Childhood & Early Life
He was born sometime in late September or early October, 1518 in Venice as the eldest son of a cloth dyer ( also called a tintore) Giovanni Battista Robusti among twenty-one children. He thus got his nickname Tintoretto which means the ‘the dyer’s boy’ or the ‘little dyer’.
When the young Jacopo started scribbling and sketching the walls of the dyer, his knack for drawing was noticed by his father who sometime around 1533 took him to the famous painter Titian.
Titian however sent Tintoretto back for good after only ten days of training. Hypothetically two possibilities of such action of Titian did the rounds, that he became envious seeing the fabulous productions of the young artist or that Jacopo’s art reflected such independent manner that he might not become a proper pupil.
Though he remained an enthusiast of Titian’s work, he never became Titian’s acquaintance, while Titian and his followers maintained a refrained attitude towards him.
His untiring zeal led him learn the art on his own while living poorly and practicing with the few tools like bas-reliefs and casts that he could collect.
He practiced and acquired expertise in wax and clay modelling that he self-studied from the various models like ‘Noon’ and ‘Twilight’ of his other role-model Michelangelo.
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From around 1539 he began working independently as a painter. He started getting commission from churches, civic buildings and from the Venetian elites and worked on several altarpieces, portraits and mythological scenes.
His body of work is mostly marked with startling and theatrical gestures, muscular characters with a clear and resolute viewpoint. The use of light and colour in his paintings exemplifies conventional ‘Venetian School’ of paintings. Though his independent style of work set him apart, his work was often linked with Mannerist style of painting prevalent during the Late Renaissance.
To perceive the effect of light and shadow in his paintings that involved theatrical scenes with several figures in motion, he used to build up the scenes creating small stages with clay and wax figures.
Some of his early works including two mural paintings; ‘Cavalry Fight’ and ‘Belshazzar's Feast’ and a painting of him along with his brother are no more.
In 1546 he worked in the church ‘Madonna dell’Orto’ and produced three prominent paintings, ‘Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple’, ‘Last Judgment’ and ‘Worship of the Golden Calf’.
His three remarkable productions that gave him acclaim were ‘Finding of the body of St Mark’, ‘Miracle of the Slave’ and ‘St Mark's Body Brought to Venice’ which are now in the ‘Gallerie dell'Accademia’, a museum gallery in Venice. These are three of the four paintings he created after receiving a commission from the ‘Scuola di S. Marco’ in 1548.
His notable works in the ‘Scuola di S. Marco’ put an end to his endurance and he began getting sufficient work mainly on religious subjects. Two such paintings are ‘The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes’ that he worked on from 1545 through 1550 and ‘Susanna and the Elders’ from 1555 to 1556.
Probably during 1560 he executed several paintings for the re-embellishment of the ‘Doge's Palace’ including a portrait of Girolamo Priuli, the then doge. Many of his works were lost when the palace was gutted by fire in 1577.
He worked for the confraternity building of the ‘Scuola Grande di San Rocco’ from 1565 to 1567 and later from 1575 to 1588 creating several pieces for its ceilings and walls. His oeuvre encompassed different religious subjects including that from the life of Jesus Christ, scenes from the ‘Old Testament’ and several sequential mythological paintings. Two such works are ‘Crucifixion’ and ‘Paschal Feast and Moses striking the Rock’.
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He then embarked upon painting the entire ‘Scuola Grande di San Rocco’ and its neighbouring ‘San Rocco’ church. In this pursuit, in November 1577 he placed a proposal of producing three paintings in a year with a yearly rate of 100 ducats which was granted.
There are 52 of his noteworthy paintings in the church and the scuola. ‘Christ curing the Paralytic’ remains one of his remarkable works in the church, while those in the scuola include ‘Adoration of the Magi’, ‘Christ carrying His Cross’ and ‘Adam and Eve’.
He began working anew with his colleague Paolo Veronese after the devastating fire in the ‘Doge's Palace’ and executed some of his magnificent paintings. Some of them are ‘Three Graces and Mercury’ (1578), ‘Espousal of St Catherine to Jesus’ (from 1581 to 1584), ‘Queen of the Sea’ (from 1581 to 1584) and ‘Capture of Zara from the Hungarians in 1346 amid a Hurricane of Missiles’ (from 1584 to 1587).
He became a member of the ‘Scuola dei Mercanti’ in 1592.
Some of his works that are held in the ‘Uffizi Gallery’ are ‘Leda and the Swan’, ‘Portrait of a Man with a Red Beard’, and ‘Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well’. Two of his notable works on ‘Genesis’ namely, ‘Adam and Eve’ and ‘Death of Abel’ are held in the ‘Venetian Academy’. ‘Presentation of Jesus in the Temple’ and ‘Annunciation and Christ with the Woman of Samaria’ are kept in the church of the Carmine in Venice and in ‘S. Benedetto’ respectively.
A recent research revealed that the painting ‘The Embarkation of St Helena in the Holy Land’ which was wrongly attributed to painter Andrea Schiavone till 2012 was actually a work of Tintoretto as one of the three paintings of a series illustrating the saga of ‘St Helena And The Holy Cross’.
The most distinguished and memorable painting of his life remains his magnanimous production, ‘Paradise’ for the ‘Sala del Gran Consiglio’ of the Doges' Palace. It remains the most enormous painting ever done on a canvas with a size of 22.6 x 9.1 metres. A miniature sketch of the colossal painting that was offered by him as a proposal is at the ‘Louvre Museum’ in Paris and work on the main painting was initiated sometime in 1588 after receiving commission.
His later works contained more mysterious and darker displays exemplified by one of his masterpieces, the ‘Last Supper’ that he worked on from 1592 to 1594 for the church of ‘San Giorgio Maggiore’. The painting exhibits Christ and the apostles assemble around a table in a dark and shadowy hall while the adoring angels fill up the air subtly highlighting the darkness of the hall.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Faustina de Vescovi in 1550 and the couple probably had seven children- two boys and five girls.
His daughter Marietta Robusti was probably born out of his affair with a German woman.
On May 31, 1594 he died and was buried beside his darling daughter Marietta in the ‘Madonna dell'Orto’ church.