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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:57

Tintoretto, The Finding of the Body of Saint Mark

Video transcript

(piano music) Male voiceover: We're in the Brera in Milan and we're looking at an enormous painting by Tintoretto, but this is only one of a series of paintings on the subject of Saint Mark, the single most important Saint for the city of Venice. Female voiceover: This was commissioned for the Scuola of Saint Mark or the confraternity of Saint Mark in Venice by a man named Rangone. Male voiceover: And he can be seen in the middle of the painting kneeling in that fabulous gold brocade. Female voiceover: Gesturing down to the body of Saint Mark. Now, this whole painting takes place creepily in a cemetery. Male voiceover: (laughing) It is creepy. Female voiceover: It's really creepy. It's really dark. Male voiceover: (laughing) Well it's a night scene. Female voiceover: And it's lit by a candle. So, you have this vast architectural space created by this rushing, exaggerated perspective. Male voiceover: But before we get lost in the painting, let's talk about what's actually taking place, what's happening here. Female voiceover: Okay. Male voiceover: So this is the story of the finding of the body of Saint Mark. Saint Mark had died and was buried in Alexandria that is in Egypt, and the story goes that in the 9th century the Venetian merchants went to retrieve the body. Female voiceover: These Venetian merchants went to find the body of Saint Mark to bring it back to Christendom from Islamic Egypt, from Islamic Alexandria. Male voiceover: We have this perspectival space. It draws our eye all the way to the back, to that dark back wall, and there we see a number of figures both in shadow and silhouette finding the body of Saint Mark in a tomb brilliantly illuminated, and you can see the stone has been picked up. Female voiceover: We have a continuous narrative. We have scene two in the foreground on the left where we see the body of Saint Mark foreshortened, splayed out on the ground on top of a carpet. Male voiceover: Painted with a wonderful looseness that also reminds me of Mantegna's dead Christ with a wild foreshortening and the way that we look up the body from the feet up towards the head. Female voiceover: You see the texture of the oil paint and very dark outlines and very stark illumination on that body. Male voiceover: You also see Tintoretto's patron, the man who paid for these paintings who seems to be gesturing toward the body of Saint Mark in a very protective way. Female voiceover: In a way that makes us sense that figure does not belong to this time. He's not a 9th century Venetian. He's a 16th century Venetian. Male voiceover: There's a kind of collapsing of time, of space. It's a very complicated image. Not only was the body found in the back of the painting, and then we see the body in the front of the painting but then we see this very noble figure in red and blue who stands up just to the left of this yellow, dead body and that is also Saint Mark. Female voiceover: Miraculously alive, making this grand gesture to stop the raiding of the tombs that's taking place to the right where we see yet another body being removed from a tomb. Male voiceover: Okay. So if we look at the architecture you can see again this wonderfully recessive space with all of these arches and to the right of those arches we can see there's a series of tombs that are attached to the walls and in one close to us a figure is gently lowering one of these corpses. So, there's a kind of desecration at the same time that there's a kind of honoring. Female voiceover: Finally, on the lower right we see two figures who are possessed by demons who seem to be grabbing the body of a woman who's moving out of the canvas towards us. Male voiceover: And we haven't even talked about the thing that makes this painting most remarkable, in my eyes, which is the radical use of light, of color, of space. I've never seen a painter this early that has taken such license with the traditions of painting. Female voiceover: The space rushes back. The body of Saint Mark is heroic and elongated. The contrast of light and dark are dramatic and intense. It's as though all the tools of the Renaissance are being used for expressive purpose. Male voiceover: Look at the way that this produces an image that is so different from anything that we would expect from say Raphael. Instead, this is a world of mystery where only the faintest delineation of form is given. Female voiceover: So here we are in the 1560s after the Reformation, after the Council of Trent. This is Mannerism. All of the balance and harmony that we expect from the high Renaissance when we think about artists like Raphael. We have the opposite here. We have a composition that's coming apart, that's stretching at its seams. We can see here decades of Venetian artists' experience with oil paint. Belleni in the late 15th century, Titian, and here brought to a height of painterliness, of real visibility of brushwork by Tintoretto. (piano music)