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Tintoretto - His Legacy

( Originally Published 1912 )

"You've seen the world
—The beauty and the wonder and the power,
The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades,
Changes, surprises,—and God made it all I"


IN the year 1594, on the 31st day of May, Robusti's work was finished, and he was laid to rest in the tomb of his father-in-law, Marco de' Vescovi, in the church of Madonna dell' Orto ; and with him the last and the greatest of the line of the mighty painters of Venice came to an end. As has been said before, he was probably the most prolific painter in the world's history, and the very incomplete list which follows will give some idea of his gigantic output. The portion of his actual paintings which has survived is but part of the legacy which Jacopo Robusti bequeathed to mankind. The pictures themselves are, as it were, a treasure casket, a casket unlocked indeed, but from which none save a few bold souls have ventured to take of its store. He did not leave behind him a select body of pupils to carry on his traditions, although doubtless his son Domenico followed, if at a considerable distance, in his father's steps. Yet he had pupils of a kind, but not of his own day and generation. When Velazquez was in Venice he was ever drawing incessantly, and spent a very large portion of his time in the Scuola di S. Rocco, where he made studies from the great works of Tintoretto, especially from The Crucifixion. Tintoretto's influence over Velazquez was very marked, and we are told that he copied in their entirety some of the former's great works. He certainly copied The Last Supper in S. Rocco for his royal master. The Peace of Breda has a very strong likeness to the style of some of Tintoretto's pictures in the Palazzo Ducale. Not only is this very evident in the general treatment, but the forest of spears cannot be seen without suggesting at once the wonderful San Cassiano picture of The Crucifixion.

There is no doubt, too, that Velazquez has been influenced by Robusti's colour, both in the subtleties of its broken treatment and in the careful management of tone and colour value. We are so accustomed to looking at the staring conventional colouring of other masters, that to some people the plain truthful colour of Velazquez or Tintoretto seems dull and too gray, notwithstanding the fact that in this so-called dull colour there is often far more real colour than in the louder but flat and pasty efforts of other men.

Nothing has hitherto been said about Robusti as a portrait painter, although here again he takes his place in the front rank. The great truths which hold good in the case of a mighty pictorial conception, hold good in the more limited sphere of the portrait, and in the main there is but little new to add. Neither does the scope of this work admit of a discussion at any length of Tintoretto's portraits, but it is upon the portraits of Titian and Tintoretto that Velazquez founded his own style in portraiture. In the case of portraits it becomes more difficult to distinguish between the influence of Titian and Tintoretto, because what each man had to teach was in this particular very much the same. We find, as we should expect, a stronger drawing in the case of Tintoretto, but he was certainly sometimes a little hard ; and when this is coupled with an ugly or uninteresting model the result is far from pleasing. He was, perhaps, a little more erratic in this branch of art, which did not give so much opportunity to his fervent and impetuous spirit. The main truth that his portraits convey is, that to produce a satisfactory portrait, it is necessary to concentrate the interest on that which will really give the character, and not on the accessories. It may be the face and hands, which both he and Titian loved to paint shining out upon the spectator from a sombre, if not gloomy background ; or, again, it may be the whole pose and mien of the man, or, on the other hand, merely some particular feature ; but whatever it be, it is no tailor's dummy, still less a forlorn-looking individual lost among the inappropriate properties of a studio. In all these things, and in other greater things, some of which have been treated else-where, the great Spaniard follows the great Venetian. Boschini tells us that Velazquez, when seeing the many Venetian masters, reserved his highest enthusiasm for Titian—a statement that is hardly likely to be true, seeing that he devoted so large a proportion of his time to the study and copying of Robusti, and that it is the character rather of the latter that we see in his style. Titian has always been the more fashionable of the two, and Boschini is only making a loose and general statement. The colour, as above stated, and the strong drawing, together with that indefinable quality of earnestness that was the outcome of his religious character, appear again in the eager and whole-hearted Spaniard, courtier though he was. And it is not perhaps too much to say that Robusti looked upon nature as the handiwork of God, from which, although it was far from him to be a mere copyist, he was nevertheless bound in the last resort to draw his inspiration.

Among Tintoretto's later pupils it would not be altogether unfair to reckon Vandyck, if not Rembrandt. The former certainly studied in Venice with some care, as the " Chatsworth Sketch Book" testifies, and those who are pleased to fancy that genius can always be traced through a sort of genealogical tree, will find that the artificial-light effects of Rembrandt had all been essayed by the earlier master, and treated with a vigour that it would require a greater than Rembrandt to surpass.

Some, such as the S. Giorgio Maggiore Supper, have already been mentioned ; others, such as the Paschal Feast in S. Rocco, will occur to all students of Tintoretto, whereas the story of Robusti's first striking success has already been told. Like Rembrandt, Tintoretto some-times makes use of the effects of artificial light without directly suggesting any such medium, in order to give a sense of mystery. Such, for instance, is the Pietà in the Academy, a grand conception that makes a better reproduction than the Pietà at Milan, in reality a nobler work. The scene is out of doors, but there is a marked suggestion of a mysterious light that emanates from some unknown source and plays over the group of mourners.

Tintoretto's influence over Vandyck is not very marked; and although we know that he certainly studied Robusti's work, it is perhaps only making the same unwarrantable conclusion, to which objection was made in the case of Robusti and Michael Angelo, if we attempt to find in the delicate drawing of the hands, the keen appreciation of tone, and insight into the character of his sitters an intentional reminiscence of the older master.

The decline of the Venetian Republic doubtless accounts in some measure for the fact that the teaching of Robusti's art never roused any kindred spirit to carry resolutely forward painting from the point at which he left it. It is not, perhaps, strange that the layman and art patron have generally preferred the beautiful and magnificent colouring of Titian, with its slightly meretricious tendencies, to the finer and more restrained harmonies of Tintoretto's brush ; and as it requires an even more educated eye to appreciate form than colour, so, from the same people, Tintoretto has not received full justice, and the galleries of Europe contain better examples of Titian than Robusti. Nevertheless, among artists who have travelled beyond the limits of the Northern treasuries of painting, he has always been assessed at his true worth. Further, if it be any source of satisfaction to find the multitude praising the highest, it should be a matter for congratulation that the greatest layman who ever took art for his theme has crowned Tintoretto as the prince of mediaeval artists. The lines of John Ruskin's criticism do not always run so as to please the artist, but in the main bis judgement is sound on this point, and his conclusions are those with which the artist will agree.

The very greatness of his bequest has probably much to do with the fact that Robusti is still but imperfectly understood. Some phases of his work are known ; some have still to be discovered. In conclusion, one such might be taken as an instance. Many have acknowledged the force, the grandeur, and even delicacy of his work, but have denied to him the subtlety of feeling. It has indeed been said that he could not paint the tenderness of a woman's face. Besides hosts of others, the faces in the St. Agnes and The Crucifixion in Madonna del Rosario, here reproduced, would be alone sufficient to disprove this ; but I have ventured also to include a single figure from The Madonna and Saints in the Accademia, as embodying such a tenderness and grace both in face and mien. In this connection it would be also instructive to examine carefully the picture of The Woman taken in Adultery from the same gallery in Venice. The attitude and expression of Christ is most striking in its subtlety. The artist has just caught the transient stage, when Christ has hardly turned His attention to the woman. His hand shows that He is just aware of her presence, but His head shows that His interest is still partly claimed by something else. It is no mere trick of turning head and hand in opposite ways, but something deeper and indefinable. The woman's face, too, tells a story, but a finer touch is given in the maternal solicitude expressed in the beautiful face behind.

Greater study, greater imagination, a grander impressionism and conception, and a more burning zeal, rather than a faithful adherence to the traditions of the schools, was Tintoretto's message to the ages. The modern landscape artist, with men like Turner as the exponent of his principles, has not been altogether unmindful of the lesson, whether he learnt it from Robusti or not. Whether the artist of this latter day has fully grasped the importance of greater study and zeal, not to mention a greater imagination and a grander impressionism, it is not our place to consider. The modern pre-Raphaelite school certainly did yeoman service to the cause of Art, how-ever partial that service may have been ; and a modern Tintoretto who would prove the will and enter into the inheritance of Jacopo Robusti would find, if his master's mantle were not too large for him altogether, that he was a wondrous rich man in an age when poverty is by no means unknown.

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