.

Lacroix. Tintoret in Revue des Arts, xv. 361.

Brussels, 1862.

Maintz. Tintoret in L' Artiste, iv. 246. Paris, 1869.

Galanti. Tintoretto in Atti della Accademia.

Venice, 1876.

Janitschek. Tintoretto in the Kunst und Kiinstler series.


W. RoscoE OsLER. Tintoretto (Illustrated Biographies of
Great Artists). London, 1879.

Alexandre Auguste Philippe Charles Blanc. Histoire
de la renaissance artistique en Italie, revisee et publiee
par Maurice Faucon. Paris, 1889.

Luzio. Tintoretto in L'Archivio, iii. 397.

Bernhard Berenson. The Venetian Painters of the Renaiss-
ance. 1894.

John Ruskin. Modern Painters, Stones of Venice, etc.

Henry Thode. Tintoretto in the Kiinstler-Monographien
series. Bielefeld und Leipzig, 1901.

Henry Thode. Tintoretto in the Repertorium fiir Kiinst-
wisschenschaft, redigirt von Frantz Schestagj Nos. 23 and
24. Still appearing.


MoscHiNi. Delia Pittura in Padova.
Ramdohr. Ueber Malerei, etc., in Rom.


In addition there are the usual Guide Books and Catalogues,
those of the Old Masters' Exhibitions at the Royal Academy
being particularly valuable.




" Meantime I'll draw you as you stand,
With few or none to watch and wonder."

Robert Browning, Popularity,

IT IS a familiar complaint that we know but little of
the lives of many of our greatest geniuses. But in
general it is because we pursue a chimaera, forgetting
how different are the actions which fill the life-hours of
statesman and warrior, poet and artist.

In the case of Jacopo Robusti, detto il Tintoretto, we
may be said to know how most of the hours of his life
were spent. Not only so, but in those great works of
his we can read his thoughts more fully than it is given
us to read the thoughts of many of those with whom we
come into daily contact. We have not to hunt through
chronicles of his actions ; they are there before us look !
It is all there ; a large-handed, generous soul, yet passion-
ate withal and easily moved, a restless, yearning character
that strives and will not be satisfied. We see, too the
reverent spirit, and even feel the hand that is capable of
a loving touch or an affectionate caress. No; if we



grumble when we have that enormous output of more
than six hundred pictures, and what we may call Ridolfi's
appendix to this living story, it is because w^ pursue a
chimaera. For what more could there be room for in the
span of a single human existence.

This little sketch by Ridolfi is most admirable, and just
supplements the extant work. Ridolfi, who was himself ai;^
artist, was born almost exactly on the date of Tintoretto's
death, and hence we find in him a sympathy and insight
such as we should expect from one almost a contem-
porary and of the same profession. It is most refreshing
to read such a simple, just, straightforward statement,
after observing the way that Tintoretto has been treated
by most of his German critics. Unfortunately their
opinion has been too readily accepted. For the most
part these men have not been artists, and it has been
difficult or impossible for them to enter into the artistic /

This spirit was possessed by Tintoretto in a degree
unusual even for a man of his profession, a fact which
has always rather limited the circle of those who would
place him on the highest pinnacle of artistic fame. Art
was everything to Robusti : it was no means to an end,
or at least a means to no end less than the great end
of all being. Art, as Ridolfi insisted, in what should be
a truism, does not copy nature ; it transcends nature.
The truth as ordinarily understood is for Art but half a
truth. It is not and was not for him or Tintoretto the
servant of religion or morality. A picture may have its
moral side, but the beauty and the goodness are each
capable of abstraction, and are but correlative parts of
a wider and grander whole. Hence Tintoretto could


paint the Crucifixion in the Scuola di S. Rocco or
S. Cassiano, and at the same time be the author of the
marvellously beautiful Bacchus and Ariadne in the Doge's
-^ palace. There is nothing inconsistent in his position, as
, is sometimes urged. No man had a greater religious
fervour ; no man had a greater power over the beautiful ;
but his philosophy was wider than that of his critics, and
beauty and goodness were for him neither synonymous
nor mutually exclusive terms, and there was room in his
work for one alone or both. This is the man with whom
we have to deal : a stumbling-block to the critic, but the
founder of all that is best in modern art.

The year of his birth is not certainly known. Prac-
^ tically all that it is necessary to know in order to grasp his
position in the history of Art is that he was born in the
early part of the sixteenth century. Ridolfi gives 15 12
as the date. The records in the State Archives and
S. Marcilian do noT tally with this ; from them the later
date of 1 5 18 must be inferred, since they give th^ year
of his death as 1594, and his age at death as seventy-five
years and eight months.

He was the son of Battista Robusti, a cloth-dyer of
Venice. This explains the name Tintoretto, little dyer,
by which he was known. We may assume that he was
born in the city, and was therefore a Venetian in a sense
in which his great compeers were not. As a boy he was
fond of drawing ; and we know that he used to draw
upon the walls of his father's house, and found the colours
used by his father valuable for such a purpose.

There is reason to suppose that he studied for an in-
appreciable amount of time under Titian. In the main,
however, if not entirely, he was his own master and his


indefatigable industry and lofty ideal of purpose is well
borne out by what Ridolfi/tells us of his training :

" Knowing Titian's worth, and the many distinctions
he had gained, he studied his works with care, and also
the reliefs of Michael Angelo . . . and in order not to
depart from this resolution he wrote on the wall of his
studio these words :

" * II disegno di Michel Angelo e '1 colorito di Titiano.'"

Perhaps we may best translate : the form of Michael
Angelo and the colour of Titian ; for the word " disegno,**
generally translated "drawing," means drawing in the
widest sense, including the notion of design. As the
essential constituents of a picture are its form and colour,
and the two artists named were the greatest in these two
lines respectively, the motto evidently means that his
ideal was the highest excellence all round. The inter-
pretation of the motto as meaning that he intended to
combine the particular styles of the two masters is
utterly removed from the facts, as seen in his work.
That he may have copied some of their works in his
early days in order to find out how to achieve such ex-
cellence is quite probable, but is not the same thing.

Left to his own devices we find that the first thing
that Tintoretto did was to procure chalk drawings from
the antique. He even took the trouble of getting small
models by Daniello da Volterra of the famous figures
by Michael Angelo from the Medici tombs Dawn,
Twilight, Night, and Day. These he carefully studied,
using for the most part artificial light in order to obtain
strong shadows, and he thus acquired an extraordinary
facility in dealing^with objects in relief.


Besides working from these reliefs he made careful
studies^ from the life, and dissected bodies in order to
obtain a correct anatomical knowledge. Further, he
made models in wax or clay, draped them, and set them
in small houses made so that he could light them by
little windows, and thus gain a command over his lights
and shadows. It is also said that he suspended these
models from the ceiling, in order to learn the correct
perspective of flying figures seen from below. Then,
too, we hear of an ingenious device which he made by
straining strings across a rectangular framework, which
when held up before the model would assist the eye to
learn to measure the proportions carefully.

The result of all this training was that he did obtain
a mastery over drawing absolutely unparalleled by any
Venetian. This mastery enabled him to undertake with
ease poses involving the most difficult foreshortening.
His anatomical knowledge, although never obtruded or
leading to exaggeration, as is sometimes the case with
Michael Angelo, gave him a power of rfepresenting
motion in any position that has never been surpassed.
It is doubtful if there can be found by any master a
piece of modelling so incomparably subtle as that of
Tintoretto's Eve in the Adam and Eve belonging to
Mr. Crawshay. But despite his efforts and his undoubted
ability, the difficulty that he had in obtaining work was
extraordinary. Can it have been for the want of a little
influence at the start which, had things been otherwise, it
would have been natural for Titian to give ? Or was it this
versatility and power, this upsetting of old traditions by
a man still so young, that made the old wiseacres shake
their heads and say, " We never saw things done after


this fashion " ? Perhaps it was not entirely the conserva-
tive spirit that was against him, for one of his earliest
successes was won by a striking departure from conven-
tional rules.

In that long winding street called the Merceria, which
leads northward from the Clock Tower in St. Mark's
Square, it used to be the custom for the younger artists
to expose their pictures, not, apparently, with the object
of selling them, but as at a sort of exhibition, where they
would get the benefit of criticism passed upon their work.
Here Tintoretto once exhibited two portraits, the figures
strongly lit by artificial light one of himself holding a
relief in his hand, and the other of his brother playing
the guitar. They were regarded as an extraordinary
tour de force^ and created such a sensation that someone
was moved to write the following couplet :

" Si Tinctorettus noctis sic lucet in umbris
Exorto faciei quid radiente Die ? "

If Tintoretto thus by night is light,

What will he do when day has risen bright ?

Some have considered that these artificial light effects
show a decline in art, and this might be true of a painter
who confined himself entirely to effects of that sort.
Rembrandt, with all his greatness, is perhaps not quite
free from blame on this charge.

So great was his difficulty in getting employment, that
the first piece of work of which Ridolfi tells us was only
obtained in a most unorthodox way. He heard that a
new clock was to be placed in the Citadel {sic)^ and he
succeeded in inducing the workmen, whose business it
was to place the clock, to allow him to decorate the dial


according to his own design. We are not told, however,
what the architect thought of the freak, or whether
Robusti received anything for the work.

In his early life Tintoretto was indebted to his friend
Schiavone for some of his commissions. Schiavone was
a pupil of Titian, and, although he used to paint pictures
and frescoes, his chief occupation at that time seems

, to have been the adornment of wooden benches and
cabinets. The calling was of some importance, and its
followers (of whom Schiavone was apparently the head)
had a place of exhibition in the Piazza. It is said that
Tintoretto acquired from Schiavone some of the secrets
of Titian's technique, whatever they may have been, and
that in return he used to assist Schiavone with his work.

^^(^chiavone was the younger man, and probably owed his
advance at the first to Titian. The friendship was con-
tinued throughout their lives, although their positions
were later reversed.

One of Tintoretto's most remarkable traits was his
passion for work. Work he would have at all costs, and
whether he was paid for his work or not did not seem to
matter to him. His restless ambition and limitless
energy sought even in his early years for some great
emprise wherein he might reveal the greatness that he
knew was in him, and with this end in view he offered
to paint the two great walls in the choir of Madonna dell'
Orto. The worthy prior was taken aback, for these
walls were fifty feet high ; he thought that it would be
impossible to pay for such a stupendous undertaking even
with a year's revenue of the fraternity, and he declined
the offer. But Tintoretto was not disheartened. He
proposed to do the paintings if his expenses merely were


guaranteed, and it was finally agreed that he should be
paid loo ducats.

This action of Robusti's was most characteristic : we
hear of his doing the same thing on several occasions.
Yet his work seems hardly to have been appreciated as
it deserved. With a shrewd insight into human nature
Ridolfi here makes comment, that as we value ourselves
so are we assessed in the estimation of others. Tinto-
retto painted these mighty themes for one hundred
ducats, and at one hundred ducats were they valued by
the crowd. And it is not surprising to find that they in
nowise enhanced his reputation ; nor was it till about
the year 1548 that he received a really important com-
mission. In that year the great picture of The Miracle
of St. Mark was unveiled. It was painted for the
Scuola di San Marco, and now hangs in the Venetian
Academy between two even finer works by the same
hand. Ridolfi gives us another peep into Robusti's im-
petuous nature, when he is telling us how the picture
did not at first meet with universal approbation : " But
because merit always encounters difficulties it came to
pass that dissensions broke out among the brotherhood,
some wishing that it should remain and others object-
ing." This so angered Tintoretto that he took away
the picture and put it in his own house, but was after-
wards induced to bring it back and replace it. The
impetuosity of character here shown was clearly visible
in his work : it is the vigour and dash of it that gives
its strength and freshness. Yet this was the charge
that was brought against the picture, that it suffered
from a too hasty execution. Tintoretto was certainly a
quick workman, and the speed at which his thoughts


moved was astonishing, but the haste of carelessness
is one of the last charges that can be brought against

A good story illustrative of the speed at which Tinto-
retto could work is told of the picture on the ceiling of
the refectory in the Scuola di San Rocco. "About
1560^ the members of the brotherhood resolved to have
a great picture painted in the refectory," and invited the
best artists of the city to compete. Tintoretto was one
of them, and secretly obtained the exact measurements,
so that, while the others were doing their designs, he
with his marvellous power of quick execution completed
a finished picture, which he privily had fixed into the
place it was to occupy.

" When, on the appointed day, Paolo Veronese, Andrea
Schiavone, Giuseppe Salviati, and Federigo Zuccaro
came to show their designs, and Tintoretto was asked
to exhibit his, he uncovered his canvas, which he had
cleverly hidden with a cartoon, and said that they could
make no mistake about the design which he had drawn ;
and if his readiness displeased them he would make a
gift of it to S. Rocco, who had already given him so

The artists were naturally surprised at the speed at

^ As the Crucifixion was not completed till 1565, it is possible
that "about 1560" may mean a year or two later, for huge as the
picture is, Tintoretto worked so quickly that 1 563 is the latest date
likely for its inception. This would explain the fact that we know
of no pictures done before this according to the agreement. More-
over, as in 1559 Robusti was actually working for the brotherhood
in their church, and giving satisfaction, a competition would have
been unlikely, whereas after an interval of a year or so this would
be more probable.


which so great a work had been done, and withdrew
from the competition forthwith. But the brotherhood
were annoyed, and wanted to remove the picture on the
ground that they had only ordered a design. However,
on the matter being put to the vote, they decided to
keep it, partly because their rules forbade them to refuse
anything given to the saint, and partly because the pic-
ture was very good.

" So they received Robusti into the brotherhood, and
gave him the charge of what paintings should be needful
for the rooms of the Scuola. In addition they granted
him an annuity of lOO ducats for life, on condition that
he should provide one complete picture each year."

Perhaps Robusti went a little too far in this matter,
but the whole seems to have been regarded rather in
the light of a joke. Except the brotherhood no one
minded, and Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto always re-
mained the best of friends.

Tintoretto seems to have been generally much be-
loved, and, beside Pietro Aretino, we do not hear of
his falling foul of anyone. Aretino, who spared no man
in his lampoons, and was one of the most spiteful people
of his day, seems at length to have roused Tintoretto by
his scurrilous jests at his expense. Meeting him one
day Tintoretto invited him to his house as though he
wished to paint his portrait. When they were indoors
the host produced a pistol and proceeded, much to the
dismay of Aretino, who was a great coward, to measure
him with the weapon. " You are just two pistols and a
half," he observed, as if this was a usual preliminary of
the portrait painter. He then dismissed Aretino, who
seems to have taken the hint and troubled him no more.


There are several stories illustrative of the merry side
of Robusti's nature, perhaps the most amusing of which
is the one about the picture of St. Jerome.

He had painted the picture of 5/. Jerome in the Wood,
representing him as in front of the trees. But his patron
objected, saying that the saint was not in the wood but
outside. Tintoretto did not reply, but when the man
came again there was nothing to be seen but the forest
of trees. " Where 's St. Jerome ? " he said, and Tintoretto
replied : " Oh, he 's in the wood, where you wished him
to be." "But I can't see him at all," he persisted.
" There he is," said Tintoretto, wiping off a piece of the
fresh paint, with which he had put an extra quantity of ;
oil. " In that case you'd better take him out again." /
So the picture was cleaned and left as before.

We do not know the date of Tintoretto's marriage, but
we know that his wife was Faustina, daughter of Marco
dei Vescovi. When that has been said there is little
more to say, for we know nothing of the Vescovi family,
which, though noble, is not found in the golden book of
the ducal palace. It can only be assumed that they
came from the mainland. Faustina, too, is hardly more
than a name. Tintoretto is said to have painted her
portrait in the priestess in the Worship of the Golden
Calf and in one of the women in The Nativity,

We are told that she was very particular about her
husband's attire, and insisted on his always wearing the
long cloak of the nobility. She was apparently the

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Online LibraryJohn Bernard Stoughton HolbornJacopo Robusti called Tintoretto → online text (page 1 of 10)