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Venetian, 1518 or 1519 - 1594
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Robert Echols, “Jacopo Tintoretto,” NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/constituent/1929 (accessed December 10, 2023).
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|Mar 21, 2019 Version|
Jacopo Tintoretto was, along with
Throughout his career, Tintoretto was the subject of controversy. While he was praised for his power and inventiveness, detractors often complained that his paintings looked unfinished. Typical is the grudging admiration accorded him by
Born in Venice in 1518 or 1519, Jacopo Robusti took his professional name of Tintoretto, “the little dyer,” from his father’s occupation (tintore in Italian). His 17th-century biographers Carlo Ridolfi and Marco Boschini recount that Tintoretto spent a brief period in Titian’s workshop, from which he was dismissed because of Titian’s jealousy or his own prickly personality. After leaving Titian’s workshop, the youth is said to have embarked alone upon an ambitious program of copying works by other artists, especially sculpture, drawing from life, and even dissecting corpses, guided by the motto “il disegno di
With the triumphantly successful Miracle of the Slave for the Scuola Grande di San Marco (1548), Tintoretto became the dominant force in Venetian painting. His mature style is characterized by an emphasis on human figures at once idealized and convincingly real; strong, sometimes violent chiaroscuro; an elastic and unstable treatment of space; free, strong brushwork, with an emphasis on line; dynamism of form and pictorial technique; juxtaposition of the spiritual and the mundane; and an emphasis on the surprising and the unexpected. In portraiture, by contrast, Tintoretto favored an understated model based upon prototypes developed by Titian. The sitters who most engaged him are men in their maturity and, in particular, in old age, depicted with unsparing but sympathetic candor—never more movingly than in his own late self-portrait (Musée du Louvre, Paris).
Tintoretto’s clientele was extremely varied. While he executed works for wealthy and powerful patricians, the Venetian state, and the city’s richest confraternities—and even a small number for princely patrons outside of Venice—he never abandoned the poorer confraternities and less prominent churches that had been among his earliest patrons. His aggressive marketing techniques often rubbed his peers the wrong way; intensely ambitious, he regularly agreed to execute works for discounted prices or even at cost. In 1564, Tintoretto embarked on the project that was to become his best-known monument, the decoration of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a task that he completed only two and half decades later. Tintoretto’s paintings for San Rocco represent the greatest concentration of works by a single artist anywhere in Venice, and are the most personal and intensely felt of his works.
Tintoretto employed workshop assistants throughout his mature career, but in the later 1570s his studio practice began to take on the character of a family firm, as several of his children joined him there. His daughter Marietta, born in 1554 (out of wedlock, possibly by a German woman), is reported to have had a lively talent, such that the Emperor Maximilian II, Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria, and Philip II of Spain all inquired about her availability as a court painter. His son
The collaborative nature of Tintoretto’s studio practices, coupled with an astonishing productivity and a willingness to adapt his style to suit the site or occasion, combine to create extraordinarily difficult questions of attribution and chronology. Many paintings ascribed to Tintoretto in collections and catalogs (including the catalogue raisonné of Rodolfo Palluchini and Paola Rossi) are actually the productions of followers or imitators. Recent scholarship, however, has begun to clarify the scope of the artist’s oeuvre.
 Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, trans. Gaston du C. de Vere, introduction and notes by David Ekserdjian (London, 1996), 2:509–511; Giorgio Vasari, Le vite de’ più eccellenti pittori scultori e architettori, ed. Gaetano Milanesi (Florence, 1906), 6:587–589.
 According to a family history, his father Battista Robusti was originally Brescian in origin and won his surname “Robusti” as a result of the vigor with which he and his brother fought in the siege of Padua in 1509. The brothers’ family name may originally have been “Comin,” but this name should not be used in reference to Tintoretto, since his father was always known in Venice as Battista Robusti and the artist himself always used “Robusti” or “Tintoretto.” Melania G. Mazzucco presented new biographical evidence concerning Tintoretto and his children in Jacomo Tintoretto e i suoi figli: Storia di una famiglia veneziana (Milan, 2009).
March 21, 2019