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Robert Echols, “Jacopo Tintoretto/Summer/c. 1546/1548,” Italian Paintings of the Sixteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/46189 (accessed October 21, 2019).

 

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Overview

Summer is represented here as Ceres, goddess of agriculture, reclining in front of her attribute, a row of wheat stalks. The work is one of three known paintings from a cycle by Jacopo Tintoretto depicting the personifications of the four Seasons. Spring and Autumn are housed in other collections; there is no trace of Winter. All three of the surviving Seasons feature powerful figures combined with a decorative elegance that is especially prominent in Summer, in the undulating line of stalks of grain silhouetted against the sky, the lacy grape leaves and clustered grapes, and the exquisitely rendered birds.

Tintoretto’s Seasons were created to surround a central ceiling painting in the Casa Barbo a San Pantaleone, in Venice. That painting, the octagonal Allegory of the Dreams of Men (Detroit Institute of Arts), has a complicated network of symbols that, when considered together, comment upon the interaction of human dreams and desires, fortune, and the great cycles governing heaven and earth. The depiction of the Seasons surrounding the central allegory would have complemented the motif of cyclical change.

As in his other youthful works, Tintoretto’s Casa Barbo ensemble demonstrates a clear intent to show off his mastery of the most up-to-date central Italian taste circa 1546–1548. Here, the primary source of inspiration can be identified as the paintings of Giorgio Vasari (Florentine, 1511 - 1574), who had worked in Venice during his stay of 1541–1542.

Entry

Summer is one of three known paintings from a cycle by Jacopo Tintoretto depicting the personifications of the four Seasons. The other two are Spring (Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk) [fig. 1][1] and Autumn (private collection) [fig. 2];[2] there is no trace of Winter. All three of the surviving Seasons feature powerful, Michelangelesque figures, combined with a decorative elegance that is especially prominent in Summer, in the undulating line of stalks of grain silhouetted against the sky, the lacy grape leaves and clustered grapes, and the exquisitely rendered birds.

Summer is represented as Ceres, goddess of agriculture, with her attribute, stalks of wheat.[3] Of the other two surviving Seasons, Spring is Flora, decked with flowers, while Autumn is a youthful god, probably Vertumnus, reclining among branches or vines with a large squash or gourd. In Venetian paintings of this period, Winter was typically personified as a white-bearded older man (Hyems, Boreas, Saturn, or Vulcan).[4]

Carlo Ridolfi describes a decorative cycle by Tintoretto in the Casa Barbo a San Pantaleone in which “one sees in the paneling (intavolato) of a room a capriccio of dreams and some divinities in the heavens, with various images of the things brought to the minds of mortals in their sleep, and the four Seasons personified in the surrounding area (nel recinto).”[5] The central painting of this ensemble is unmistakably the octagonal Allegory of the Dreams of Men (Detroit Institute of Arts) [fig. 3],[6] an illusionistic ceiling painting designed to be seen from below (di sotto in sù), making it clear that Ridolfi’s reference to the intavolato means a decorative ceiling framework. Despite its current title, taken from Ridolfi’s description, the allegory represented in the Detroit picture seems to be concerned primarily with time and fortune. It involves a complicated network of symbols which, when considered together, comment upon the interaction of human dreams and desires, fortune, and the great cycles governing heaven and earth.[7] The depiction of the Seasons surrounding the central allegory would have complemented the motif of cyclical change.

Not all scholars have agreed that the Gallery’s Summer and the other two surviving Seasons come from the Barbo ensemble, or indeed that they are autograph works by Jacopo Tintoretto.[8] Nevertheless, the evidence for a shared origin with the Allegory of the Dreams of Men is strong. The Seasons were originally elongated octagons in format, like the Allegory. The figure types and pictorial technique are similar in all four pictures. An exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1994 that brought together the Detroit, Norfolk, and Washington pictures confirmed their compatibility in color and scale.[9] Moreover, although these works have been dated variously from the mid-1550s through the late 1570s, the Seasons can be identified as autograph works by Jacopo from the period leading up to his triumphant Miracle of the Slave of 1548. They show numerous links to such pictures as the Contest of Apollo and Marsyas (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; documented to 1545), Venus and Mars Surprised by Vulcan (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), Venus, Vulcan, and Cupid (Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence), and the Last Supper (San Marcuola, Venice; dated 1547).[10] Summer’s features particularly resemble those of Minerva in the Hartford ceiling and Venus in the Munich and Pitti paintings. Whatever doubts scholars have had about the autograph nature of Summer can be explained by the fact that it is a relatively early work, and thus different in style and technique from his paintings after 1550.[11] The central Allegory is painted somewhat more broadly than the Seasons. The major figure in the lower part of the canvas is seen in shadow against a bright background, a device that the artist used in the Miracle of the Slave and frequently thereafter. It is possible that Tintoretto executed the centerpiece in 1548 or shortly thereafter, even in the early 1550s.

As in his other youthful works, Tintoretto’s Casa Barbo ensemble demonstrates a clear intent to show off his mastery of the most up-to-date central Italian manner. Here the primary source of inspiration can be identified as Giorgio Vasari. During his Venetian stay of 1541–1542, Vasari produced paintings for a ceiling in the Palazzo Corner, from which several allegorical figures survive, among them Patience (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice) [fig. 4].[12] Like Tintoretto’s surviving Seasons, Vasari’s paintings employ a slightly reduced point of view and are at once heroic and elegantly decorative. In its facial type and curly hair, Vasari’s Patience shows a close resemblance to Tintoretto’s Summer. Even closer connections can be seen between other paintings in Tintoretto’s cycle and Vasari’s Palazzo Corner ceiling. For example, Tintoretto’s Spring and Autumn show similarities in pose and figure type to Judas (now Casa Vasari, Arezzo) [fig. 5], which may have originally been part of the Allegory of Hope in Vasari’s cycle. Tintoretto’s Allegory of the Dreams of Men is analogous to the central Allegory of Charity from Vasari’s ceiling (now Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice) in its basic composition and many of the component figures. Similar allegorical figures also appear on the ceilings of Vasari’s own house in Arezzo, which he decorated in the mid- to late 1540s.[13] Thus the Casa Barbo ensemble can be seen as reflecting the very latest central Italian taste of circa 1546–1548. Tintoretto would have been aware of Vasari’s productions after he left Venice through Pietro Aretino, a close friend of Vasari and an early sponsor of Tintoretto.

Recent archival findings by Stefania Mason have clarified that the Casa Barbo was occupied at midcentury by three brothers, Zuan Francesco, Jacopo, and Alessandro. Francesco and Jacopo were both noted for their culture and erudition and associated with Aretino’s literary circle. Francesco was a historian and collector of antique coins and medals. Jacopo was a poet and scholar to whom Lodovico Dolce dedicated his translation of Seneca’s tragedy Thyestes in 1543 and addressed a letter published in 1552. Alessandro played an active role in Venice’s political life, holding a number of important offices. The brothers lived together under a fidecommesso, an arrangement that ensured that the family’s patrimony would be passed down through a single male heir: Zuan Francesco’s eldest son, Faustino, who would inherit the palace and carry the name forward. In 1557, Faustino’s uncle Alessandro, in his will, noted that at some unspecified time he had spent 212 ducati in restoring the house at San Pantalon that would go to Faustino on the condition that Faustino not raise the rent for Alessandro’s wife and stepson as long as they wished to live there. Faustino married in 1548, and his upcoming wedding could have provided the impetus for the decoration of the house that he would inherit as the future head of the family; nevertheless, the stylistic evidence suggests that if that was the case, the ensemble was begun somewhat before the actual wedding, although it might not have been completed until 1548 or later.[14] The Barbo family had produced a pope several generations earlier (Paul II), a factor that may have inspired them to adopt a central Italian–oriented artistic patronage.[15]

Ridolfi’s description of the Casa Barbo ensemble, which states that the Seasons were “nel recinto,” or in the area surrounding the central allegory, does not make clear whether they were originally high on the wall, at the frieze level, canted at an angle on a vault, or flat on the ceiling. Any of these seems possible. The slightly reduced point of view would have worked in all three positions; although similar figures tend to appear flat on the ceiling in Venetian ensembles of the mid- and later 16th century, there are occasional examples set on vaults and on the wall at the frieze level.[16]

Robert Echols

March 21, 2019

Provenance

Casa Barbo a San Pantaleone, Venice, by 1648.[1] possibly private collection, southern France.[2] (Frederick Mont, Inc., New York), by 1956; sold February 1957 the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[3] gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1960
Titian, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese with a group of sixteenth-century Venetian drawings, Art Gallery of Toronto, 1960, no. 11, repro.
1994
Allegory of the Dreams of Men, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1994, no catalogue.
2007
Tintoretto, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2007, no. 6, repro.
Technical Summary

The painting was executed on a piece of medium-weight fabric with a twill weave. Plain-weave fabric has been added at the corners to convert the original shape of an elongated octagon into a rectangle. Additional fabric has been added at the top (2.5 centimeters) and bottom (4 centimeters) edges. Tintoretto did not use a ground to prepare the canvas. Instead, he drew the design directly on the fabric in black paint, then drew it again in layers of warm white and brown paint.[1] Infrared examination at 1.1 to 1.8 microns shows the black liquid underpainting and brown underlayers, and x-radiographs show the white underpainting.[2] Tintoretto made adjustments to the figure’s position, twisting her body so that her right hip was raised up and her left leg was bent. He also adjusted the position of her right arm and the fingers of her left hand. Pentimenti can also be seen in the leaves and the grapes. Tintoretto applied the paint fairly thinly using a combination of wet-into-wet and wet-over-dry brushwork. There is some impasto in the highlights. He used glazes in the drapery and the foliage.[3]

The painting is in good condition overall. Some abrasion is apparent, most notably in the left background, where the canvas threads are visible. A 12-centimeter circular tear is located in the sky and grapes at the top of the picture near the left corner. In 1959–1960 Mario Modestini applied varnish and retouched the painting. By 2016 that varnish had discolored and the painting was treated again between 2016 and 2018 to remove it and to reduce an earlier discolored varnish that had only been selectively removed in the past.

Joanna Dunn and Robert Echols based on the examination reports by Michael Swicklik and Joanna Dunn

March 21, 2019

Bibliography
1959
Suida Manning, Bertina. “Two ‘Seasons’ by Jacopo Tintoretto.” Studies in the History of Art dedicated to William E. Suida on his Eightieth Birthday. London, 1959: 253-257, figs. 2, 6.
1962
Suida Manning, Bertina. “Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto in the Collection of Walter
P. Chrysler, Jr.” Arte Veneta 16 (1962): 54-55.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. .National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 128.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 114, repro.
1968
Schulz, Jürgen. Venetian Painted Ceilings of the Renaissance. Berkeley, 1968: 118.
1969
Pallucchini, Rodolfo. “Inediti di Jacopo Tintoretto.” Arte Veneta 23 (1969): 46.
1970
De Vecchi, Pierluigi. L’opera completa del Tintoretto. Milan, 1970: 107, no. 166.
1972
Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 201.
1973
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 51-52, fig. 94.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 342, repro.
1978
Gandolfo, Francesco. Il “Dolce Tempo”: mistica, ermetismo e sogno nel Cinquecento. Rome, 1978: 237.
1979
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:470-471, II:pl. 335.
1982
Pallucchini, Rodolfo, and Paola Rossi. Tintoretto: le opere sacre e profane. 2 vols. Venice, 1982: 1:176, no. 210, 2:fig. 276.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 230, no. 292, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 394, repro.
1993
Echols, Robert. "Jacopo Tintoretto and Venetian Painting, 1538-1548." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park, 1993. Ann Arbor, MI, 1994: 181-191.
1996
Echols, Robert. “‘Jacopo nel corso, presso al palio’: dal soffitto per l’Aretino al Miracolo dello Schiavo.” In Jacopo Tintoretto nel quarto centenario della morte: atti del convegno internationale di studi. Edited by Paola Rossi and Lionello Puppi. Padua, 1996: 78-79.
2007
Butterfield, Andrew. "Brush with Genius [review of the exhibition Tintoretto, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2007] ." The New York Review of Books (26 April 2007): 12, repro. 14.
2009
Echols, Robert, and Frederick Ilchman. “Toward a New Tintoretto Catalogue, with a Checklist of Revised Attributions and a New Chronology.” In Jacopo Tintoretto: Actas del congreso internacional/Proceedings of the International Symposium, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, February 26-27, 2007. Madrid, 2009: 122, no. 40.
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