What Was Tintoretto Known For?

Recently my friend and fellow art lover, Judy Totton from London, (who is also a professional photographer in her own right at ) mentioned her recent trip to Venice where she saw the Tintoretto’s. I was jealous, just for a second. I had been in Venice in 1987, and my recollection of the place was more of an architectural wonder with the incredible spaces, vistas, canals, little bridges, ornate facades, etc. than of the paintings. Where the hell was I? Probably in some kind of tourist distraction instead of seriously focused on my calling of painting.

I never really looked closely at the Venetian painters—Tintoretto or Titian—even though they were mentioned frequently by some of my painting professors at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Where the hell was I then? God knows. Trying to be “an artist,” probably. With eyes wide shut.


The Last Supper by Tintoretto

So here I am now, in 2018, about 30 years too late, looking at Tintoretto. What was Tintoretto known for? Deep space perspectives?  Dramatic figures doing remarkable feats? Lighting that will blow you mind? A kind of gut wrenching connection with his subjects?  Color schemes that make Venetian Red  and Lapis Lazuli colors of the Gods? All of the above. Blow your mind, Kids.

Tintoretto’s Last Supper shows no kind of placid, tidy balance of early Renaissance Idealism set forth by Leonardo in Milan. His Last Supper is so orderly it becomes almost staid. Tintoretto’s, on the other hand, is tumultuous. Leonardo’s Last Supper, painted 100 years prior, was tame and subdued compared to Tintoretto’s. In the cloth dyer’s son, all of his concentration comes forth to assert himself in a highly competitive Venetian art scene. Others who were more schooled, shunned him. Titian kicked him out as his student, either afraid of his protégé’s burgeoning talent, or convinced the young man was too unconventional to be teachable. As a result, Tintoretto received very little formal training. But damn, one can see his natural talent shining through, almost crashing through with a passion afore unseen.

A Light Around the Body

Clearly there is a “light around the body” in Tintoretto—some kind of supernatural force. In the Last Supper the whole scene is illuminated in a Holy Spirit take-over. We are enveloped, upon a stage of religious crescendo, to see, feel and touch a reality beyond one we know. How can we leap into that ultra charged atmosphere of a Paradise, or a Last Supper, without noting the otherworldly nature of the scene Tintoretto created for us? His halos are actually believable! Your soul is lit up like a light bulb just looking at them. They are electrified. We are shocked and electrified as well, over four hundred years later.

And those floating figures above the happenings of the Last Supper—are they ghosts? angels? cherubim? Clearly they are entities we have to contend with, and reconcile in our experience of the picture.


The Last Supper by Tintoretto (detail)

Christ is ablaze. Why shouldn’t He be? By now He is in the certainty of His mission, and forward seeing to the challenges He will soon endure. He feeds his beloved disciples, with the hands of a mother. They are gathered, alit amongst themselves, but yet unaware. We are on the cusp of a turning point in history, in the evolution of the human race, and Tintoretto is there to capture that moment, over one-and-a-half millennium later—I dare say, more viscerally than Leonardo.

The space vectors off into infinity.

A strong diagonal is present in the Last Supper by Tintoretto for sure. Follow the edge of the table and you will be taken all the way back to the deepest, darkest voids of outer space, with the Angels of God to be your chaperones. But before you go there, be sure to partake of a remarkable feast of last minute Divine Revelry. “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow!” How could you not, looking at this extraordinary painting? It is as if God Himself is feeding his people, and we are about to enter an unprecedented event on the stage of human history and evolution.


Christ on the Sea of Galilee by Tintoretto

The Man and His Majesty

Tintoretto was clearly touched by the Christ. His paintings bring life to the mission of Jesus in a time when He was canonized, stylized, and monetized by the motives of the Church. The relationship Tintoretto had with Him was a direct contact of simple religious bliss. Tintoretto is noted on more than one occasion “gifting” his work to the public, just so they would have a more inspired version of the Gospels he laboriously depicted. Christ walking on the water, On the Sea of Galilee, is a work of simple proportions, but powerful in its transmission of this famous miracle. Christ may have had dominion over the elements, quelling a turbulent sea, but Tintoretto had command of the paint brush, with which he could lay down a painted panorama of a Religious Experience in Itself.

This old master painter was in his Majesty, just as the Christ was in His as the Savior of His fellow men. The Holy relationship between these two Masters is inseparable. Tintoretto thought little of fame, fortune and success, although he had plenty of these. Often giving away his profits to the poor, he did his work without motive, other than to demonstrate in his painting a Divine Connection to a transcendent Reality, as depicted in the life and associations of the Christ.

Meet Me in Paradise


Paradise by Tintoretto

The crowning production of Tintoretto’s life, the last picture of any considerable importance which he executed, was the vast Paradise, in size 22.6 by 9.1 metres (74.1 by 29.9 feet), reputed to be the largest painting ever done upon canvas.  It is a work so stupendous in scale, so colossal in the sweep of its power, so reckless of ordinary standards of conception or method, that it has defied the connoisseurship of three centuries, and has generally (though not with its first Venetian contemporaries) passed for an eccentric failure; while to a few eyes it seems to be so transcendent a monument of human faculty applied to the art pictorial as not to be viewed without awe. (Wikipedia)

“Meet me in Paradise.” What would that look like? How would you paint this promise? That Jesus is in the upper left corner poised in an overview of  explosive illumination; that the Angels of the Lord bring to Him the scales of the Last Judgment; that the Cherubim under His feet buoy up the King of Paradise; that the multitude in this massive field of souls appears triumphantly expectant; that the Prophets of old enter reverently from the right conferring their scriptures; that the prayerful women look glad in their anticipation of something greater—all these come together in this masterpiece of awesome scale and momentum. This is a subject we do not  consider very much—Paradise. Tintoretto gives us the means to consider it. Very palpably in the flesh, it is revealed through paint before us.


“Paradise” by Tintoretto (detail)

We know him by his fruits

As any tree is known by its fruits, any painter is known by his paintings. I am moved by Tintoretto’s Last Supper. I almost receive Communion from it myself. I am faithful that miracles are possible from seeing Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. Just the gesture of  His hand outstretched brings solace to His fearful friends on a turbulent sea. And in his Paradise I am given a look into a realm unimaginable, a vortex of Ascension that could hardly miss making an impression on my mental catalogue of great works pondered. I am uplifted along with these Ascending souls to feel gratitude for my good fortune to have a spiritual Master, and a painterly Master, all rolled into one—who can lead me simultaneously up and out of my worldly trials.

The fruits of Tintoretto are revisited. I did not look in my 20’s, nor did I pay much attention in my 40’s. But now in my 60’s, thanks to my friend Judy Totton, my eyes are now wide open instead of wide shut. “Praise Be To God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” and through this old Master painter, and through the Master Teacher he depicts, these blessings will continue to grace us as long as these paintings are noted and preserved.

Thanks Judy, for getting me to do an ART LOOK on Tintoretto.  Thanks readers, for reading it. I love you madly,

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