This year Venice is commemorating the 500th anniversary of the birth of Jacopo Tintoretto (1518/19-1594) with a series of landmark exhibitions, conferences and other special events exploring his remarkable artistic legacy.
Hailed in his lifetime as one of the greatest painters of his day, Tintoretto has continued to dazzle and influence subsequent generations of artists and art lovers – ranging from John Ruskin, who once observed “I never was so utterly crushed to the earth before any human intellect as I was today before Tintoret,” to Henry James, who stated, “No painter ever had such breadth and such depth… Titian was assuredly a mighty poet, but Tintoret -well, Tintoret was almost a prophet.”
Among the highlights of this year’s anniversary celebrations is a major show at the Gallerie dell’Accademia dedicated to the first decade of Tintoretto’s artistic activity – a period of his life that to date has remained veiled in mystery. No records of his training survive (though an early biographer suggests that he was briefly apprenticed to Titian), and as exhibition curator Robert Echols comments, “There is actually not one firmly documented painting by the young Tintoretto. Every attribution has to be based on the visual evidence.”
With a view to unravelling this elusive and hotly debated chapter of his career, the Accademia has brought together an impressive body of over 60 works produced between 1538 (the year in which Tintoretto’s activity was first officially recorded with a work for the church of San Geremia) and 1548.
At the core of the exhibition is a collection of 26 exceptional paintings firmly attributed to the young master, culminating in The Miracle of the Slave – a monumental canvas widely regarded as his great breakthrough, depicting St Mark rescuing a slave about to be tortured for worshipping at his tomb. Together with important works from the Accademia’s permanent collection, the show also features a number of prestigious loans from private collections and international museums, such as the Conversion of St Paul from the National Gallery of Washington and Apollo and Marsyas from the Wadsworth Atheneum, on display in Italy for the first time.
Alongside these autograph works – many of which are restlessly experimental in technique and design – the exhibition also presents a broad spectrum of paintings, drawings and prints produced in Venice during the 1530s and ‘40s by a number of Tintoretto’s contemporaries such as Titian, Pordenone and Sansovino. Intended to “share with the public what the cultural and visual experiences of the young Tintoretto could have been” (Paola Marini, Director, Gallerie dell’Accademia), these contextual works provide a fascinating framework within which to consider Tintoretto’s early paintings, shedding significant light on the artistic stimuli that may well have influenced the development of his revolutionary mature style.