Tintoretto: the Techniques of a Painterly Seduction

Colour: the use of colour for sensual and expressive purposes associated with the Renaissance in Venice.

To include the techniques of handling  paint.  A guiding principle of Titian


Design (disegno): the use of drawing and the intellectual ability to make a design.  Associated particularly with Michelangelo.  Even though he was a born-and-bred Venetian, Tintoretto was a strong proponent of disegno


Dynamic, heady, life-full posing of figures. Exciting to the mind and eye. Extravagantly developed by Tintoretto

Staging, as below.  Seems to be a Tintoretto device at this time.




From a biography of Jacopo Tintoretto of 1646 by Carlo Ridolfi:




Mannequin made for the 500th birthday anniversary of Tintoretto and flying in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC


“He trained himself also by concocting in wax and clay small figures which he dressed in scraps of cloth, attentively studying the folds of cloth on the outside of the limbs.




He also placed some of the figures in little houses and in perspective scenes made of wood and cardboard, and by means of little lamps he contrived for the windows, he introduced therein lights and shadows…..”




Tintoretto’s staging for composition and the effects of light and shadow and the disposition of clothing on a human figure especially when in motion,

the use of colour (here very spare) to designate an emotional context of betrayal and suffering

the balance between energetic body motions and coherence in an overall composition with much local detail for a story we can understand in one viewing


can all be seen in this painting of The Last Supper, 1563/64.





This painting is dark as it appears on a wall. 

I have lightened every subsequent photograph below so that details can be seen more clearly.

  No explanation was given for the ghostly figures behind and to the right of Jesus’ head.








The Last Supper, 1563/64, oil on canvas, and detail.  Tintoretto, 1519-1594, Venetian. 

Loaned by the Church of San Trovaso, Venice to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in 2019

The turmoil at table follows Jesus’ announcement to his disciples that one among them is to betray him.

The museum notes that this is one of nine tableaux painted on this subject by this artist. 

The child in the bottom left of the painting, who looks remarkably like the Farnese heir painted by Titian, is believed to be Tintoretto’s beloved daughter, Marietta, at about age 10.  He taught her to paint and he took her everywhere. 

Her paintings cannot today be verified as such. The normative fate of a woman’s professional work?




A painting with its design



Venus and Mars Surprised by Vulcan, 1545/46, oil on canvas.  Tintoretto, 1519-1594, Venetian. 

Loaned by the Alte Pinakothek Bayrische, Munich to the National Gallery of Art, DC in 2019


Vulcan, the blacksmith god, has surprised his wife, Venus, with her lover, Mars, the war god, now hiding and trying to hush the dog.  Vulcan is inspecting Venus’ thighs for evidence of sexual activity. 

The museum’s notes link this painting to a recent nude by Titian and a Cupid sculpture – now lost – by Michelangelo.  Tintoretto’s inclusion of a mirror relates to a Renaissance debate about whether sculpture bests painting or the reverse.  Here, this artist comes down for painting.




Venus and Vulcan, c. 1545, ink over charcoal, heightened with white on blue paper.  Tintoretto, 1519-1594, Venetian.

Kupferstichkabinett, Staatlich Museen zu Berlin on loan to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in 2019 

The museum  notes that this design done on paper – Tintoretto later laid out designs directly on canvas – lays out not only the composition proposed but also varies the materials and techniques used:  ink and charcoal for contours and light and shadow reflected in the heavy brown, grey washes and white highlights.




Detail of above

The god of war, Mars, is hiding and trying to hush the dog. 

The leaning body of Vulcan anchors the painting. 

The gorgeous, heavy, rose-pink silk satin reminds that this is a scene of  sensuality and straight sex.  The rose-pink colour is reflected, notably paler, in the colour of Vulcan’s dhoti to emphasize, perhaps, his disadvantage in the unequal comparison with the glorious Mars.

  The V of Vulcan’s body meeting the silk satin leads you into the mirror. 

The tile pattern, large and somewhat threatening, under Vulcan’s feet, is balanced by the green glass in their roundels on the left  and in the rear of the painting.

Such a delicious painting.















2 thoughts on “Tintoretto: the Techniques of a Painterly Seduction

  1. What an unfamiliar couple of gems you’ve shared. That take on The Last Supper is wonderful.
    Thank you for all your painstaking research and work.

    1. Thanks, Susannah. ThIs Last Supper is thought to be the most clearly emotive ever painted. Be wonderful to compare it to the other 8 he painted. Sarah

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