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11/17/2018 7:38 am  #1

3 Days, 150 Paintings

3 Days, 150 Paintings: A Whirlwind Tintoretto Tour

On the 500th anniversary of the painter’s birth, our critic set himself a challenge: to see all of Tintoretto’s major works, spread around Venice at 23 locations.

VENICE — So you are a young college student, American, on your first whistle-stop tour of Europe. You have fought through the multitudes in front of the Mona Lisa and “Las Meninas,” tried to concentrate on the Sistine Chapel ceiling as the tour groups jostle you. But when you wash up here in the lagoon, and make your way to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco — a 16th-century clubhouse for middle-class Venetians — you step into something you’d forgotten: silence.

Inside there are fewer than a dozen people, and all around you, in the half-light, are some of the boldest paintings of the Italian Renaissance, depicting the life of Christ with a directness you have never seen before. You gasp before the burly bodies that loom amid shearing bolts of white and divine blasts of amber. You walk out of San Rocco half an hour later, and the light outside seems too bright. Everything you thought you knew about painting is wrong.

Some people’s whole lives get upended when they first discover Tintoretto, the most Venetian of artists and the world champion of painterly turbulence. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin nearly fainted outside San Rocco. Henry James became ecstatic. Today, some visitors are reduced to tears. Tintoretto left me powerless, too, when I first visited San Rocco in my youth, and did so again for different reasons this October, just before record flooding turned St. Mark’s Square into a swimming pool.

For I’d come to Venice with a mission: to see every work I could by an artist who always overpowers, with an uncommon devotion to a single city.

Tintoretto, born here 500 years ago, in 1518 or ’19, remains less well known than his Venetian rivals Titian and Veronese, to say nothing of the slightly earlier Florentine painters so renowned they got Ninja Turtles named after them. One reason: Almost every major painting by Tintoretto remains here.

Unlike the older Titian, he took few commissions outside the Most Serene Republic, preferring to decorate the lavish cathedrals and palazzi of his aquatic hometown, and to offer his services to humbler congregations from Cannaregio to Castello. His paintings are brash, giant, overwhelming — but also fragile and, in most cases, immobile. Only Madrid’s Museo del Prado, in 2007, has tried to present a real Tintoretto retrospective outside Italy.

That changes next March, when the National Gallery of Art in Washington presents “Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice,” which will finally offer Americans a fuller view of his brassy, staggering paintings. The National Gallery has organized the exhibition with two Venice institutions, which are presenting it now: the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice’s principal art museum, and the Palazzo Ducale, the grand pile in Saint Mark’s Square adorned with vast murals by Tintoretto and his workshop.


We live in a time in which decent and otherwise sensible people are surrendering too easily to the hectoring of morons or extremists. 

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