Tintoretto & San Rocco, Venice; Part 1

Of the hundreds (thousands?) of masterpieces to be found in Venice, the ensemble at San Rocco consisting of an intact Renaissance palazzo with its extensive interior decorative program is remarkable. The interior program include unrivaled paintings by the Venetian master, Tintoretto, as well as sculpture, sublime woodworking, divine lighting fixtures and incredible inlaid marble pavements. And those are just the highlights. San Rocco is so much more.

San Rocco was a 13th century mendicant pilgrim, who, it was said, contracted the plague from which he was healed miraculously and he went on to heal others so afflicted Venice was particularly susceptible to outbreaks of the plague as it lay at the crossroads between the East and West. The word “quarantine” as everyone must know after our recent ordeal with Covid, is in fact a Venetian word. It refers to the 40 days which travelers had to isolate before being allowed into the Serenissima.

During the 15th century, San Rocco’s relics were brought to Venice, although he is buried in Voghera, in the Province of Pavia. Lay Confraternity, community leadership to citizen class

Venice divided: nobility, citizens (could be richer than nobility), the working classes. Citizens could’t have roles in government, only nobles. But Confraternity gave them chance to lead. Only members could be elected to office.

Micro governmental

This confraternity very important in Venice

Grandiose architecture, with polychromed marbles, rich facade. Wanted to decorate in big way. Upper Hall. Board Room, ground floor hall for passage and organizing parades

Tintoretto becomes involved in decorating all 3 halls. This work gets him in the door: St. Paul in Glory, ceiling painting in Sala dell’ Albergo, Board Room. Apotheosis of St. Rich, 1564, di sotto in su,

To begin decorating the scuola, the committee held a competition, inviting prominent artists in Italy. T was invited. They are all told to make a prep drawing of this subject, that could eventually be finished and placed in ceiling.

T. Doesn’t follow direction. He makes the finished product very quickly, in weeks, the night before the judging, he sneaks in and hangs it in finished location.

All his competitors are mad, he says, this is my gift, and the statutes of the confraternity say they can’t refuse any gift. He says, I can continue painting for you and this works. A year later, he is made a member of confraternity

Crucifixion: on wall directly below the ceiling ptg above1564-7

Broad composition, large space, above benches where committee members would sit
Hundreds of figures, but very organized and balanced.

X on Cross at center, with mourners below. Virgin swooning being held up by other Mary’s . Magdalene calling out

Top of Canvas, we see X right up at front of space, cross is set into space, but at top, he seems to be projecting out to confront us

Incredible halos emanate from his body

On left, the ladder is foreshortened, the cross is on same diagonal. One of thieves who is crucified.

On X’s right side is the repentant thief

On left side of X, bad thief is being attached to cross

All the angles lead us to center

Upper meeting room:

T. Gets contract to paint the ceiling. I will be your official pier, produce 3 canvases for you per year, I’m on retainer. So all ptgs were done by him and in situ.

Elaborate woodwork, ceiling
Central, largest, The Brazen Serpent. 1575-6 We see how T uses di sotto in su

Seems like maelstrom of bodies falling on us. All of ceiling ptgs are from old testament. Moses is in desert with Israelites, god has sent plague of fiery serpents.

Creatures biting bodies who try to free themselves from these snakes

God tells Moses to make a serpent from bronze (brazen) and place it on tall pole. When Israelites look at it, they will be saved. Prefigures Crucifixion. Tall wooden poles. Lives saved by looking at bronze serpent. Like lives will be saved by X’s crucifixion

Chiarascuro again. God figure in shade, silhouetted. Human anatomy in various poses, like Last Judgement

Moses Striking the Rock, 1575, God tells Moses to strike rock and a spring bursts forth, Mose and Israelites in desert, dying of thirst

Streams of water gushing forward, remove that jug, the water would hit us

Fall of Manna, 1575, God sends heavenly nourshishment to starving people. The manna could fall on us it seems

These ptgs are old Testament subject

On walls, scenes of Life of X from New Test.

Left wall, Baptism of Christ, 1579-81, healing power of water. J the Baptist, night time scene
Figures quickly painted, more like drawing in paint

Last Supper 1579
Theme of nourishment, from God. Think of Leonardo’s Last Supper, T’s is very different , different proportions (narrow) so can’t have horizontal composition, but at angel, disciples all around table. Christ is furthest in depth with bright halo.

See figs at foreground, aim of confraternity, to help the poor, to provide food etc for them, the figures here, godlike figures

Ground floor paintings: last canvases he made for Confraternity. 1580s. Relies on his large, family workshop, his daughter and sons

Annunciation: 1581, first work in the cycle, Life of V Mary. Annuciation. Gabriel with a host of angels, very dynamic composition. Gabriel dives in through open door, following brilliant dove. The setting itself: an opulent bedroom, bed canopy and luxurious fabric, straw chair falling apart, architecture crumbling. Outside, carpentry workshop of Joseph. Seem to echo the built space it is shown in. Alternatly red and white marble (red from Verona) columns, piers relate

Humility, reflect the confraternity. But dissonant. The confraternities were criticized for spending so much on decoration. They didn’t pay T a lot, though

The Flight into Egypt, most lyrical in T’s oeuvre. He had a lot of help by workshop, a Flemish painter,

Massacre of the Innocents, 1583
King Herod orders death of all infants (under 2)

Visual chaos drives home the hideous subject matter

Circumsicion of Christ, entrusted to his son, Domenico, his most prolific collaborator, the heir to the family workshop. The figures and faces the architecture, the curtains, are all different from Jacopo T’s work

San Giorgio Maggiore, take vaporetto, from Pza San Marco, wee see church by Palladio, most imp architect of Venice 16th c.

High altar: 2 ptgs on either side of altar in the presbytery

Fall of Manna and Last Supper

Last Supper, 1592-94, dramatic narrative, great drama, long table, on angle, extends deep into space, most figures on one side of table, look at how he uses light and shadow, dark background, 2 light sources, halo of X and ceiling lamp.

Angels coalesce out of light from lamp

He paints the moment when X institution of the eucharist, take eat, the bread is my body. X feeds a disciple

It aligns in space with the altar. Extends as same angle. The altar is the site of the consecration of the host. Reenacted every time priests raise the host

Clergy enters from behind altar, they see painting relate very clearly as the altar. Gives them a great sense of participation.


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