Venetian Mannerist painter Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto’s versatile and energetic style of painting separated him from traditional Renaissance concepts and created a strong influence on future Mannerists and the development of baroque art.
Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto was born September 29, 1518 in Venice, the oldest of twenty-two children and son of Battista Robusti, a silk dyer. He was called il Tintoretto (the little dyer) due to his father’s trade. Upon the discovery of his son’s artistic talent, Battista took him to meet Titian (leader of the 16th-century Venetian school of the Italian Renaissance) who agreed to provide training to the aspiring artist. However, it has been speculated that Titian soon became jealous of Jacopo’s unique talent and within ten days sent him home.
Tintoretto was born during an age when Renaissance was beginning to fade and Mannerism was becoming the trend. He placed an inscription on the wall of his studio that read “Il disegno di Michelangelo ed it colorito di Tiziano" (Michelangelo's design and Titian's color). He appreciated Michelangelo’s drawing style, and admired Titian’s use of color, despite the fact that he and Titian had their differences. He soon became an expert in wax and clay modelling, a method he employed to aid him with light, shade and composition.
Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto and painter Andrea Schiavone (four years his junior) collaborated on certain wall paintings together, sometimes working without pay in order to gain some recognition and possibly acquire some commissions. He developed a unique technique for time-efficient painting, and soon glowing portraits and biblical subjects began to emerge. He was not accepted nor liked by many of the contemporary Venetian artists who thought that his fast method of working was part of an underhandedness that robbed other artists of potential commissions.
The artist’s earliest work, ‘Apollo and Marsyas’ (1545), was painted for Italian author, playwright and poet Pietro Aretino who was amazed at the accuracy and speed of its completion. A year later, Tintoretto painted three works for the church of the Madonna dell Orto: ‘Worship of the Golden Calf’, ‘Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple’, and ‘Last Judgment’.
Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto settled down in a house by the church that boasted a view of the lagoon of Murano built in the Fondamenta de Mori. During this time, he created ‘Christ washing the disciples' feet’ (1547), for the church of San Marcuola in Venice which was later acquired by King Charles I of England. Years later, after the death of the king, it became part of an art collection owned by King Philip IV of Spain.
Tintoretto married Faustina de Vescovi in 1550, the daughter of a Venetian nobleman, who bore him two sons and five daughters. During the 1550s, his art began to lean towards Mannerism. Three of his children (Domenico, Marco and Marieta), who shared his artistic talents, assisted him in future works produced in his large workshop. In 1564, he was commissioned to create a cycle of about fifty canvases for the Scuola di San Rocco. The series pays tribute to the Old and New Testaments and the lives of the saints, and includes the ‘Crucifixion’ (1565) and ‘Annunciation’ (1583–87). The upper hall contains scenes from the life of Christ and the lower hall depicts scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.
During the last phase of his career, the artist painted more freely as he mastered the effects of lighting; a development noticeable in works such as ‘Last Supper’ and ‘Entombment’. Besides being appreciated for his religious and mythological scenes, he was sought after for his compelling portraits, one of which was a simplistic self-portrait created in 1588.
After the completion of "Paradise" (74 feet by 30), Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto took a well needed rest. He never undertook any other work of that type, magnitude or importance again. His health began to decline and a grave fever took his life at seventy-five years old on May 31, 1594 in Venice. He rests in the church of the Madonna dell’ Orto next to his daughter Marietta who died at the age of thirty.