Action Painting in Venice

Tintoretto: Tutte le opere Volumes 1 and 2: Le opere sacre e profane Volume 3: I ritratti

by Rodolfo Pallucchini and Paola Rossi
Electa, 1000 pp., L 400,000

Vite dei Tintoretto

by Carlo Ridolfi, edited by Antonio Manno
Filippi Editore, 173 pp., L 40,000

Tintoretto: La Scuola Grande di San Rocco

by Giandomenico Romanelli
Electa, 300 pp., L 150,000

Le Siècle de Titien: L'âge d'or de la peinture à Venise, édition revue et corrigée 14, 1993

catalog of the exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris, March 9-June and Michel Laclotte
Réunion des Museés Nationaux, 748 pp., FF 390

Tintoretto: Sacre rappresentazioni nelle chiese di Venezia 31, 1994

catalog of the exhibition at San Bartolomeo, Venice, January 15-May
Edizioni delle Grafiche Veneziane, unpaged pp., L 40,000

Jacopo Tintoretto: Ritratti March 25-July 10, 1994

catalog of the exhibition at the Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice, and Paola Rossi
Electa, 176 pp., L 65,000

Jacopo Tintoretto e i suoi incisori 15-July 10, 1994,

catalog of the exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale, Venice, April
Electa, 160 pp., L 50,000

Capolavori della pittura veneta dal Castello di Praga 20-September 21, 1994

catalog of the exhibition at the Palazzo Crepadona, Belluno, March
Electa, 97 pp., L 50,000

Venice is trying to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Tintoretto’s death, but the artist has not made this an easy task. What does one do? Bring more of his paintings into town?That is, truly, bringing coals to Newcastle. Shift the paintings around, to see them in a new way?But his is site-specific art in the fullest sense—which tells not only against changes in the Venetian setting but against trying to memorialize him outside his chosen arena. Tintoretto’s dive-bombing angels are as obtrusive a presence inside Venetian churches as are the strafing pigeons outside in the Piazza. Sartre wrote of the painter:

Given his way, he would have painted every wall in the town, no campo so large, no sottoportico so dark that he could keep himself from brightening it—he would roll paint on the ceiling above and make pretty pictures below for people to walk on, his brush leaving nothing alone, not the palace fronts on the Grand Canal, not the gondolas, not even (maybe) the gondoliers.1

Tintoretto flooded the market in Venice, which partly accounts for his low estate in later critical opinion. Of the major Renaissance Venetians, he is the least regarded now. Carpaccio called up a Venice literal yet dreamlike, creating his own form of “magic realism.” Giovanni Bellini and Titian had long careers of deepening artistry and insight. Giorgione has a small but mysterious oeuvre, catnip to interpreters. Veronese seems to be several different painters in one.

Tintoretto’s place in this company was symbolized by the great Paris show of 1993, Le Siècle de Titien, which promoted Giorgione to approximate equality with Titian and sank Tintoretto to approximate equality with Bassano (who had eleven paintings in the show, to Tintoretto’s eight). Coming after the Paris ex-hibit, with its magnificent catalog, the Tintoretto festivities seem scattered and half-realized—the very charge that is brought against the artist himself.

He never lived down the crack of the cosmopolitan dabbler, Pietro Aretino, who told him in 1548 that “your name will be blessed indeed if you temper your plunge toward completion with pains taken in completing” (se reduceste la prestezza del fatto in la pazienzia del fare).2 Thenceforth Tintoretto’s plunge or “dash” (prestezza) would be the theme of every commentator, made canonical in Vasari’s short section on Tintoretto in the 1568 edition of his Vite.

Tintoretto was also criticized by contemporaries for his pushiness in getting so many commissions—though Giandomenico Romanelli has pointed out that his patrons’ competition with other eminent men was the real source of his success. No Renaissance painter could do on his own what later anecdotists attributed to Tintoretto.3

A third charge against Tintoretto is that he was pushy enough to apply to himself Paolo Pino’s 1548 claim that the ideal art would combine “the form of Michelangelo and the color of Titian.”4 It is probably false that he put that slogan on his studio wall; but if Francesco Arcangeli and Paola Rossi are right, he expressed his aspiration…

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