"Art ain't about paint. It ain't about canvas.
It's about ideas. I have found how to get my ideas out and I won't stop.
I got ten thousand left."-Thornton Dial
Jacopo Comin was one of the last great painters of the Renaissance . Although Tintoretto was prolific, and one of the most successful Venetian painter in the generation after Titian's death, little is known of his life. For his phenomenal energy in painting Tintoretto was termed Il Furioso, and his dramatic use of perspective space and special lighting effects make him a precursor of Baroque art.
In his youth, Tintoretto was also known as Jacopo Robusti because his father had defended the gates of Padua in a rather robust way against the imperial troops during the Cambray War from 1509 to 1517. Tintoretto's real name "Comin" has only recently been discovered by Miguel Falomir, the curator of the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and was made public during the retrospective of Tintoretto at the Prado in 2007. Comin translates to the spice cumin in the local language.
Tintoretto was born in Venice in 1518, as the eldest of 21 children. His father, Giovanni, was a dyer, or tintore; hence the son got the nickname of Tintoretto, little dyer, or dyer's boy, which is anglicized as Tintoret. The family originated from Brescia, in Lombardy, then part of the Republic of Venice. In childhood Jacopo, a born painter, began daubing on the dyer's walls. His father took him to the studio of Titian to see how far he could be trained as an artist. Tintoretto had only been in the studio for ten days when Titian sent him home. It seems that the great master saw some of Tintoretto's very spirited drawings, and it is inferred that he became at once jealous of so promising a scholar. It may also have been that the drawings exhibited so much independence of manner that Titian judged that young Jacopo, although talented as a painter, would never be a proper pupil.
Almost all of Tintoretto's life was spent in Venice and most of his work is still in the churches or other buildings for which it was painted. Tintoretto appears to have been unpopular because he was unscrupulous in procuring commissions and ready to undercut his competitors. By 1539 he was sufficiently mature to be established independently, painting pictures composed in a traditional Venetian manner with the figures arranged parallel to the picture plane and unlinked by any strong movement or variation in the arrangement.
His early masterpiece is "The Miracle of St Mark Freeing the Slave" , (shown here) in which many of the qualities of his maturity, particularly his love of foreshortening, begin to be distinguishable. To help him with the complex poses he favored, Tintoretto used to make small wax models which he arranged on a stage and experimented on with spotlights for effects of light and shade and composition. This method of composing explains the frequent repetition in his works of the same figures seen from different angles. Tintoretto was a formidable draughtsman and, according to Ridolfi, he had inscribed on his studio wall the motto `The drawing of Michelangelo and the color of Titian'. However, he was very different in spirit from either of his avowed models. Tintoretto was more emotive, using vivid exaggerations of light and movement. His drawings, unlike Michelangelo's detailed life studies, are brilliant, rapid notations, bristling with energy, and his color is more somber and mystical than Titian's .
Tintoretto's greatest works are the vast series of paintings he did for the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice from 1565 to 1587 - scenes from the life of Christ and scenes from the Old testament in the upper level, and scenes from the life of the Virgin in the lower hall.
The complicated scheme was probably not conceived by Tintoretto himself, but he interpreted it with a vividness and economy of color and detail that give a wonderful cohesion to the whole scheme. Its personal conception of the sacred story overwhelmed Ruskin, who devoted eloquent pages to it, and Henry James wrote of the stupendous "Crucifixion" (shown here): 'Surely no single picture in the world contains more of human life; there is everything in it, including the most exquisite beauty.'
The unorthodox rough brushwork of such paintings incurred the censure of Vasari, but later generations recognized it as a means of heightening the drama and tension. Like Titian, Tintoretto kept a huge workshop, his chief assistants being his sons Domenico and Marco, and his daughter Marietta. The system in the Tintoretto workshop differed from that in use in the Titian and Veronese workshops in that instead of limiting his assistants to close versions, copies or preparatory work on a commission, he employed them mainly on enlargements and extensively altered variants of his original compositions. His son Domenico became his foreman and is said to have painted many portraits, although none can be attributed to him with certainty. The later paintings can thus be divided into those which are largely studio productions on the one hand and the visionary inspirations from Tintoretto's own hand on the other.
A prime example of the latter is "The Last Supper", the culmination of a lifetime's development of this subject, from the traditional frontal arrangement of his youth to this startling diagonally viewed composition. Tintoretto had great influence on Venetian painting, but the artist who most fruitfully absorbed the visionary energy and intensity of his work was El Greco.