Hover in Abbreviated Spaces
“Some people’s whole lives get upended when they first discover Tintoretto, the most Venetian of artists and the world champion of painterly turbulence. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin nearly fainted outside San Rocco. Henry James became ecstatic. Today, some visitors are reduced to tears. Tintoretto left me powerless, too, when I first visited San Rocco in my youth, and did so again for different reasons this October, just before record flooding turned St. Mark’s Square into a swimming pool.
… What Tintoretto cared about were bodies, muscly and in motion. The figures are often foreshortened and hover in abbreviated spaces. Their poses are orchestrated to the max — everyone is flying, crashing, charging, recoiling. Their clothes, especially white fabrics, are translucent to the point of perviness. All of it is done with a speed and freedom that enthralled some of his contemporaries, and others dismissed as a scam to fulfill more commissions and make money.” [Jason Farago on Tintoretto]
“So many of his commissions were won by subterfuge and stealth. In 1564, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a lay confraternity in Venice, held a competition for an artist to complete a ceiling painting of Saint Roch, the protector against plague. Tintoretto (1518/9–94) was among the painters invited to produce designs for the space. The story goes that every artist placed his sketch before the judges except Tintoretto, who peeled back a covering from the ceiling panel to reveal a finished work instead.
Tintoretto’s painting of the saint being received by God is brilliantly dynamic but, as the members of the confraternity told him, he had no right to have installed it surreptitiously. Tintoretto calmly responded that they were welcome to it, which was less generous than cunning, for they were obliged to accept donations to the scuola. In the end, the majority voted not only to keep the painting, but also to employ Tintoretto to produce several more for the building in exchange for an annuity.” [Daisy Dunn on Tintoretto]
“Everything the art world’s first great biographer, Giorgio Vasari, says about Tintoretto isn’t strictly accurate, but he knew the man and saw his work in Venice in the 1560s. What he wrote has the ring of closely observed truth. He called Tintoretto “swift, resolute, fantastic, and extravagant, with the most extraordinary brain that the art of painting has ever produced.” High praise, but now the dig: “This master at times has left as finished works sketches still so rough that the brushstrokes seem done more by chance and vehemence than with judgment and design.”
In his day, Tintoretto’s rough finish was a marketplace plus and a minus. I called Tintoretto a “slasher” last week because of the gestural vigor of his brushstrokes. This was his personal style and something new in Venetian art. He had the mood, the eye, and the hand to apply the new medium of oil paint in thick dollops on a textured canvas and create a coherent, buoyant line. It served Tintoretto well professionally. It was a style for billboard-size paintings, where figures were conveyed in broad outlines and general characteristics rather than in tiny details. The effect isn’t confused, incoherent clots of figures but restlessness. Tintoretto also worked fast, as slashers often do. If you needed something good in a hurry, Tintoretto was your man.” [Brian T. Allen on Tintoretto]