Tintoretto was an Italian painter from the Mannerist movement. He was one of the Venetian school's most notable exponents and was highly appreciated by his contemporaries. His fast and dynamic style of painting rendered him the nickname of Il Furioso or The Furious. Even though he was scolded when he was young by the already established painter, Titian, Tintoretto strived for his unique approach to painting. During the end of the Renaissance, he was a daring artist, unafraid to use visible brushstrokes and unnatural perspectives. Even though Tintoretto had many commissions, critics usually had a negative view of him, which didn't bother the artist. He wrote on his door "Michelangelo's drawing and Titian's coloring".
Tintoretto was born as Jacopo Comin in 1518 or 1519, in Venice, Italy. He was the oldest of 21 children. His father, Giovanni Battista Robusti, was originally from Brescia. Giovanni was a tintore, or dyer, giving origin to his nickname, Tintoretto, meaning dyer's boy or little dyer. Jacopo was a born painter, and as his father noted his proficiency, he took his son to Titian's studio to see how far he could go as an artist.
Tintoretto started studying under Titian around 15 years old and with only ten days in, the master sent Tintoretto home for good. Titian observed some very unique style and spirited drawings during this short period. It's unclear the reason for his expulsion, whether it was because Titian was jealous of such a young and promising talent or because Tintoretto exhibited his style and would not be pupil material.
However, the two masters never developed a close relationship. Titian and his adherents would even give him the cold shoulder. Tintoretto then became an apprentice in another Venetian workshop. Historians speculate that it was that the studio was run by Bonifacio de Pitati.
In 1539, he was already working as an independent artist, as it is documented in his signature of that year. Much of Tintoretto's early works were commissions made with little or no payment, such as The Ascent to Calvary and King Belshazzar's Banquet.
From 1540 on, the artist started to work on furniture and facade frescoes. Andrea Schiavone, four years younger than Tintoretto, began to work with him on these early commissions. Both painters were paid little, and these works have now disappeared. An example of early works by him that survived are Christ and the Woman of Samaria, The Annunciation, The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Cain Slaying Abel, and Adam and Eve.
His The Embarkation of St. Helena in the Holy Land was attributed to Andrea Schiavone until 2012. There were two paintings concluded together as a pair: Finding the True Cross and St. Helen Testing the True Cross. From the same period, paintings such as Conversion of St. Paul and Christ Among the Doctors are stellar examples of how the painter was able to achieve his mastery. Tintoretto was already employing his known use of detailed and complex compositions along with an expressive color palette.
The Italian painter made a series of frescoes in the Palazzo Soranzo. The artworks didn't survive but are documented in 18th-century engravings by Antonio Maria Zanetti. In these images, it's notable how Tintoretto used Michelangelo's rendition of anatomy to counterpoint Titian's manner.
During their time, Titian became pretty much a sign of the Venetian status quo, representing an ideal regional painting. Tintoretto acknowledged his importance but wanted to go in another direction. In the aforementioned frescoes, and the ones of Palazzo Gussoni, big bodies occupy most of the compositional space, foreshortened, and there's a strong contrast in light.
The surviving drawings from 1545-50 prove the connection between the two masters. Tintoretto draws with black chalk and white ink the muscular figures of Michelangelo's sculptures, based on his observation of private collections or casks that he owned. The drawings are looser and resemble the expressive manner of his paintings. This is an excellent example of how the painter built upon his influences without losing his uniqueness.
At the end of the 1540s, the Venetian painter concluded the work that would be considered his first masterpiece and entailed a string of good commissions: The Miracle of St Mark Freeing the Slave, done in 1548 for the Scuola Grande di San Marco. St. Mark is the patron of Venice; he is on the top center of the picture, being figured in an unusual position, foreshortened.
The slave, who in the legend tried to run away to Venice to see the relic of St. Mark, is painted also foreshortened, at the ground with his eyes closed. Around his head, there are the instruments used to gouge his eyes, a punishment from his master. They are broken. There is a big crowd of varied characters, coming from both sides of the composition.
The artwork features a complex composition full of energy and tension, and yet, through color, Tintoretto was capable of giving unity and harmony to the painting. Using light blue, gold, and burgundy pigments, colors that repeat in all corners of the picture, there's a sense of stabilization in the packed scene. Along with this artwork, Tintoretto painted three other works for the Scuola: Finding of the Body of St. Mark, The Stealing of Dead Body of St. Mark, St. Mark Saving a Saracen From Shipwreck.
In 1550, he married Faustina de Vescovi. Faustina was the daughter of a noble Venetian, who had a high status at the Scuola Grande di San Marco. Because of her family's position, Tintoretto had to wear the Venetian citizen toga whenever he left for the city, which he reluctantly complied.
Tintoretto and Faustina had eight children together. Three of them would carry on Tintoretto's legacy, working as artists like their father. In his will, the painter wrote to Domenico, one of his sons: "finish the painting with the usual diligence". Historians believe that this was stated with a certain irony since diligenza is something that critics from the period affirmed that Tintoretto lacked.
From 1565 to 1567, Tintoretto worked on a large commission for another Scuola, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Tintoretto wasn't the only painter working in the building. The known painter Paolo Veronese, along with the other three painters and Tintoretto, were asked to send trials for the centerpiece. Tintoretto acted slickly and sent a full painting, not only a sketch, as a gift to the order. The foundation prohibited rejecting gifts, so Tintoretto was able to put his work in the center hall.
The juxtaposition with Paolo Veronese should be noted. Veronese was seen as the natural inheritor of Titian's legacy, who was awarded a gold medal from Veronese. Despite their differences, they ended up working together in some commissions, and Tintoretto learned to employ a more detailed manner while working with Veronese.
Tintoretto received a commission for his last painting of considerable importance. Paradise was a painting of massive proportions and complex execution. At the time, it was regarded as the world's largest canvas painting, size 74.1 by 29.9 feet. The composition is crowded with about 500 highly-detailed figures, and it was done with the help of Domenico, his son.
Upon the completion of Paradise, Tintoretto slowed down his production and didn't take any major commissions anymore. In 1594, Tintoretto was struck with severe stomach pains, aggravated by high fever, depriving him of sleeping and eating. Jacopo Tintoretto died on 31 May 1594 and was buried next to his daughter Marietta, who died four years prior. They rest at the church of the Madonna dell' Orto.