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Current time:0:00Total duration:7:03

Tintoretto, the Miracle of the Slave

Video transcript

Tintoretto is quickly becoming one of my favorite Venetian artists me too his works are amazing in person we're looking at a large painting by Tintoretto called the miracle of the slave it's a painting that is full of energy full of color full of dramatic action it's a great story this was painted for the scala grande de san marco this was a major Confraternity or a kind of Club in Venice and they commissioned altar pieces they commissioned paintings and they were very active in charity in the civic life of Venice and in this case they commissioned the young artist Tintoretto to create a series of four canvases this was meant to hang directly opposite the altar in the home of their comforter that's right so this was not a church this was really more of a civic organization nevertheless this is a painting that is absolutely tied to the city of Venice whose patron saint is st. mark and here we have st. mark performing a miracle so let's tell the story st. mark is long dead a man wants to visit Venice specifically to visit the basilica of san marco where the relic that is the body of st. mark resides but his master says no he goes anyway and when he's there he devotes his entire body his soul to st. mark he returns and as punishment the master orders that he had his eyes gouged out the master says not even Saint Mark can save you now but the servant responds I have given my body to Saint Mark I am Not Afraid but the instruments break not satisfied with this is miracle the master then orders that this slave has to have his legs cut off but the ax also breaks as a last resort the master says well now we're going to take a hammer to your mouth so that you can't call on Saint Mark anymore and then the hammer is broken at that point everyone is convinced of the miracle and visits the relic of Saint Mark in San Marco in Venice that's right he repents his sins and all is forgiven we at the very top of the painting st. mark whose body is this tour-de-force foreshortened figure that flies down his head radiating the spiritual power who lowers his hand in a kind of healing protective gesture and below him foreshortened in the opposite direction with his head toward us is the slave himself now surrounding the slave are the instruments of torture that have been broken or that are still being used to brutalize him the entire crowd on the left is reacting to this miracle that they're witnessing but no one looks up at st. mark at st. mark is a spiritual figure that perhaps they can't see but that we are privileged to see those figures that crowd around are so varied and this is one of those typical 16th century conventions where you have just the sort of wonderful confusion of different types you have Nobles that are dressed as contemporary Phoenicians you have military figures exotic figures that have come from the east and all of this implies that this miracle has universal significance not as significance just for the slave or just for Venice but for the world so just like the foreshortened saint and the foreshortened figure of the slave structure the composition we also see Tintoretto using color to organize and structure the composition well that's right if we start at the top again we see the red of the costume of st. mark and we see that repeated in a turban just directly below him but we see it especially in three figures on the edges of the painting of the master of the house on the upper right of one of these marvelous lounging figures on the lower right which actually reminds us of Michelangelo perhaps of the egg nuit II in the Sistine Chapel and then all the way on the upper left the observer who is perched rather precariously at the base of one of the columns and similarly we see a punctuated use of gold first in that billowing drapery around st. mark lower-left as the mother holding a child to screening her neck to watch the miracle that's happening then in the Brocade of the turbaned figure and then in the figure wielding an axe leaning over the body of the slave and finally on the drapery of the Lord who's ordering all of this punishment so there is this very self-conscious understanding of the relation of color and Tintoretto has used them to create a kind of pattern to create a kind of rhythm throughout this painting and yet it is a difficult painting to read when we look at a painting of a subject like this you might expect something much more legible where the action the drama is more unified where we have one moment of time that we can easily recognize but here Tintoretto and this makes sense for the mid 16th century for the moment of mannerism he's rejecting that legibility of the high Renaissance so this is emphasis on both line and color which had been such a topic of conversation at this historical moment and because there is this hyper attention to both color and line the forms that they define almost get lost so this was painted went in Torito is just about 30 years old it's a tour de force by a young artist and apparently a critic at the time commended this achievement but also said you know look you've got to be careful it's evident that your brushwork is rabid you've got to slow down you've got to draw more carefully and you really can't see this bravura brushwork in this painting the critic was suggesting that this was a little too unfinished that it felt as if there was too much energy that the velocity of the artists own brush moving across that surface was too evident but of course this is now something we value and that criticism suggests that this is not a painting that is carefully thought out but it so clearly is we talked about the way that the color is unified the very careful way that the narrative is told we can see that he's using linear perspective with a vanishing point up hello of st. mark so this is clearly carefully constructed and that loose brushwork that open brushwork is something that Tintoretto valued and as that critic was looking at this painting so we can see the man who commissioned it looking in clearly not part of the pictorial space in a funny way very much closer to our space but witnessing what's taking place just as we do