LINK TO BIB
Self-Portrait. 1560/65. Louvre, Paris.

JACOPO TINTORETTO (1518-1594)
PAINTER OF VENICE
(Extracted from the Life of Battista Franco)


Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists


IN THE SAME CITY OF VENICE, and about the same time there lived, as he still does, a painter called Jacopo Tintoretto, who has delighted in all the arts, and particularly in playing various musical instruments, besides being agreeable in his every action, but in the matter of painting swift, resolute, fantastic, and extravagant, and the most extraordinary brain that the art of painting has ever produced, as may be seen from all his works and from the fantastic compositions of his scenes, executed by him in a fashion of his own and contrary to the use of other painters. Indeed, he has surpassed even the limits of extravagance with the new and fanciful inventions and the strange vagaries of his intellect, working at haphazard and without design, as if to prove that art is but a jest. This master at times has left as finished works sketches still so rough that the brush-strokes may be seen, done more by chance and vehemence than with judgment and design. He has painted almost every kind of picture in fresco and in oils, with portraits from life, and at every price, insomuch that with these methods he has executed, as he still does, the greater part of the pictures painted in Venice. And since in his youth he proved himself by many beautiful works a man of great judgment, if only he had recognized how great an advantage he had from nature, and had improved it by reasonable study, as has been done by those who have followed the beautiful manners of his predecessors, and had not dashed his work off by mere skill of hand, he would have been one of the greatest painters that Venice has ever had. Not that this prevents him from being a bold and able painter, and delicate, fanciful, and alert in spirit.

Now, when it had been ordained by the Senate that Jacopo Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese, at that time young men of great promise, should each execute a scene in the Hall of the Great Council, and Orazio, the son of Tiziano, another, Tintoretto painted in his scene Frederick Barbarossa being crowned by the Pope, depicting there a most beautiful building, and about the Pontiff a great number of Cardinals and Venetian gentlemen, all portrayed from life, and at the foot the Pope's chapel of music. In all this he acquitted himself in such a manner, that the picture can bear comparison with those of the others, not excepting that of the above-named Orazio, in which is a battle that was fought at Rome between the Germans of that Frederick and the Romans, near the Castello di S. Angelo and the Tiber. In this picture, among other things, is a horse in foreshortening, leaping over a soldier in armor, which is most beautiful; but some declare that Orazio was assisted in the work by his father Tiziano. Beside these Paolo Veronese, of whom there has been an account in the Life of Michele San Michele, painted in his scene the same Frederick Barbarossa presenting himself at Court and kissing the hand of Pope Ottaviano, to the despite of Pope Alexander III; and, in addition to that scene, which was very beautiful, Paolo painted over a window four large figures: Time, Union, with a bundle of rods, Patience, and Faith, in which he acquitted himself better than I could express in words.

Not long afterwards, another scene being required in that hall, Tintoretto so went to work with the aid of friends and other means, that it was given to him to paint; whereupon he executed it in such a manner that it was a marvel, and that it deserves to be numbered among the best things that he ever did, so powerful in him was his determination that he would equal, if not vanquish and surpass, his rivals who had worked in that place. And the scene that he painted there to the end that it may be known also by those who are not of the art was Pope Alexander excommunicating and interdicting Barbarossa, and that Frederick therefore forbidding his subjects to render obedience any longer to the Pontiff. And among other fanciful things that are in this scene, that part is most beautiful in which the Pope and the Cardinals are throwing down torches and candles from a high place, as is done when some person is excommunicated, and below is a rabble of nude figures that are struggling for those torches and candles the most lovely and pleasing effect in the world. Besides all this, certain bases, antiquities, and portraits of gentlemen that are dispersed throughout the scene, are executed very well, and won him favor and fame with everyone. He therefore painted, for places below the work of Pordenone in the principal chapel of S. Rocco, two pictures in oils as broad as the width of the whole chapel namely, about twelve braccia each. In one he depicted a view in perspective as of a hospital filled with beds and sick persons in various attitudes who are being healed by S. Rocco; and among these are some nude figures very well conceived, and a dead body in foreshortening that is very beautiful. In the other is a story likewise of S. Rocco, full of most graceful and beautiful figures, and such, in short, that it is held to be one of the best works that this painter has executed. In a scene of the same size, in the center of the church, he painted Jesus Christ healing the impotent man at the Pool of Bethesda, which is also a work held to be passing good.

In the Church of S. Maria dell' Orto, where, as has been told above, Cristofano and his brother, painters of Brescia, painted the ceiling, Tintoretto has painted that is, on canvas and in oils the two walls of the principal chapel, which are twenty-two braccia in height from the vaulting to the cornice at the foot. In that which is on the right hand he has depicted Moses returning from the Mount, where he had received the Laws from God, and finding the people worshipping the Golden Calf; and opposite to that, in the other, is the Universal Judgment of the last day, painted with an extravagant invention that truly has in it something awesome and terrible, by reason of the diversity of figures of either sex and all ages that are there, with vistas and distant views of the souls of the blessed and the damned. There, also, may be seen the boat of Charon, but in a manner so different from that of others, that it is a thing beautiful and strange. If this fantastic invention had been executed with correct and well-ordered drawing, and if the painter had given diligent attention to the parts and to each particular detail, as he has done to the whole in expressing the confusion, turmoil, and terror of that day, it would have been a most stupendous picture. And whoever glances at it for a moment, is struck with astonishment; but, considering it afterwards minutely, it appears as if painted as a jest.

The same master has painted in oils in that church, on the doors of the organ, Our Lady ascending the steps of the Temple, which is a highly- finished work, and the best-executed and most gladsome picture that there is in that place. In S. Maria Zebenigo, likewise on the doors of the organ, he has painted the Conversion of S. Paul, but not with much care. In the Carita is an altarpiece by his hand, of Christ taken down from the Cross; and in the Sacristy of S. Sebastiano, in competition with Paolo Veronese, who executed many pictures on the ceiling and the walls of that place, he painted over the presses Moses in the Desert and other scenes, which were continued afterwards by Natalino, a Venetian painter, and by others. The same Tintoretto then painted for the altar of the Pieta, in S. Giobbe, three Maries, S. Francis, S. Sebastian, and S. John, with a piece of landscape; and, on the organ-doors in the Church of the Servites, S. Augustine and S. Philip, and beneath them Cain killing his brother Abel. At the altar of the Sacrament in S. Felice, or rather, on the ceiling of the tribune, he painted the four Evangelists; and in the lunette above the altar an Annunciation, in the other lunette Christ praying on the Mount of Olives, and on the wall the Last Supper that He had with His Apostles.

And in S. Francesco della Vigna, on the altar of the Deposition from the Cross, there is by the same hand the Madonna in a swoon, with the other Maries and some Prophets. In the Scuola of S. Marco, near SS. Giovanni e Polo, are four large scenes by his hand. In one of these is S. Mark, who, appearing in the air, is delivering one who is his votary from many torments that may be seen prepared for him with various instruments of torture, which being broken, the executioner was never able to employ them against that devout man; and in that scene is a great abundance of figures, foreshortenings, pieces of armor, buildings, portraits, and other suchlike things, which render the work very ornate. In the second is a tempest of the sea, and S. Mark, likewise in the air, delivering another of his votaries ; but that scene is by no means executed with the same diligence as that already described. In the third is a storm of rain, with the dead body of another of S. Mark's votaries, and his soul ascending into Heaven; and there, also, is a composition of passing good figures. In the fourth, wherein an evil spirit is being exorcised, he counterfeited in perspective a great loggia, and at the end of it a fire that illumines it with many reflections. And in addition to those scenes there is on the altar a S. Mark by the same hand, which is a passing good picture.

These works, then, and many others that are here passed over, it being enough to have made mention of the best, have been executed by Tintoretto with such rapidity, that, when it was thought that he had scarcely begun, he had finished. And it is a notable thing that with the most extravagant ways in the world, he has always work to do, for the reason that when his friendships and other means are not enough to obtain for him any particular work, even if he had to do it, I do not say at a low price, but without payment or by force, in one way or another, do it he would. And it is not long since, Tintoretto having executed the Passion of Christ in a large picture in oils and on canvas for the Scuola of S. Rocco, the men of that Company resolved to have some honourable and magnificent work painted on the ceiling above it, and therefore to allot that commission to that one among the painters that there were in Venice who should make the best and most beautiful design. Having therefore summoned Joseffo Salviati, Federigo Zucchero, who was in Venice at that time, Paolo Veronese, and Jacopo Tintoretto, they ordained that each of them should make a design, promising the work to him who should acquit himself best in this. While the others, then, were engaged with all possible diligence in making their designs, Tintoretto, having taken measurements of the size that the work was to be, sketched a great canvas and painted it with his usual rapidity, without anyone knowing about it, and then placed it where it was to stand. Whereupon, the men of the Company having assembled one morning to see the designs and to make their award, they found that Tintoretto had completely finished the work and had placed it in position. At which being angered against him, they said that they had called for designs and had not commissioned him to execute the work; but he answered them that this was his method of making designs, that he did not know how to proceed in any other manner, and that designs and models of works should always be after that fashion, so as to deceive no one, and that, finally, if they would not pay him for the work and for his labor, he would make them a present of it.

And after these words, although he had many contradictions, he so contrived that the work is still in the same place. In this canvas, then, there is painted a Heaven with God the Father descending with many Angels to embrace S. Rocco, and in the lowest part are many figures that signify, or rather, represent the other principal Scuole of Venice, such as the Carita, S. Giovanni Evangelista, the Misericordia, S. Marco, and S. Teodoro, all executed after his usual manner. But since it would be too long a task to enumerate all the pictures of Tintoretto, let it be enough to have spoken of the above named works of that master, who is a truly able man and a painter worthy to be praised.



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