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] [fig. 1] Jacopo Tintoretto, Spring, c. 1546/1548, oil on canvas, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. and Autumn (private collection) [fig. 2] [fig. 2] Jacopo Tintoretto, Autumn, c. 1546/1548, oil on canvas, Private Collection; 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. 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).
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).” The central painting of this ensemble is unmistakably the octagonal Allegory of the Dreams of Men (Detroit Institute of Arts) [fig. 3] [fig. 3] Jacopo Tintoretto, Allegory of the Dreams of Men, c. 1546/1548, oil on canvas, Detroit Institute of Arts, 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. 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. 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. 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). 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. 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] [fig. 4] Giorgio Vasari, Patience, 1542, oil on panel, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice. Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo. Museo Nazionale Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia © Archivio fotografico G.A.VE. 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] [fig. 5] Giorgio Vasari, Judas, 1542, oil on panel, Casa Vasari, Arezzo. Su concessione del Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo. Soprintendenza archeologia belle arti e paesaggio per le province di Siena Grosseto e Arezzo. Photo: Alessandro Benci, 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. 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. 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.
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.
March 21, 2019