WE have no authentic biography of Tintoret. The men of his epoch hungered for fame, but it was by the splendor of their genius, and not by the details of their personal lives, that they hoped to be known to posterity. The days of judicious Boswells and injudicious Froudes had not then come to pass; so that we are now as ignorant of the lives of the painters of the great school which flourished at Venice during the sixteenth century as of the lives of that group of poets who flourished in England during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. Nevertheless, Providence sees to it that nothing essential be lost; and, in the absence of memoirs,the masterpiece itself becomes a memoir for those who have insight. In art, works which proceed from the soul, and not from the skill, are truthful witnesses to the character of the artist. “For by the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably the maker of them is seen.” It is not wholly to be regretted, therefore, that the meagreness of our information concerning Tintoret compels us to study his paintings the more earnestly. The lives of artists are generally scanty in those adventures and dramatic incidents which make entertaining biographies. Men of action express their character in deeds: poems, statues, paintings, are the deeds of artists. Blot out a few pages of history, and what remains of Hannibal or Scipio? But we should know much about Michael Angelo or Raphael from their paintings, had no written word come down to us.
The year of Tintoret’s birth is variously stated as 1512 and 1518. Even his name has been a cause of dispute to antiquaries; but since he was content to call and sign himself Jacopo (or Giacomo) Robusti, we may accept this as correct. His father was a dyer of silk (tintore), and as the boy early helped at that trade he got the nickname il tintoretto, “the little dyer.” Vasari, also born in 1512, is the only contemporary who furnishes an account of Tintoret. Unsatisfactory and wellnigh ridiculous it is, if we remember that by 1574, when Vasari died, Tintoret had already produced many of his masterpieces. Yet the Florentine painter-historian did not accord to him so much as a separate chapter in his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, hut inserted his few pages of criticism and gossip, as if by an afterthought, in the sketch of the forgotten Battista Franco. Since much that has been subsequently written about Tintoret is merely a repetition of Vasari’s shallow opinions, which created a mythical Tintoret, just as English reviewers created a mythical “Johnny Keats, ” long believed to be the real Keats, I quote a few sentences from Vasari. “There still lives in Venice,” he says, “a painter called Jacopo Tintoretto, who has amused himself with all accomplishments, and particularly with playing music and several instruments, and is, besides, pleasing in all his actions; but in matters of painting he is extravagant, full of caprice, dashing, and resolute, the most terrible brain that painting ever had, as you may see in all his works, and in his compositions of fantastic subjects, done by him diversely and contrary to the custom of other painters. Nay, he has capped extravagance with the novel and whimsical inventions and odd devices of his intellect, which he has used haphazard and without design, as if to show that this art is a trifle. . . . And because in his youth he showed himself in many fair works of great judgment, if he had recognized the great endowment which he received from nature, and had fortified it with study and judgment, as those have done who have followed the fine manner of his elders, and if he had not (as he has done) cut loose from practiced rules, he would have been one of the greatest painters that ever Venice had; yet, for all this, we would not deny that he is a proud and good painter, with an alert, capricious, and refined spirit.”
Evidently, the originality of this “terrible” Tintoret could not be understood by Vasari, who was trained in the academic proprieties, and who imagined that he followed successfully the fine manner of his elders. But there is no hint that Tintoret heeded this generous advice. Perhaps it came too late,—at threescore years one’s character and methods are no longer plastic; perhaps it had been too often reiterated, for Tintoret had been assured from his youth up that, if he would only be instructed by his fellow-artists, he might hope to become a great painter like them. But, from the first glimpse we get of this perverse Tintoret to the last, one characteristic dominates all,—obedience to his own genius. Censure, coaxing, fashion, envy, popularity, seem never to have swerved him. Like every consummate genius, he drew his inspiration directly from within. “Conform! conform! or be written down a fool!” has always been the greeting of the world to the self-centred, spirit-guided few. “ Right or wrong, I cannot otherwise, ” has been their invariable rePly.1
By the time that Tintoret made his first essays in painting, the Venetian school was the foremost in the world. The great Leonardo had died in France, leaving behind him in Lombardy a company of pupils who were rapidly enslaved by a graceless mannerism. Even before this the best talents of Umbria had wandered into feeble eccentricities, or had been absorbed by the large humanism of Raphael. Raphael himself was dead, at the height of his popularity and in the prime of his powers, and his disciples were hurrying along the road of imitation into the desert of formalism, Michael Angelo alone survived in central Italy, a Titan too colossal, too individual, to be a schoolmaster, although there were many of the younger brood (Vasari among them) who called him Maestro, and fancied that their grimaces and contortions sprang from force and grandeur such as his. But in Venice painting was flourishing; there it had the exuberance and the strength, the joyousness and the splendor, of an art approaching its meridian. John Bellini, the earliest of the great Venetians, had died; but not before there had issued from his studio a wonderful band of disciples, some of whom were destined to surpass him. Giorgione, one of these, had been cut off in his thirty-fourth year, having barely had time to give to the world a few handsels of his genius. The fame of Titian had risen to that height where it has ever since held its station. A troop of lesser men — lesser in comparison with him — were embellishing Venice, or carrying the magic of her art to other parts of Italy.
The tradition runs that the boy Tintoret amused himself by drawing charcoal figures on the wall, then coloring them with his father’s dyes: whence his parents were persuaded that he was born to be a painter. Accordingly, his father got permission for him to work in Titian’s studio, the privilege most coveted by every apprentice of the time. His stay there was brief, however; hardly above ten days, if the legend be true which tells how Titian returned one day and saw some strange sketches, and that, learning that Tintoret had made them, he bade another pupil send him away. Some say that Titian already foresaw a rival in the youthful draughtsman; others, that the figures were in a style so contrary to the master’s that he discerned no good in them, and judged that it would be useless for Tintoret to pursue an art in which he could never excel. Let the dyer’s son go back to his vats : there he could at least earn a livelihood. We are loath to believe that Titian, whose reputation was established, could have been moved by jealousy of a mere novice; we must remember, nevertheless, that even when Tintoret had come to maturity, and was reckoned among the leading painters of Venice, Titian treated him coldly, and apparently thwarted and disparaged him. Few artists, indeed, have risen quite above the marsh - mists of jealousy. Their ambition regards fame as a fixed quantity, and, like Goldsmith, they look upon any one who acquires a part of this treasure as having diminished the amount they can appropriate for themselves. But in Tintoret’s great soul envy could find no place. “Enmities he has none. Enemy of him you may be: if so, you shall teach him aught which your good will cannot, were it only what experience will accrue from your ruin. Enemy and welcome, but enemy on high terms. He cannot hate anybody; his time is worth too much,”
Under whom Tintoret studied, after being thrust off by Titian, we are not told. Probably he had no acknowledged preceptor except Himself. Already his aim was at the highest. On the wall of His studio he blazoned the motto, “The drawing of Michael Angelo and the coloring of Titian. ” To blend the excellence of each in a supreme unity, —that was his ambition. Titian might shut him out from personal instruction, but Titian’s works in the churches and palaces were within reach. Tintoret studied them, copied them, and conjured from them the secret their master wished to hide. Having procured casts of Michael Angelo’s statues in the Medicean Chapel at Florence, he made drawings of them in every position. Far into the night he worked by lamplight, watching the play of light and shade, the outlines and the relief. He drew also from living models, and learned anatomy by dissecting corpses. He invented “little figures of wax and of clay, clothing them with bits of cloth, examining accurately, by the folds of the dresses, the position of the limbs; and these models he distributed among little houses and perspectives composed of planks and cardboard, and he put lights in the windows.” From the rafters he suspended other manikins, and thereby learned the foreshortening proper to figures painted on ceilings and on high places. So indefatigable, so minute, was this man, who is known to posterity as “the thunderbolt of painters.” In his prime, he astonished all by his power of elaborating his ideas at a speed at which few masters can even sketch; but that power was nourished by his infinite painstaking in those years of obscurity. Only the callow dream that genius leaps without preparation to its achievement. It is one of the marks of genius that it sees the need of preparation and has the patience to toil.
Wherever Tintoret might learn, thither he went. Now, we hear of him working with the masons at Cittadella; now, taking his seat upon the bench of the journeymen painters in St. Mark’s Place; now, watching some illustrious master decorating the facade of a palace. No commission was too humble for him: who knows how many signboards he may have furnished in his ’prentice days? His first recorded works were two portraits,—of himself holding a bas-relief in his hand, and of his brother playing a cithern. As the custom then was, he exhibited these in the Merceria. that narrow lane of shops which leads from St. Mark’s to the Rialto bridge. What the latest novel or yesterday’s political speech is to us, that was a new picture to the Venetians. Their innate sense of color and beauty and their familiarity with the best works of art made them ready critics. They knew whether the colors on a canvas were in harmony, as the average Italian of to-day can tell whether a singer keeps the key, and doubtless they were enthusiastic in their discussions. Tintoret’s portraits attracted attention. They were painted with nocturnal lights and shadows, “in so terrible a manner that they amazed every one,” even to the degree of suggesting to one beholder the following epigram : —
Exorto faciet quid radiante die?Ȝ 2
Soon after, he displayed another picture upon the Rialto bridge, by which the surprise already excited was increased. He began, thenceforward, to get employment in the smaller churches and convents. Important commissions which brought wealth and honors were reserved for Titian and a few favorites; but Tintoret rejected no offer. Only let him express those ideas swarming in his imagination: he asked no further recompense. He seems to have been early noted for the practice of taking no pay at all, or only enough to provide his paints and canvas,—a practice which brought upon him the abuse of his fellows, who cried out that he would ruin their profession. But there was then no law to prohibit artist or artisan from working for any price he chose, and Tintoret, as usual, took his own course.
At last a great opportunity offered. On each side of the high altar of the church of Sta. Maria dell’ Orto was a bare space, nearly fifty feet high and fifteen or twenty feet broad. “Let me paint you two pictures,” said Tintoret to the friars, who laughed at the extravagant proposal. “A whole year’s income would not suffice for such an undertaking, ” they replied. “ You shall have no expense but for the canvas and colors,” said Tintoret. “I shall charge nothing for my work.” And on these terms he executed The Last Judgment and The Worship of the Golden Calf. The creator of those masterpieces could no longer be ignored. Here was a power, a variety, which hostility and jealousy could not gainsay: they must note, though they refused to admire. It was in 1546, or thereabouts, that Tintoret uttered this challenge. In a little while he had orders for four pictures for the School of St. Mark; one of which, St. Mark Freeing a Fugitive Slave, soon became popular, and has continued so. “Here is coloring as rich as Titian’s, and energy as daring as Michael Angelo’s! ” visitors still exclaim. Other commissions followed, until there came that which the Venetian prized above all others,—an order to paint for the Ducal Palace.
As the patriotic Briton aspires to a monument in Westminster Abbey, and the Florentine in Santa Croce, so the Venetian artist coveted for his works a place in the palace of the Doges. That was his Temple of Fame. His dream, however, soared beyond the gratification of personal ambition; he desired that through him the glory and beauty of Venice might be enhanced and immortalized. This devotion to the ideal of a city, this true patriotism, has, unfortunately, almost disappeared from the earth. The very conception of it is now unintelligible to most persons. The city where you live — New York, Boston, London — you value in proportion as it affords advantages for your business, objects for your comfort and amusement; but you quit it without compunction if taxes be lower and trade brisker elsewhere. You are interested in its affairs just in so far as they affect your own. When you build a dwelling or a factory, you do not inquire whether it will improve or injure your neighbor’s property, much less whether it will be an ornament to the city; you need not even abate a nuisance until compelled to do so by the law.
But to the noble-minded Venetian his city was not merely a convenience; it was a personality. Venezia was a spiritual patroness, a goddess who presided over the destiny of the state; he and every one of his fellow-citizens shared the honor and blessing of her protection. She had crowned with prosperity the energy and piety, the rectitude and justice, of his ancestors through many centuries. Every act of his had more than a personal, more even than a human bearing. How would it affect her ? — that was his test. He could do nothing unto himself alone; for good or for ill. what he did reacted upon the community, upon the ideal Venezia. The outward city — the churches, palaces, and dwellings — was but the garment and visible expression of that ideal city. Venezia had blessed him, and he was grateful; she was beautiful, and he loved her. His gratitude impelled him to deeds worthy of her protection; his love blossomed in gifts that should increase her beauty.
This reverence and devotion have, as I remarked, vanished from among men; yet in this ideal beams the conception of the true commonwealth. Observe that those three cities which held such an ideal before them have bequeathed to us the most precious works of beauty. Athens, Florence, Venice, —these are the Graces among the cities. At Karnak, at Constantinople, at Rome, at Paris, you will behold stupendous ruins or imposing monuments commemorating the pride and power of individual Pharaohs, Sultans, Cæsars. Popes, and Napoleons, but you will not find the spirit which was worshiped by the beautifying of the Acropolis, and of republican Florence, and of Venice. Will the most diligent search discover it in New York or Chicago?
Tintoret, then, had at last earned the privilege of consecrating his genius to Venezia. His first work for her seems to have been a portrait of the reigning Doge.3 Then he painted two historical subjects, — Frederick Barbarossa being crowned by Pope Adrian, and Pope Alexander III. excommunicating Frederick Barburossa; and The Last Judgment, destroyed by the fire of 1577. Not long thereafter began his employment by the brothers of the confraternity of San Rocco. For their church, about 1560, he painted two scenes in the life of St. Roch, and then he joined in competition for a ceiling painting for the Sala dell’ Albergo in the School itself. The brothers called for designs, and upon the appointed day Paul Veronese, Andrea Schiavone, Giuseppe Salviati, and Federigo Zuccaro submitted theirs. But Tintoret had out sped them, and when his design was asked for he caused a screen to be removed from the ceiling, and lo! there was a finished picture of the specified subject. Brothers and competitors were astonished, and not greatly pleased. “We asked for sketches,” said the former. “That is the way I make my sketches,” replied Tintoret. They demurred ; but Tintoret presented the picture to the School, one of whose rules made it obligatory that all gifts should be accepted. The displeasure of the confraternity soon passed away, and Tintoret was commissioned to furnish whatever paintings should be required in future. An annual salary of one hundred ducats was bestowed upon him, in return for which he was to give at least one painting a year. Generously did he fulfill the contract; for at his death the School possessed more than sixty of his works, for which he had been paid but twenty-four hundred and forty-seven ducats.
1 It is interesting to know that the price regularly paid to Titian and Tintoret for state portraits was twenty-five ducats (about thirtyone dollars). Painters who have not a hundredth part of the genius of either Titian or Tintoret now receive one hundred times that sum.
In 1577 a fire in the Ducal Palace destroyed many of the paintings, and when the edifice was restored the government looked for artists to replace them. Titian being dead, his opposition had no longer to be overcome; yet even now Tintoret had to compete with men of inferior powers, but of stronger influence. Nevertheless, to him and Paul Veronese was assigned the lion’s share of the undertaking, and for ten years those two great men labored side by side, in noble rivalry, to eternize the beauty and the glory of Venice. In 1588, owing to the death of Paul Veronese, who with Francesco Bassano had been commissioned to paint a Paradise in the Hall of the Grand Council, the work was transferred to Tintoret, who devoted to it the last six years of his life, and left in it the highest expression not only of his genius, but of Italian painting.4 Old age robbed him of none of his energy, but added sublimity to his imagination, and interfused serenity and mellowness throughout his work. And so, still teeming with plans, he died of a gastric trouble, after a fortnight’s illness, on the 31st of May, 1594.5
With this clue, spun from the discursive records of Ridolfi (whose Meraviglie dell’ Arte was first published in 1648), we can pass through the labyrinth of Tintoret’s career. There are, besides, several anecdotes which help us to know the man’s personality better: if all be not authentic, at least all agree in attributing to him certain well-defined traits.
As a workman, as we have seen, Tintoret was indefatigable. His lifelong yearning was not for praise, but for opportunity to work. Modesty he had to a degree unrecorded of any other painter, although none seems to have been more confident of his own powers.6 Like Shakespeare, he wrought his masterpieces swiftly, and left them to their fate, because his imagination, like Shakespeare’s, was already on the wing for higher quarry. There was in the man an inflexible dignity, born of selfrespect, which neither the allurements of popularity nor the flattery of the great could bend. When invited by the Duke of Mantua to go to that city and execute some paintings, Tintoret replied that wherever he went his wife wished to accompany him; at which the duke bade him bring his wife and family, and had them conveyed to Mantua in a state barge, and entertained them at his palace “at magnificent expense for many days. ” He urged Tintoret to settle there; but the Venetian could not be persuaded to renounce his allegiance to Venice. He saw that titles would add nothing to his fame, and refused an offer of knighthood from Henry III. of France. Princes and grandees and illustrious visitors to Venice went to his house; but though he received them courteously, he sought no intimacy with them. His time was too precious, his projects were too earnest, to allow of aristocratic dissipation. He had a keen sense of humor, which displayed itself now in some ready reply, now in genial conversation with his familiars. Ridolfi relates that certain prelates and senators who visited him whilst he was making sketches for the Paradise asked him why he worked so hurriedly, whereas John Bellini and Titian had been deliberate and painstaking, “The old masters, ” said Tintoret, “ had not so many to bother them as I have,” At another time, at a gathering of amateurs, a woman’s portrait by Titian was lauded. “That’s the way to paint,” said one of the critics. Tintoret went home, took a sketch by Titian and covered it with lampblack, painted a head in Titian’s manner on the same canvas, and showed it at the next meeting of these amateurs. “Ah, there’s a real Titian!” they all agreed. Tintoret rubbed off the lampblack from the original sketch, and said: “This, gentlemen, is indeed by Titian; that which you have admired is mine. You see now how authority and opinion prevail in criticism, and how few there are who really understand painting.”
Pietro Aretino, that depraved adventurer and most successful blackmailer in literature, was one of Titian’s intimates and partisans. He wished, nevertheless, to have his portrait painted by Tintoret, who was in no wise afraid of the scoundrel’s enmity, although most of the prominent personages of the time quailed before it. Aretino being posed, Tintoret furiously drew a hanger from under his coat. Aretino was terrified lest he should be punished for his malicious tongue, and cried out, “Jacopo, what are you about?” “I am only going to take your measure,” said Tintoret complacently: and, measuring him from head to foot, he added, “Your height is just two and a half hangers.” Aretino’s impudence returned. “You’re a great madman,” he said, “and always up to your pranks.” But this grim hint sufficed ; the rascal never after dared to slander Tintoret, but, on the contrary, tried to ingratiate himself into his friendship.
In his home Tintoret enjoyed tranquillity. His wife, Faustina de’ Vescovi, was thrifty and dignified, and perhaps she was not a little annoyed by the “ unpracticalness ” of her husband. According to tradition, when he went out she tied up money for him in his handkerchief, and bade him give an exact account of it on his return. Having spent his afternoon and money with congenial spirits at some rendezvous whose name, unlike that of the Mermaid, where Elizabethan wits caroused, has been lost, he playfully assured Madonna Faustina that her allowance had gone to help the poor. She was particular that he should wear the dress of a Venetian citizen; but if he happened to go abroad in rainy weather, she called out to him from an upper window to come back and put on his old clothes. We have glimpses of him passing to and fro in Venice with Marietta, his favorite daughter, a painter of merit, whose early death saddened his later years.7 Of his other children, two daughters entered a nunnery ; a third married Casser, a German: his eldest son, Domenico, adopted his father’s profession, and assisted him in Ids work; another son went to the bad, and was cut off from an inheritance by his father’s will. In spite of his habit of giving away pictures, or of charging a small price for them. Tintoret bequeathed a comfortable fortune to his heirs.
A few of his precepts and suggestions concerning art have come down to us through Ridolfi, who had them from Aliense, one of Tintoret’s pupils.
“The study of painting is arduous.” he used to say; “and to him who advances farthest in it more difficulties appear, the sea grows ever larger.”
“Students must never fail to profit by the example of the great masters, Michael Angelo and Titian.”
“Nature is always the same; in painting, therefore, muscles must not be varied by caprice.”
“In judging a picture, observe if, at the first examination, the eye is satisfied, and if the author has obeyed the great principles of art; as to the details, each will fall into error. Do not go immediately to look at a new work, but wait till the darts of criticism have all been shot, and men are accustomed to the sight.”
Being asked which are the most beautiful colors, he answered, “Black and white: because the former gives force to figures by deepening the shadows, the latter gives the relief.”
He insisted that only the experienced artist should draw from living models, which lack, for the most part, grace and symmetrical forms.
“Fine colors,” he said, “are sold in the Rialto shops; but design is got from the casket of genius, with hard study and long vigils, and is therefore understood and practiced by but few.”
Odoardo Filleti asked him what to study. “Drawing,” replied Tintoret. Somewhat later, Filleti sought further advice. “Drawing, and again drawing,” Tintoret reiterated.
“Art must perfect nature,” was his guiding rule; and he instanced that Greek artist who modeled an Aphrodite by selecting the best features of the five most beautiful women he could find.
His studio was in the most retired part of his house. Few were admitted to it, and they had to find their way thither up a dark staircase and along dark passages, by the light of a candle. There he spent most of his time,—a grave man ordinarily, as must ever be the case with genius which ranges the utmost abysses and sublimities which human faculty is permitted to explore; doubtless at heart a solitary man. so far as the absence of flesh-and-blood companions constitutes Solitude, but forever attended by the great associates of his imagination. Laconic, too, in speech as with his brush; as when, in reply to a long letter from his brother, he wrote simply, “Sir: no.” But upon occasion — as that anecdote of Madonna Faustina’s allowance shows — he indulged in conviviality; and he had the gift peculiar to a gentleman, of “being easy with persons of all ranks, and of putting them at ease.” “With his friends he preserved great affability. He was copious in fine sayings and witty hits, putting them forth with much grace, but without sign of laughter; and when he deemed it opportune, he knew also how to joke with the great.”
Tintoret’s genius was only partially acknowledged during his lifetime; and his fame has suffered strange vicissitudes since his death. At times he has been extolled with meaningless extravagance; oftener condemned, after Vasari’s lukewarm fashion, or passed over without mention. Not until Mr. Ruskin came and opened the eyes of the world had Tintoret heen adequately appreciated tor those points of excellence wherein he has neither rival nor second. He has suffered for the same reasons that Shakespeare was long unesteemed in France: his works are hold, very rapid, often unequal, not in the least to be measured by the yardstick of conventionalism: he treats many new subjects, and the old subjects he always treats in new fashion, thereby provoking formalists to accuse him of willful oddness or caprice; his reputation for swiftness of execution was deemed by many presumptive evidence that he was superficial; above all, his imagination was so rich and so powerful that it required a cognate imagination to follow it.
Moreover. Tintoret was the last master of the great era of Italian painting. After him came schools which did not rely upon originality, but upon the inspiration of former masters. Pictures were but specimens of technique, and the models chosen for imitation were naturally those in which technique could be most easily reduced to rules. The public, as well as the painters themselves, gradually lost the power of valuing art as a spiritual expression. The artist had become but an acrobat, — on a level with tight-rope walkers and tumblers,—whose object it was to astonish by tricks and sleight of hand; or he was a buffoon, who aped the port and gestures of Correggio or Leonardo; or a ventriloquist, who mimicked the tones of Titian or Raphael. Word by word, sentence by sentence, the great language of painting was forgotten, until at last it became as a dead language. It, was inevitable that Tintoret’s works, which had not always been understood by his contemporaries, should baffle the interpreters of art grammars and the pedagogues of technique.
Again, Tintoret’s pigments have suffered more than those of any other master. The darker colors, in many cases, have become almost black; the lighter have faded, and sometimes completely changed.8 How far this is due to an original defect in the paints, how far to exposure and neglect, I cannot say. It must always be remembered that popular canvases have been frequently varnished and restored ; so that many Titians and Raphaels are as fresh to-day as they were when they left the easel. How much remains of the original painting is another question. Directors of galleries aim at pleasing the public, not at respecting the preferences of connoisseurs, and the public craves lively colors. It would feel itself imposed upon if it traveled to Dresden only to find the Sistine Madonna as dark as would probably be the case if the restorer had not interfered. In every gallery you will observe that the crowds flock to the brightest pictures, irrespective of their merits. The fact that they have been kept bright is an advertisement that they are deemed precious; and besides, it requires less time to glance at a clean canvas and pass on than to recover, after patient scrutiny and an effort of the imagination, some of the beauty which time and dust conceal. It is significant that the one painting by Tintoret which is most commonly mentioned by all classes of tourists — St. Mark Freeing a Fugitive Slave—is precisely that one which the directors of the Venice Academy keep polished as good as new.
I cannot, dismiss this subject, without alluding to another cause for the slight attention given to Tintoret: his pictures are almost invariably condemned to oblivion by the position in which they have been hung. You must look for them in dark corners near the ceiling, or in cross-lights which render an examination impossible. Of those which still exist in the churches for which they were painted, some have been injured by the drippings from candles; others have been partly hidden by tabernacles, reliquaries, and other objects of church ceremonial. Travelers in Venice a generation ago record that rain leaked through the roof of the School of San Rocco, and soaked some of the canvases; others, hung near windows, have had to suffer from the strong sunlight for centuries. In the Ducal Palace, one series of ceiling paintings have succumbed to the daubing of restorers, and are now hardly recognizable as being Tintoret’s; while the matchless Paradise, when I last beheld it,9 was falling rapidly to decay. The seams where the vast canvas was originally joined had rotted in many places: the canvas itself was warped and rumpled, forming little shelves and unevennesses whereon the dust had collected so as to hide the colors; and from the ceiling dangled a ragged fringe of cobwebs, in Some places two or three feet long.
A few generations hence, when these incomparable works have been irretrievably damaged, posterity will wonder — with a wonder intensified by indignation — that we allowed them to perish. Early Christians, who mutilated pagan works of art because they believed them to be pernicious, may be excused; but what excuse has our age to offer? We pretend to cherish all manifestations of culture, and we have ample means to preserve them; yet whilst our museums are daily adding to their collections of half-barbarous antiquities, dug up in Arizona, in Mexico, in Yucatan, in Peru, in Asia Minor, in Mesopotamia, there are surely hastening to destruction scores of the works of the mightiest genius who ever honored painting. During the past twenty years, New York millionaires have paid more for the immoralities and inanities of modern French painters than would be necessary to erect a separate gallery in Venice for the proper preservation of Tintoret’s masterpieces. If there were but a single manuscript of Hamlet in the world, and no printing-presses, what should we say to those who allowed it to perish through neglect ? Yet there are many of Tintoret’s pictures, each of them as precious in its way as a page of Hamlet, which we raise no voice to save. In our selfishness, we forget that the treasures which we have inherited from the past are not ours to dissipate and destroy; we hold them in trust for the future, and woe unto us if, unmindful of our responsibility, we prove careless stewards.10
What, then, are some of the qualities of Tintoret’s genius ? First of all, he had vast scope: Christian and classic lore, the legend and story of Venice, contemporary scenes, and portraiture,— all these lay within his province. But scope alone, unguided by rarer powers, does not suffice for the equipment of the supreme master. Rubens had scope, even Doré had it. and neither ranks among the foremost. In Tintoret it was accompanied by a most intense imagination, which penetrated to the elemental reality and understood the intertangled relations of life. Imagination operated through him with a vigor more like Nature’s own than that of any other man except Shakespeare; a vigor which seems at once inexhaustible and effortless, which never wastes and never scants. In creating a beggar or a seraph he expended just as much energy as was necessary tor each; you do not feel that one was harder for him than the other. Tintoret’s creations have this further resemblance to Shakespeare’s: they live! You do not exclaim, “This is a great picture! ” but, “This is a great scene! ” He is like a traveler who brings back views from a strange country; albeit you have never been there, yet the views are so real, the figures are painted so freely and lifelike, and not in conscious or conventional attitudes, that you cannot doubt their faithfulness, and are absorbed by the wonders and beauties they present.
Tintoret never conspires to startle you by sensational or monstrous devices. Even in those works where he is most daring he is really painting what his imagination saw naturally, and is no more bent on inventing oddities and marvels than was John in the Apocalypse. Before beginning a Biblical or an historical subject, he seems to have asked himself, “ How did this episode look to a bystander ? and he relies upon the actuality of the scene to produce the desired impression. He has been charged, sometimes, with making Christ and his disciples too vulgar. Other painters have so accustomed you to look for a kingly personage in Christ, and for princely garments on his followers, that when you first see a Last Supper by Tintoret you miss the habitual elegance; for he shows you simple and earnest but not ignoble fishermen and artisans of Judea. If you contemplate them wisely, your astonishment will deepen as you reflect that it was through and by such lowly and zealous men as these, and not by philosophers and princes, that the gospel of brotherly love was disseminated among mankind. It is legitimate for an artist to invest an historic character with emblems which bespeak the significance posterity has attached to him; but it is wholesome to see him as he probably appeared to his contemporaries, before subsequent generations have discovered an ex post facto importance in his career. Tintoret employed now one method and now the other, and whosoever has been moved by the Christ before Pilate and The Crucifixion of the School of San Rocco need not be told that pathos and sublimity belong to the former method.
Tintoret’s versatility would have made a lesser man renowned. He counted it but an amusement, when the learned critics chided him for not obeying academic rules, to imitate the style of Titian, or Paul Veronese, or Sehiavone, so that the critics themselves were deceived and confounded. He invariably adapted his treatment to the requirements of each work: if it was to be viewed from a considerable distance, he painted broadly; if it was to be seen near, no one surpassed him in the delicacy and carefulness of his finish. This sense of fitness governed his composition as well as his drawing. In a picture intended for a refectory, for instance, he introduced proportions in harmony with the dimensions of that refectory, causing it to appear more spacious and imposing. Where Tintoret’s figures are not correctly drawn, the apparent fault was often intentional : restore the picture to the position for which he designed it, and the drawing will no longer offend; for he always took into account the distance and angle from which the spectator would look, and he is not responsible for the changes in location. In studying any picture, remember that there is one, and only one, point of view where it can be seen as the artist wished it to be seen. If you stand too far or too near, you will miss his purpose. In a portrait by Titian or Tintoret, no line, no dot of color, is superfluous: you must adjust your vision until the tiniest flake of white on the tip of the chin or on the pupils of the eyes has a reason for being there. Try to imagine that last perfecting touch away, and you will learn its value. For these men did nothing haphazard: they would as soon have wasted diamonds and rubies as their precious colors; every hair of their pencil was a nerve through which their imagination transmitted itself to the canvas.
Although it be well-nigh impossible to describe a painting so that one who has not seen it can derive profit from the description, I shall attempt to point out a few of the characteristics of some of Tintoret’s other works, in the hope of refreshing the memory of readers who are already familiar with them, and of stimulating the interest of those who may see them hereafter. It is the thought Tintoret has expressed, and not the technique of his manner, to which I would call attention, believing that this can be in some measure made real even to those who cannot refer to the paintings themselves.
One fact impresses us immediately: Tintoret’s originality. Previous painters had used all the familiar Christian themes so often that there had grown up a conventional form of representing each; but, although Tintoret used these themes, his treatment of them rarely recalls that of any other painters, and always demands fresh study. Giotto may be said to have fixed the norm which his successors generally followed, diverging from it only in details. Tintoret established a new norm. Moreover, he never copied himself; his inexhaustible imagination refused to repeat.
It represented the same subject under different aspects, never twice alike. We have many replicas of Raphael’s and Titian’s works, but none, so far as I know, of Tintoret’s. In rare cases where two copies of a painting by him exist, one is the sketch.
In one famous instance he is brought into direct comparison with his rival, Titian. They both painted The Presentation of the Virgin, in somewhat similar manner. Titian’s conception of the scene is as follows: In front of a stately pile of buildings two flights of steps lead up to the threshold of the Temple, where stands a venerable high priest; near him are two other ecclesiastics and a youth. Spectators look out from the windows and balconies of the adjoining edifice upon Mary, a pretty little maiden, who has reached the first step of the second staircase, and, looking up at the high priest, prepares to finish the ascent. Immediately back of her figure is an ornate Corinthian column. Her mother and a friend wait at the foot of the staircase, and a goodly company of Venetian nobles is gathered near them.— like pleasure-seekers taking a stroll, who stop for a moment to witness a chance episode. An old woman with a basket of eggs sits in the foreground. A colonnade and pyramid close in the picture on the left.11 and a pleasing view of mountains stretches out behind.
This is Tintoret’s conception: A high priest, patriarchal in dignity, stands at the top of a flight of steps leading to the door of the Temple. Just below him Mary is mounting, her slight form and dress being beautifully contrasted with the sky beyond. Behind her is a young woman (probably her mother, Anne) carrying a young child. At the foot of the steps, in the centre of the painting, another mother (one of Tintoret’s matchless creations) is pointing toward Mary, and telling her little daughter that she too will erelong be presented at the Temple. Two girls recline on the steps near by. On the left, seven or eight old men and idlers (such as one still sees at the approach to churches in Italy, and to mosques and synagogues in the Orient) are ranged along the stairs, and indolently watch the scene. The shadow of the building falls upon them, and prevents their figures from being too prominent. There is no suggestion of Venice or Venetian nobles. The attention is not distracted by costly apparel or imposing architecture, but is fixed upon the chief actors, — upon the venerableness of the high priest, the simplicity and confulingness of the little maiden, and the magnificent forms and naturalness of the women.
Critics have disputed whether Titian’s picture or Tintoret’s be the earlier. The presumption is in favor of the former,12 but there is no reason to cry plagiarism to either, because each master has worked out a similar conception with characteristic independence. The central idea — the youthful Virgin ascending the steps of the Temple to be received by the high priest — may be seen in one of Giotto’s frescoes.13 What we admire is the originality of treatment in both pictures. To me, Tintoret’s conception seems the more noble and appropriate, and I know not in which of Titian’s works to look for a counterpart of that woman in the foreground, so easy, so living, so superb.
As an example of Tintoret’s insight into the spiritual world, turn to his picture of Lucifer,14 From early Christian times, the Evil One has been represented by very crude and vulgar symbols. A hideous face, horns, a tail, and cloven hoofs have come to be his accepted signs. Such a monster could never tempt even the frailest striver after righteousness : for this conception illustrates the loathsomeness of the results of sin, and not the allurements by which sin entraps its victims. It would be equally appropriate to show to a lover a crumbling skeleton as the effigy of the woman whom he loves. The Devil would make no converts if he announced himself to be the Devil, and dangled before men’s eyes the despair, the degradation, the infinite remorse, which are his actual merchandise, instead of the fleeting pleasures and deceitful promises under which he masks them. He is no bungler or fool, but supremely skillful in proportioning his enticement to the strength of his victim, and very alert in choosing the moment most favorable for attack. Goethe, in his Mephistopheles. has portrayed the enemy of good under one of his aspects, emphasizing the cynical and wicked rather than the seductive and plausible qualities. Tintoret has depicted the latter. His Lucifer is still an angel, though fallen. He has a commanding and beautiful form, and a countenance which at first fascinates, until, on searching it more deeply, you discern a suggestion of duplicity, a hint of sensuality, in it. Bvight-hued and strong are the plumes of his wings, and a circlet of wondrous jewels sparkles on his left arm, the sole emblem of the weaver’s wealth. Here is indeed a being whose beauty might seduce, whose guile might deceive, —one whose presence dazzles and attracts, for it has majesty and grace. Here is a fit embodiment of that ambition which shrinks not from crime in order to possess power; or of that false pleasure which decoys men from duty, and, still flying beyond reach, leads its prisoner deeper and deeper into the abominations of the abyss.
With equal originality and truth Tintoret has illustrated the allegory of the temptation of St. Anthony.15 This subject is usually treated either absurdly or grotesquely: as when the saint is discovered in a grotto through which bats, mice, witches, and imps flit and gambol. Not one of these ridiculous creatures, we may safely say, would frighten or tempt anybody. But who are the enemies that a man who has dedicated his life to holiness, and who has taken the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, must resist ? Tintoret’s picture furnishes the answer. In it, one of the figures, typifying Riches, offers gold and precious gems. “ by live a beggar ? ” she pleads softly. “Take these and have power.” A second figure, Voluptuousness, is that of a woman fair in body. “Come with me,” she urges. “Let us taste of joy together while there is still time.” A third, who (I think) represents Unbelief or Heresy, has already dashed the saint ’s missal and rosary to the ground, has snatched up his scourge, and, endeavoring to drag him away, has plucked off his mantle. “Come with me,” this tempter seems to say. “There will be no more scourging, and fasting, and mortification; with me your life shall be careless and unrestrained.” Nevertheless. Anthony, thus hard beset, looks heavenward, uttering a prayer for succor. Are not these apt personifications of those lower impulses to which even men of high resolve have succumbed ? All the witches of the Brocken and all the bats in a Pharaoh’s tomb have nothing alluring about them.
There are few of Tintoret’s paintings which have not similar revelations, if you look attentively. Often what appears to be only a casual accessory is the key to the whole composition. Let me cite two instances of his imaginative use of color. The first occurs in The Martyrdom of St. Stephen.16 The saint has fallen on his knees, beneath the stoning of his persecutors, but there is no melodramatic spurting of blood or sign of physical pain. His face betokens fortitude, resignation, and forgiveness of his tormentors. He gazes up steadfastly into heaven, and sees the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. The Almighty is clothed in a robe of red and a black mantle. In the background, behind the martyr, a crowd watch the persecution : they are too far away for us to distinguish faces, but one of them, who is seated, is clothed in black and red. It is Paul, who was soon to acknowledge Christ and put on the livery of God. Again, in the Paradise, Tintoret gives profound significance to color as a symbol: Moses, the witness to the Old Covenant, and Christ, the witness to the New Covenant, have robes of similar colors.
The Doges’ Palace contains a score of Tintoret’s imaginative paintings and many of his portraits, and there are few churches in Venice which have not at least one altarpiece by him. His best portraits, as I think, outrank even Titian’s best: they have a vital quality, an inevitableness, which can be felt, but not described. What a concourse of doges, senators, procurators, nobles, and soldiers Tintoret has portrayed! Their grave, refined faces, their stately carriage, the sobriety as often as the sumptuousness of their dress, bear witness to the glory and power of Venice; that glory and power which had begun to decline in the sixteenth century, though the Venetians perceived it not. They misread the signs. They could not believe that Venice, which had continually grown in Wealth during ten centuries, could decline or perish. Esto perpetua ! — May she live forever! — was the last prayer of her historian, Sarpi, and the wish of all her citizens.
It was Tintoret’s pride to immortalize on canvas her legends and her history, and to illustrate her grandeur by means of allegory. He painted the popular stories of the recovery of St. Mark’s body from Alexandria, and of the miracles performed by that holy patron. He painted the siege of Zara, the battle of Lepanto. and the ambassasadors of Venice holding head before the haughtiness of Frederick Barbavossa. He painted Venice enthroned among the gods, and Venice as mistress of the sea.
But his genius was not confined to the expression of pomp and patriotism. It delighted not only in majestic flights of imagination, but also in contemplating and in setting forth pure beauty. In one of the smaller rooms of the Ducal Palace are two classic subjects by him,— Mercury and the Graces, Ariadne and Bacchus, — which, whether we regard their perfect symmetry, or the grace of their forms, or the delicious poetic spirit that emanates from them like fragrance from a bed of lilies, have few rivals in loveliness. They arouse in some beholders a mood akin to that which a joyous theme in one of Beethoven’s symphonies can arouse, —a mood sweeter than hope itself, or the brightest afterglow of memory; for, while it. lasts, the present, flooded with peace and beauty and a nameless ecstasy, satisfies the soul.
The School of San Rocco possesses sixty-four pictures by Tintoret. This series, illustrating the principal events in the Old and New Testaments, is quite without parallel, not only in extent, but in the excellence of a large number of the separate paintings. You pass from one to another as from scene to scene in Shakespeare, and it is only when you return to the works of lesser men that you realize the richness and strength of the master, who has lifted you to his level so easily that you were conscious of no effort. The halls in which these paintings are kept are utterly inadequate for their proper examination; not one can be seen in a favorable light; many are almost buried in gloom, or hidden in the equally impenetrable glare that falls on their surface from the cross-lights from conflicting windows. Some of the canvases have been injured by water; the colors have grown dim or dingy with age; and in some cases “restorers ” 17 have blurred the outlines and brought discord among the tones. Nevertheless, who that has once seen can ever forget many of those paintings? The original conception looms up beautiful and grand from amid the wreck of time and neglect, like a mutilated, earth-stained Greek statue, and your imagination exerts itself to see the work as it must have appeared when the colors were fresh. Who can forget that flock of angels in The Annunciation ; or The Visit of the Magi to the Manger; or The Flight into Egypt; or the terrible Slaughter of the Innocents, which seems to have been painted in blood, though there is hardly any blood to be seen; or The Adoration of the Shepherds; or Christ’s Agony in Gethsemane; or Christ before Pilate ; or Christ being led to Calvary ?
The series concludes with The Crucifixion, a masterpiece before which artists and amateurs, and even academic critics, have stood in mute wonder. It is a panoramic summary of the last acts in the persecution of Christ. No detail which the Evangelists furnish has been omitted, but all details have been subordinated to a unity so vast and impressive that it eludes analysis. Primarily, this is a pictorial representation of an historical event; but for the Christian believer it is an image of the profoundest religious meaning. There are many groups, but if you study each group you will discover that without it something would have been wanting to the whole. Here are Romans, to whom the spectacle has no moral interest; they are soldiers and judges, executing the Roman law upon the person of a Jew who has stirred up the wrath of his fellows and caused a popular tumult. Here are Jew’s, mocking and full of hate. Here, too, is the little remnant of Jews who believe in the victim as their master, and are faithful to him unto death. Is not the indifference or the idle curiosity of some of the spectators as significant as the cruelty of his enemies and the devotion and anguish of his friends? For consider well what it implies that any human being should gaze unmoved, or moved only as by an every-day occurrence, at a fellow-creature suffering the penalty of death. Is life then so cheap? Is a human soul of so slight account that men can cast lots, or jeer, while it passes in agony from earth forever? Who can estimate the cruelty which delights in the torments of that struggle? And if this sacrifice be viewed with the eyes of a Christian, and not of an impassive observer; if the victim be esteemed not merely a man. but the Son of God, what words shall describe its solemnity ?
Tintoret has painted all these impressions into his picture. The central object in the painting is the cross with Christ upon it. His head has sunk upon his bosom, and we imagine that with his downcast eyes he beholds the group of holy women at the foot of the cross, and says to Mary, “ Woman, behold thy son.” That group is the most pathetic that painter ever drew. Some of the women, overwhelmed by grief, have fainted. Not by their faces, but by their drooping, motionless bodies, can you infer the unspeakable burden which is crushing them. One kneels; another — Magdalen, perhaps has risen, and looks up at the expiring Saviour. A venerable disciple gazes tenderly at the face of the Virgin, who has swooned. A younger disciple lifts his eyes toward Christ. They cannot help; they cannot speak; they can only wait and sorrow. Who shall utter the agony that love feels when it is powerless to relieve the suffering of its beloved !
Behind this group stands a man holding a bowl, into which another man, who has climbed a ladder resting against the back of the cross, dips a sponge stuck on a spear. At the left, other executioners are raising the cross on which one of the malefactors has been bound. Some men in front are tugging at ropes; others behind are pushing or steadying it. Hammers, adzes, a saw, and other implements bestrew the ground. Farther on are many spectators. —a Roman officer in armor, elders, dignitaries, and a soldier bearing the Roman standard. Some point, toward Christ, and evidently say to one another: “That is the impostor who calls himself the Son of God and the King of the Jews. Where is his pretended might? ” A little in the background, a mounted spearman has thrown the reins on the neck of his ass, which complacently feeds on withered palm leaves, — an imaginative touch characteristic of Tintoret, which will not be lost on those who recall Christ’s entry into Jerusalem a few days before.
In the foreground, to the right, a man is digging a hole for the cross of the second malefactor, while soldiers arc drawing lots for Christ’s garments, and other mounted soldiers are watching the proceedings near by. A little beyond, another group is busy attaching that malefactor to his cross: one boring a hole for the spike to pierce his hand, another holding down his legs so that they can be bound, while a third has a rope. In the distance, men hurry toward the scene, lest they be too late to enjoy it ; and the foremost camels of a caravan on its way into the city appear just at a turn in the road. For traffic and the daily toil of men are not interrupted by the crucifixion of Christ, though soldiers and idlers have come out to witness it. The landscape discloses on the left a palace, and then hills succeeded by craggy mountains. The clouds have deepened almost into darkness along the horizon. The SUN. as it sinks into this gloom, appears as a huge disk of ghastly light, and this disk forms a dim halo behind Christ’s head. Yet a little while and the earth shall be wholly darkened, and these curious, careless spectators shall flee away in terror.18
Such, told briefly and inadequately, — for language can only hint at the effects of painting, — is this solemn event as conceived by Tintoret’s imagination.19
We have no evidence that Tintoret visited Rome, nor any record of his journeys, except that to Mantua, yet we may be sure that he was familiar with the scenery of the mainland. The woods and foliage, the streams, valleys, and meadows, the little hills and picturesque mountains, which abounded in his paintings he did not see at Venice. Our lack of information leaves us in doubt, therefore, whether he studied Michael Angelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. If he never went to Rome, he probably was acquainted with the composition of that extraordinary work from engravings or copies; yet his own painting of that subject bears so little resemblance to Michael Angelo’s that it seems to have been produced independently.
The masterpiece of the Sistine Chapel is so complicated that the student is bewildered, until he observes that the principal groups are roughly arranged in an immense irregular horseshoe, the points of which are near the bottom of the wall, while Christ, the chief figure, is inclosed in the upper oval. Four fifths of the action takes place in the air, the lower portion alone of the fresco being occupied by the river Styx and its adjacent bank. In its present nearly ruined condition, we cannot guess the original effect of this work; but I doubt whether it could ever have satisfied the beholder’s instinctive demand for harmony. The groups, even the individuals, seem isolated, not only in space, but in spirit. There is not, nor could there be, a single prevailing passion. The only characteristic which applies to the whole work is tremendous energy. Whatever of agony, of fury, of stubbornness, of determination, can be expressed by the human body is expressed here. There is no muscle or tendon which is not exhibited in various positions; no posture of limbs or trunk which is not represented. The resurrection of the body is illustrated in a hundred ways, and the expression of the faces is of secondary importance. The patriarchs have the vigor of Titans; saints are as robust as athletes; Christ himself might be a majestically stern Apollo. Not without reason may we call these effigies of restless, writhing human beings wonderful diagrams of anatomy and concrete illustrations of dynamics. Even the saved, who occupy the higher regions, are not tranquil. In striving to comprehend these whirlwinds of action, the mind is wearied and thwarted. Unit by unit you examine this multitude, and you are amazed in turn by sublimity, or horror, or power.
The space20 to which Tintoret had to adapt his picture of the Last Judgment is oblong, about fifty feet high and twenty feet broad. In the upper part of the heavens Christ is represented, not in the character of the inexorable Judge, but in that of the Shepherd who welcomes his faithful flock to Paradise ; for the resurrection and judgment are coincident. On one side, near Christ, John the Baptist is kneeling, and Mary and the repentant sinner, who bears a cross, are near; on the other side are personifications of the cardinal virtues. Extremely lovely is Charity, carrying in her arms two young children to present to the Saviour. Zones of fleecy clouds separate the upper part of the painting into sections, in which the saints are ranked; but the distribution seems natural, not arbitrary, and serves to prevent confusion among so many figures. Midway in the scene, angels fly down to rouse the dead. Michael, with his terrible sword unsheathed, pursues the wicked toward a mighty river, which sweeps irresistibly into the abyss. In the distance, on a low shelf of sand amid the waters, is huddled a crowd of sinners, too indolent or too terrified to struggle against the flood which must soon engulf them. Crouching, they await their doom. In them Tintoret has perhaps typified those miserable creatures whom Dante describes as “a Dio spiacenti ed a’ nemici sui, ” — hateful to God and to his enemies. Demons attend a bark-load of the damned through the hellish torrent. And on the shore what a spectacle ! Bodies starting from their graves, some not yet clothed with flesh, some with leafy brandies growing from their arms, some striving to free themselves from the earth into which corruption resolved them ; everywhere signs of the suddenness and awfulness of that supreme moment when the dead shall rise again in the forms they bore when alive, and go to the eternal abode, of bliss or punishment, for which each has fitted himself by his career on earth.
A parallel has frequently been drawn between the genius of Michael Angelo and that of Dante, and many have deplored the loss of that portfolio in which Michael Angelo is known to have made a series of illustrations to the Divine Comedy. The resemblance between the supreme Tuscan poet and the supreme Tuscan artist seems to me, however, to hold only when we limit our view to Dante as the author of the Inferno. In energy, in intense perception of evil, in unswerving condemnation of sin, in austerity, in appreciation of the terror of life, the poet and the painter were indeed akin. These are the characteristics which most readers associate with Dante’s genius, for the reason that most readers go no further than the Inferno, or are unable to comprehend the more spiritual sublimity of the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. The Inferno describes torments which the most sluggish person can understand, and the contrasts of lurid flames and impenetrable gloom by which the scenes in hell are diversified are so vivid as to require no commentary. We marvel at the imagination that could traverse unparalyzed these horrors and dare to report them. But Dante’s genius stopped not here: it passed in review all human nature, from its lowest sinful condition to that highest excellence when it merges with God. Though Evil be real and terrible, Dante saw that Love is even more real, the source and the goal of all tilings; that he had the power to describe it is proof of his universality. And they whose imagination is strong enough to follow him through the regions of the blessed incline to rank the third canticle of his “sacred poem ” even higher than the first.
Among painters, Tintoret only has, like Dante, swept through the full circuit of human experience and aspiration. He has shown us the anguish of the damned in his Last Judgment, and the peace and bliss of the blessed in his Paradise. That The Last Judgment should be Michael Angelo’s masterpiece. and that he should have painted it on the altar wall of the Pope’s favorite chapel, are fatally appropriate. In that terrific scene, the judge is not Christ, but Michael Angelo himself: a righteous man, who looked out upon the iniquities of his time and dared to condemn them; a religious man, who, coming to Rome, the religious centre of Christendom, discovered there a second Sodom, in which pope, cardinals, and bishops were the most shameless offenders; a patriotic man, who had fought for the liberty of his beloved Florence, and had beheld her, through the treachery of some and the apathy of others, become the slave of a corrupt master. No wonder that the terror and anguish, the depravity and hopelessness, of life should have eaten into Michael Angelo’s soul. As he worked solitarily in the Sistine Chapel, no wonder that a vision of the retribution which shall overtake the wicked should have possessed his imagination, and transformed the artist into the judge. Day by day, a spirit mightier than theirs painted the protest which Savonarola, Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin had preached, — the spirit of a Job united to that of an Isaiah.
Not less appropriate was it that the genius of Tintoret and of Venetian art should culminate in the representation of Paradise. Of all commonwealths, Venice had enjoyed the longest prosperity ; of all peoples, hers had been the most sensitive to the joy of life. Even at the end of the sixteenth century, when her power abroad had been curtailed, and when luxury at home was slowly enervating the integrity of her citizens, she was still outwardly imposing, magnificent. No pope had ever succeeded, either by guile or by force, in ravishing her independence. Her immemorial glory blazed across the past and irradiated the present, as the setting sun spreads an. avenue of splendor upon the ocean and fills the heavens with golden and purple light. Venice was indeed the abode of Joy, and Tintoret, at the close of a long career, in which he had witnessed all the aspects and pondered all the possibilities of human life, was filled, like Dante, with hope, and felt Joy and Love to be the supreme realities, the everlasting fulfillments. of mankind’s desires.
If the Last Judgment is an “unimaginable” theme, as Mr. Ruskin remarks. how much more so is Paradise! Men have always found it easier to represent grief than happiness, villainy than virtue, shadows than sunshine ; for the former are, by their nature, limited, while the latter have a quality of boundlessness which to define abridges it. Moreover, pleasure is oftenest unconscious, and always individual; pain, on the contrary, is too conscious of self, and is manifest in attributes common to many. Nevertheless, Tintoret has achieved the seeming impossibility of representing, so far as painting may, the happiness, unmixed and eternal, of the celestial host.
His painting is known to most visitors at Venice as being the largest in the world. The ordinary traveler, after reading the dimensions in his guidebook, looks up at the canvas, and sees crowds of figures and colors grown dark; wonders what it all means, and why the superintendent does not sweep down the dust and cobwebs; and then turns away to devote equal attention to the black panel where Marino Faliero’s portrait would be had he not died a traitor’s death. In like manner, I have seen intelligent strangers exhaust the treasures of the Acropolis of Athens in a quarter of an hour, and return to their hotel to read the last English newspaper. But let him who would commune with one of the few supreme masterpieces of art sit down patiently and reverently before Tintoret’s Paradise, and he will be rewarded by revelations proportioned to bis study. As soon as his eyes are accustomed to the dimness of the hall, the tones of the canvas begin to be intelligible to him : it is as if he heard a symphony played in a lower key than the composer intended; many of the original effects are lost, but harmony interpenetrates and unifies all the parts.
When he has adjusted his eyes to this pitch, he can examine the figures separately; until, little by little, in what seemed a vast confused multitude he will be aware of the presence of an all-controlling order; and he will gaze at last understandingly, as in a vision, upon the congregations of heaven as they are unfolded in Tintoret’s design.
Christ is seated in the central upper part of the painting: his left hand rests on a crystal globe; innumerable rays of light illumine his head and dart in all directions. Opposite to him is the Madonna, above whom sparkles a circlet of stars. At Christ’s left soars the archangel Michael bearing the heavenly scales; at Mary’s right is Gabriel with a spray of lilies. A cloud of countless cherubs hovers at the feet of the Divine Personage; while on each side of the archangels, curving toward the upper extremities of the canvas, are companies of seraphim and cherubim, and the thrones, principalities, and powers, and angels with swords, sceptres, and globes. These form the first circle of the angelic host, who from eternity have held their station nearest to their Lord. Below them is a larger circle, composed of those spirits who, by prophecy or preaching, established and extended the kingdom of God on earth. On the left we see the forerunners of Christ: David playing the cithern, Moses holding up the tables of the law, Noah with his ark, Solomon, Abraham, and the other patriarchs ; and near those we distinguish John the Baptist, who displays a scroll on which is written Ecce Agnus. Midway in this circle are the Evangelists, the tour corners of the Christian temple, and the intermediaries between the old and new dispensations. Here is Mark accompanied by his lion, Luke and his ox. Matthew with pen in hand, and John with his book resting on an eagle. As the line sweeps on, we see the early fathers, doctors, and great popes: Peter and Gregory; Paul, the apostle militant, recognizable by his sword; Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine. In the centre, between Luke and Matthew, is the third archangel, Raphael, whose clasped hands and upturned face betoken a soul rapt in adoration. The third and lowest circle is made up of many groups of martyrs and holy men and women, the great body of the church. Among the throng on the left are Barbara; Catherine with her wheel; Francis of Assisi and Dominick, the founders of the great religious orders; Giustina bearing a palm branch; St. George (with banner), Lawrence, Sebastian, Agnes, and Stephen, each recognizable by a familiar emblem. In the centre, along the bottom of the painting, hover clusters of worshiping angels; beyond them, more saints. Monica, and Magdalen; then Rachel and a troop of lovely children, and Christopher, who carried the hoy Christ on bis shoulder here below, now carrying a globe. At last, on the extreme right, we reach the assembly of prelates and theologians.
With this key to the general distribution. the student who has Tintoret’s Paradise before him can recognize scores of other figures. He will compare Tintorct’s portrayal of each saint, or prophet, or martyr with conceptions other painters have drawn; and if he reflect that any one of these groups, and many of these figures singly, would have sufficed to establish the renown of an artist less masterly than Tintoret, his astonishment will swell into admiration, and this into awe, when he surveys the work as a whole. It is impossible to describe the effect of the innumerable multitude. Cast your eyes almost anywhere upon the canvas, and lo! out of the deeper, distant spaces angelic countenances loom up. Forms, though distinctly outlined, by some magic seem diaphanous; and the farther your gaze penetrates, the brighter is the light which radiates throughout heaven from the throne of Christ. Still more marvelous, I think, is the sense of infinite tranquillity, even in those figures which are moving. These are veritable spirits, though they have human bodies, and they move or rest with equal ease. In this heavenly ether there is no effort. Even those rushing seraphim, whose majestic pinions seem to beat melody from air in their rhythmic flight, suggest a certain grand repose begotten of motion itself, —a repose akin to that produced by the sight of the sea, whose myriad little waves dance ancl glisten, or of Niagara, whose falling flood seems stationary. The spectator who has risen to this conception will not fail to note the light, of a joy, not vehement, but profound, which bathes every face; and how the action of every individual and of every group is in some manner addressed to Christ, and would he incomplete but for that divine centre. Christ and the Madonna, and the dove of the Holy Spirit floating between them, he will look at first and turn from last, — the noblest personification of ideal manhood and ideal womanhood that ever painter expressed. The embodiment and essence of Love, which is the author of all good, they are enthroned amid the serenity of the highest heaven. Around them wheels the inner circle of the archangels and the angels, the symbols of divine Power. Then, in ever-widening circles, the saints and apostles and prophets, and the elect of every clime and condition, all children of Faith and exemplars of Charity, float and revolve in bliss forevermore. And it needs no strain of the imagination to hear the hosannas which the morning stars sing together, and all the sons of God shout for joy.
In the dark chapel of the Rucellai, at the church of Sta. Maria Novella in Florence, is a dingy altarpiece representing the Virgin and the infant Christ. Cimalme painted it; and when it was finished the Florentines made a holiday, and bore the picture through the streets, amid great rejoicing, to the chapel where it now hangs. that stiff and awkward Madonna, that doll-like Child, were hailed by them as the highest achievement of painting. For us Cimabue’s masterpiece has only an historic interest, — we find no charm
in its Byzantine rigidness. Yet that crude work was the seed of Italian painting, and if we follow its growth during three centuries we shall be led to the Paradise of Tintoret, in which are embodied all the excellences and advances of the painter’s art. Between that bumble beginning and that glorious achievement an army of artists and myriads of paintings intervene. If we look deep enough, we shall be conscious that they were all agents whereby a mighty spirit was seeking to express itself to man, a spirit which first appealed to human piety through the symbols of religion, and which, as its agents acquired skill and reach, bodied itself forth in higher images and in conscious forms. The name of that spirit is Beauty, never to be found perfect in the outer world, but known as it communicates through the senses portents of itself which the soul sublimes into that ideal unity by which the laws of nature and the destiny of man are beheld in their highest aspect.
Of my conceit, and this to what I saw
Is such, 't is not enough to call it little !
O Light Eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,
Sole knowest thyself, and, known unto thy-
And knowing, lovest and smilest on thy-
That circulation, which being thus conceived
Appeared in thee as a reflected light,
When somewhat contemplated by mine
Within itself, of its own very colour
Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
Wherefore my sight was all absorbed
- Vasari’s condescending estimate of Tintoret may remind some readers of Voltaire’s patronizing estimate of Shakespeare: “It seems as though nature had mingled in the brain of Shakespeare the greatest, conceivable strength and grandeur with whatever witless vulgarity can devise that is lowest and most detestable ; ” and much more of the same kind about the “ intoxicated barbarian,” which will seem pitiful or amusing according to the humor of the reader.↩
- If Tintoret shines thus in the shades of night, what will he do when radiant day has risen ?↩
- Has any one remarked that when Tintoret was painting the Paradise, Cervantes, Spain’s spokesman before the nations, Montaigne, the largest figure in French literature, and Shakespeare, paragon not of England only, but of the world, were his contemporaries ? Those four might have met in his studio; and Science might have furnished three peerless representatives,— Bacon, Galileo, and Kepler.↩
- Tintoret is buried in the church of Sta. Maria dell’ Orto.↩
- Two instances are worthy of record. Having agreed to paint a large historical picture for the Doges’ Palace, he said to the procurators, “ If any other shall, within the space of two years, paint a better picture of this subject, you shall take his, and reject mine.” At first his enemies spoke so censuringly of his St. Mark Freeing the Fugitive Slave that the brethren hesitated whether to accept it: whereupon Tintoret had it brought back to his studio. Afterwards the brethren repented, begged for its return, and ordered three other pictures.↩
- Marietta was born in 1560, and died in 1590.↩
- In some of the paintings at San Giorgio the blues are now milky splotches.↩
- In August, 1889.↩
- As long as the originals exist copies of great paintings are as unsatisfactory as a Beethoven symphony or a Wagner opera on the piano; but when the originals have perished, they may serve a worthy purpose in perpetuating at least the concept and general treatment of the painter. It is greatly to be desired that some capable student should do for Tintoret what Toschi has done for Correggio at Parma. A series of faithfully executed sketches would enable posterity to judge of Tintoret’s range of imagination and inexhaustible powers of treatment, although his coloring and drawing could not be reproduced. Many of his paintings have never been engraved, and not one has been well engraved.↩
- I use left and right to denote the positions as the spectator faces the picture.↩
- Crowe and Cavaleaselle give 1539 as the date of Titian’s Presentation ; 1545-46 is usually assigned as the date of Tintoret’s,↩
- At the Arena, Padua.↩
- At the School of San Rocco, Venice.↩
- In the church of San Trovaso. Venice.↩
- In the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. Mr. Ruskin was the first to point out this stroke of genius.↩
- One painting bears the inscription REST. ANTONIVS FLORIAN, 1834. “Exactly in proportion to a man’s idiocy,” Mr. Ruskin remarks, “is always the size of the letters in which he writes his name on the picture that he spoils.”↩
- In a great picture, now ruined, at the abandoned Bavarian palace of Schliessheim, near Munich, Tintoret has represented the Crucifixion in its later aspect.↩
- This is one of the four or five paintings which Tintoret signed. It was finished in 1565. His receipt for its payment still exists. It is dated March 9, 1566. The sum received was two hundred and fifty ducats.↩
- In the church of Sta. Maria dell’ Orto, Venice.↩