Alvise I di Tommaso Mocenigo (1507–1577) was the fourth member of the Mocenigo family to become doge of Venice. His tenure in office (1570–1577) was notable for a number of historic events: the victory of the Holy League (Venice, Spain, and the Papacy) over the Turks in the sea battle of Lepanto in 1571; Venice’s controversial conclusion of a separate peace with the Turks in 1573; the visit of Henry III of France to Venice in 1574; a disastrous fire in the Palazzo Ducale in 1574; and the devastating plague of 1575–1577, which prompted the doge to take a vow to build the votive church that became Santa Maria della Salute. His ducal iconography includes his official portrait by Jacopo Tintoretto (versions of which are now in the Accademia, Venice, and Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin); his votive painting in the Palazzo Ducale, executed by Tintoretto and his studio around 1582; an incomplete compositional sketch for that work, painted during Mocenigo’s lifetime and showing a somewhat different composition (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); and a paliotto (altar cloth) for the high altar of the basilica of San Marco, traditionally commissioned by each doge, of 1571, the design of which has been attributed to Tintoretto. The commissions of Alvise Mocenigo and his family suggest ambitions to create a ducal dynasty; for example, his votive painting in the Palazzo Ducale is unique in that it includes portraits of the late doge’s two brothers [fig. 1] [fig. 1] Jacopo Tintoretto and Workshop, Doge Alvise Mocenigo Attended by Saint Mark and Other Saints before the Redeemer, c. 1582, oil on canvas, Palazzo Ducale, Venice. Cameraphoto © Photo Archive - Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.
According to Tintoretto’s 17th-century biographer Carlo Ridolfi, “in the house of Signor Toma Mocenigo . . . in a long canvas is the same [Doge Alvise Mocenigo] with his wife adoring the Queen of Heaven, with other portraits of senators and children of the same family, shown as angels at the feet of Our Lady, who play on instruments.” This is unmistakably the Gallery’s painting, in which the kneeling figure of Doge Alvise Mocenigo is identifiable by comparison to his official portraits. Opposite him is his wife, Loredana. The standing older man to the left is the doge’s brother Giovanni (1508–1580), who is also the subject of one of Tintoretto’s finest portraits, probably painted shortly before the subject’s death (Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin) [fig. 2] [fig. 2] Jacopo Tintoretto, Giovanni Mocenigo, late 1570s, oil on canvas, Staatliche Museen, Berlin. bpk Bildagentur / Staatliche Museen, Berlin / Joerg P. Anders / Art Resource, NY. The two young men at far right are Giovanni’s sons Tommaso (1551–1592) and Alvise (1554–1591), known as “Alvisetto” to distinguish him from his uncle. These identifications, first proposed by Rodolfo Pallucchini in 1954 and generally accepted, have been confirmed and expanded upon by Tracy E. Cooper, who has explained the painting as a dynastic celebration of the ramo (branch) of the Mocenigo associated with the family’s ancient properties by the church of San Samuele. The doge and Giovanni lived there together with their families in a fraterna, a financial partnership designed to keep the family patrimony from being diluted. After the death of Giovanni’s eldest son Leonardo (1547–1572), according to a codicil of 1574 to the doge’s will, Giovanni’s two surviving sons became the heirs of the two brothers: Tommaso, as Giovanni’s oldest surviving son, became his father’s heir, while Alvisetto was designated as the beneficiary of the childless doge. The painting thus depicts the family dynasty headed by the doge and reflects the disposition of the property he shared with Giovanni. This explains the absence of the doge’s other surviving brother, Nicolò (1512–1588), who had initiated a new ramo of the family at San Stae.
Ridolfi’s statement that the angel musicians represent children of the Mocenigo family was presumably based on family tradition. The youth at the right appears in a separate portrait by Tintoretto or an associate (private collection) [fig. 3] [fig. 3] Jacopo Tintoretto, Portrait of a Boy, c. 1575, oil on canvas, Private Collection. Photo © Christie’s Images / Bridgeman Images, possibly a few years older. The younger child to the left seems to depict a real individual as well: he is represented with considerable specificity, in contrast, for example, to the generic features of the Christ Child. At the time of Alvise Mocenigo’s death, none of Giovanni’s sons had children. Pallucchini suggested that the musicians are sons of Giovanni’s daughters, but as Cooper noted, this seems unlikely because these grandchildren would not have borne the Mocenigo name.
The Gallery’s painting must have been executed after Leonardo’s death in 1572. (Otherwise, he would certainly have appeared in it.) Pallucchini and others, assuming that the portrait of Loredana was taken from life, have seen her death in December 1572 as a terminus ante quem, and thus dated the painting precisely to that year, during the short period between the death of Leonardo and that of the dogaressa. However, this analysis fails to take into consideration the fact that four of the portraits (Giovanni, Tommaso, the young Alvise, and Loredana) probably came from an earlier painting, which may not have included exactly the same cast of characters. Earlier scholars have assumed that these portraits were painted from life on smaller pieces of canvas and subsequently sewn into the large canvas purely for the convenience of the artist or to speed up production. However, the inserted pieces are extremely irregular, and two of them show significant damage from having been folded. It therefore seems much more likely that they were taken from a preexisting painting, probably one that had somehow been badly damaged. (The face of the doge was probably copied from a studio ricordo executed at the time of his official portrait in 1570.)
The current painting may thus have been executed after Loredana’s death. A plausible date would be circa 1575, based on the likelihood that it was commissioned in 1574, at the time Alvise made the codicil to his will, when dynastic concerns were clearly on the minds of the two brothers. Indeed, Giovanni may have been a joint or even the sole patron. The painting was undoubtedly intended to hang in the grand central hall (portego or sala) of the palace at San Samuele, where Giovanni and his sons lived and where Ridolfi saw it some seven decades later.
The landscape background may be intended to represent the Mocenigo family’s holdings at Villabona on the Venetian terraferma. The roses at the Virgin’s feet, while a standard attribute of the Virgin, may also have a further meaning here. The Mocenigo ramo at San Samuele was known as “dalle rose,” and the rose appeared on their family scudo, or escutcheon. Moreover, roses were regularly associated with the battle of Lepanto: roses had bloomed in Venice in October 1571, the month of the battle, seemingly miraculously, and Pope Pius V subsequently dedicated the victory to the Madonna of the Rosary.
The picture is a variant of the official votive paintings that decorated the Palazzo Ducale and other government buildings in Venice. These are part of a long tradition of Venetian paintings that show the patrons venerating or being presented to the Virgin and Child by their patron saints. Tintoretto’s finest votive painting is the Madonna of the Treasurers of circa 1567 (originally in the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi; now Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice); he and his studio assistants were also responsible for many of the doges’ votive paintings executed for the Palazzo Ducale in the early 1580s to replace those lost in the fires of 1574 and 1577. Although less common than official votive paintings, other examples of domestic family votive paintings exist, including Titian’s Vendramin Family Venerating a Relic of the True Cross (National Gallery, London) and Veronese’s Presentation of the Cuccina Family to the Madonna of circa 1571 (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden), similar to Tintoretto’s Mocenigo picture in its monumental scale and once part of an ensemble in the portego of the family’s palace. The Gallery’s painting is unusually static for Tintoretto and lacks the complex interaction of pose, gesture, and gaze of his characteristic compositions. (The Madonna of the Treasurers provides an example of what he could accomplish in this genre.) Its symmetrical arrangement is rare for the period, not only for Tintoretto but for his major contemporaries as well. Wolfgang Wolters suggested the picture may have been designed to match an older ancestral votive painting in the room for which it was painted.
While there is no question of the attribution to Tintoretto, scholars have disagreed as to the level of studio intervention in the picture. Pallucchini and Paola Rossi affirmed it as autograph, as a number of other writers seemed to assume; in contrast, Bernard Berenson called it “studio work”; Fern Rusk Shapley noted that some areas, including the Virgin and Child, are less inspired and well modeled than other parts of the picture, and suggested that they reveal studio participation; W. R. Rearick saw the entire picture as a “workshop assemblage” with a few portraits by Jacopo himself; Robert Echols and Frederick Ilchman assigned it to “Jacopo and studio.” It seems likely that more than one hand was involved in the painting, particularly given its scale and date, though it is difficult to be more specific. The mid-1570s was a time of transition for the Tintoretto studio, when Jacopo’s children Marietta and Domenico were coming of age. Although Domenico had not yet assumed a major role, Marietta was noted for portraiture, and numerous other assistants seem to have been present in the shop, including landscape and probably other portrait specialists as well. Here the Virgin and Child seem crude and perfunctory (although Tintoretto himself could be perfunctory at times). The portraits, by contrast, are strong and expressive; the forms of the family members have a sense of weight and presence, and include passages of virtuoso brushwork, such as the representation of the ermine sleeves of the two older men. The beautiful background may be by a landscape specialist.
March 21, 2019