Saturday, October 6, 2007


Kathleen pointed out this WSJ article to me several weeks ago about the great Venetian artist Jacopo (Robusti) Tintoretto. He painted incredible scenes from the life of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the lives of the saints back in the late Renaissance at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco where he met with tons of jealousy and resentment from his colleagues. I found the images I posted here, which are merely details of a few works, on a Brown University page. Anyway, the article is written by James Panero from the New Criterion who has a blog post referencing the WSJ piece. Clicking on the image of the crucifixion on his post will take you to an enormous image file that you have to scroll around on to check out the entire work. Here's an excerpt from Panero's WSJ article:

Within a year, Tintoretto overcame the Scuola's lingering resentment; he was accepted for membership and allowed to attempt his great "Crucifixion."

The layout of the room posed several challenges. Three different architects worked on the Scuola's design. When it was finished by Scarpagnino in 1549, the building's small, elevated windows provided only minimal interior light. The albergo was also wider than it was long, so that any painting covering the back wall would have to be viewed from close proximity and below.

Tintoretto conceived of a revolutionary program. Rather than keep his design locked in strict perspective, which would have been distorted by the room's oblique points of view (think of the front row of a movie theater), Tintoretto folded his narrative around the central figure of Christ on the cross. He then depicted Christ bending down -- to address the good thief, the figures in mourning at the foot of the cross, and our gaze from below. The fixity of the cross provides an anchor within an undulating sea of dark details that seems to extend beyond the picture plane out into our own space. With blank faces, the mundane figures surrounding Christ stir up the awful scene. A crowd of onlookers, carpenters, soldiers and even a dog make up "a centrifugal energy that charges the entire picture," as the art historian David Rosand wrote in his survey of 16th-century Venetian painting.

The ominous tones, curved landscape and artistic urgency that underlie Tintoretto's color choice, composition and paint handling make this work a point of departure. Rather than look back to the neo-Platonic ideals of classical sculpture -- brilliantly embodied at the start of the 16th century in the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel -- Tintoretto's "Crucifixion" anticipates the fallen angels of our modern era.

Like a thunderbolt from the brush, Tintoretto's "Crucifixion" can stop you in your tracks. The Victorian writer and artist John Ruskin certainly thought so. "I have been quite overwhelmed today by a man I have never dreamed of -- Tintoret," he wrote to his father on his first visit to Venice. "I always thought of him a good and clever and forcible painter, but I had not the smallest notion of his enormous powers. . . . And then to see his touch of quiet thought in his awful crucifixion -- there is an ass in the distance, feeding on the remains of strewed palm leaves. If that isn't a master's stroke, I don't know what is."

The Scuola has a page you can check out with a lot of images. Here's another great painting of the Annunciation. Looks like a freeze frame from a great action flick with the Holy Spirit beating St. Gabriel by a nose.

"St. Mark rescuing the beggar" also has a great action feel. There always seems to be a feel of an invasion by the forces of heaven into the earthly realm. (Yo, that's deep, dude.)

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