Tintoretto: Origins

And as to why spend time on any of this?


Very successful are the techniques of Renaissance artists in seducing us to our subjective identification

with their objective depiction of a story –  and its meanings – even of gods and mortals unfamiliar to us now.

I am accustomed to this identification in poetry of all ages. 

But with the graphic arts today, far less.

For the moment, back to the Cinquecento.







Creation of the Animals, 1550-53, oil on canvas.  Tintoretto, 1518/19-1594. Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice on loan in 2019 to the National Gallery, Washington, DC   

A unicorn on the extreme right whose reference is to the narwhal tusk which was believed to have curative properties.  The fish are those in the waters off the city of Venice.




The Creation of the Animals is thought to have had Titian’s Ariadne and Bacchus as inspiration in terms of composition, flow and energy. 

Titian, Tintoretto’s fellow-Venetian and one generation older.

Striking to me was my reaction when I saw Titian’s painting:

my heart sped up a little to see humans, ordinary mortals, in play with a god in Titian’s painting.  Sapiens with whom, inevitably, I have the greatest empathy.



Bacchus and Ariadne, oil on canvas, 1520-23.  Titian, 1506-1576, Venetian.

Photo from the web of the National Gallery, London who reminds that this painting is one of a cycle made by the greatest painters of the time for the Alabaster Room of the Ducal palace in Ferrara.


Ariadne, recently jilted by Theseus whose ship can be seen in the left distance,  is furious or distraught or both.  She turns and sees Bacchus retuning from one of his revels.  They see each other and fall in love.  Bacchus jumps from his chariot.  Laocoön, seized with snakes, is here. 

Ariadne is mortal and is transformed eventually into the 8-star Corona Borealis, left top, as consolation.  Alternatively it is her wedding wreath thrown by Bacchus into the sky.



And here the Wedding of Ariadne and Bacchus painted by Tintoretto a half-century later.

A palette which approaches Titian-type lustrous colours which includes a blue made of lapis lazuli.





The Wedding of Bacchus and Ariadne, 1578, oil on canvas.  Tintoretto, 1518/19-1594, Venetian. 

Loaned by the Palace Ducale, Venice to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in 2019

A work executed to display the excellence of the Venetian way of government.  Bacchus is emerging from the sea.  The tableau represents Venice’s mastery over the sea and Ariadne’s crown is a guarantor of the eternal nature of this dominion.




But, before we were diverted by the heady charms of Bacchus, we were looking at depictions of origins.







The Origins of the Milky Way, 1577/78, oil on canvas.  Tintoretto, 1518/19-1594, Venetian.  Loaned by the National Gallery, London in 2019 to the National Gallery, Washington, DC 


Hercules is  being presented for suckling at the breast of Juno by her husband, Jupiter.  He wants to make his child by a mortal immortal.

Juno’s milk flows in two streams:  upwards to form the Milky Way.  Downwards (depicted in a lost painting) to earth where it springs a flower:  a lily. 

 Large tension in this painting between the struggle between  two matched gods and the vulnerability of a baby, accompanied by four putti.




It is the contention of the curators of a remembrance at the National Gallery, Washington, DC of Tintoretto in the 500th year of his birth, that Tintoretto straddled traditions of art.

Very interested in the uses of colour, as was Titian, this artist was also very interested in the careful design and preparation which underlie Michelangelo’s work, which he studied and copied. 

The energy and fierce movements of Tintoretto’s painting were all his.