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Tintoretto, The Finding of the Body of Saint Mark

Video transcript

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 st. mark the single most important saint for the city of venice this was commissioned for the scroll o of st. mark or the Confraternity of st. mark in Venice by a man named Rangoon a and he can be seen in the middle of the painting kneeling in that fabulous gold brocade gesturing down toward the body of Saint Mark now this whole painting takes place creepily in a cemetery prefect it's really creepy it's really dark and when the night scene and it's lit by a candle so you have this vast architectural space created by this rushing exaggerated perspective but before we get lost in the painting let's talk about what's actually taking place what's happening here so this is the story of the finding of the body of st. mark st. mark had died and was buried in Alexandria that is in Egypt and the story goes that in the ninth century Venetian merchants went to retrieve the body these Venetian merchants went to find the body of Saint Mark to bring it back to christen 'dom from Islamic Egypt from Islamic law Alexandria 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 we have a continuous narrative we have seen - 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 painted with a wonderful looseness it also reminds me that maintained is dead Christ with that wild foreshortening and the way that we look up the body from the feet up towards the head you see the texture of the oil paint and very dark outlines and very stark illumination on that body you also say Tintoretto's patron the man who paid for these paintings who seems to be gesturing towards the body of st. mark in a very protective way in a way that makes a sense that that figure does not belong to this time he's not a 9th century Venetian he's a 16th century Venetian 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 st. mark miraculously alive making this grand gesture to stop the rating of the tombs that's taking place to the right where we see yet another body being removed from a tomb 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 figures gently lowering one of these corpses so there's a kind of desecration at the same time that there's a kind of honouring 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 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 the space rushes back the body of st. mark is heroic and elongated the contrasts of light and dark are dramatic and intense it's as though all the tools of the Renaissance are being used for expressive purpose 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 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 it it seems we can see here decades a Venetian artists experience with oil paint Bellini in the late 15th century Titian and here brought to a height of painterly this a real visibility of brushwork bites in torretta