The Triumph of the City


The High Renaissance


(Renaissance  Art Map)


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Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese (1528-1588), was the most classical artist of this period. Although aware of Raphaelesque style of Correggio, the stylized elegance of Bronzino, and the architecture of Palladio and Sanmicheli, he developed his own distinctive and superbly visual style. A colourist of outstanding talent, he brought the same brilliance to the detail of a costume as to the muscles of a hunting dog, and represented the joie de vivre of 16th-century Venice to perfection. His masterpieces include a cycle of frescos for the Villa Barbara at Maser; feast scenes, of which the largest was Marriage at Cana (1563); and allegorical ceiling paintings in the Doges' Palace, Venice.


Doges' Palace

Italian Palazzo Ducale, official residence in Venice of the doges, who were the elected leaders of the former Venetian republic. The first palace was built in 814 and was burned by the populace in 976. It was reconstructed, damaged by a second fire, and begun in its present form in the early 14th century. In 1424 the completion of this Venetian Gothic-style palace was undertaken, and the two identical facades facing the Molo (steps) and the Piazzetta San Marco were extended. The Porta della Carta, the main gateway, was designed by Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon (Buon) and begun in 1438. Severe fires later necessitated rebuilding parts of the palace and destroyed the frescoes of, among others, Il Pisanello and paintings by the Bellini family and Titian. Partly in replacement of these, important paintings (still in situ) were commissioned from such artists as Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese.


The Marriage at Cana
Oil on canvas, 666 x 990 cm
Musee du Louvre, Paris



The Marriage at Cana (detail)



The Marriage at Cana (detail)



The Marriage at Cana (detail)


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born 1528, Verona, Republic of Venice [Italy]
died April 9, 1588, Venice

byname of Paolo Caliari one of the major painters of the 16th-century Venetian school. Hisworks usually are huge, vastly peopled canvases depicting allegorical, biblical, or historical subjects in splendid colour and set in a framework of classical architecture. A master of the use of colour, he also excelled at illusionary compositions that extend the eye beyond the actual confines of the room.

The early years

Caliari became known as Veronese after his birthplace. Though at first apprenticed as a stonecutter, his father's trade, he showed such a marked interest in painting that in his 14th year he was apprenticed to a painter named AntonioBadile, whose daughter Elena he later married. From Badile Veronese derived a sound basic painting technique as well as a passion for paintings in which people and architecture were integrated. The style of his first known work, Bevilacqua-Lazise Altarpiece, reflects Badile's influence. Veronese was also influenced by a group of painters that included Domenico Brusasorci, Giambattista Zelotti, and Paolo Farinati; attracted by Mannerist art, they studied the works of Giulio Romano, Raphael, Parmigiano, and Michelangelo. Fragments of a fresco decoration executed by Veronese in 1551 for the Villa Soranza in Treville (now in S. Liberale, Castelfranco), with their elegant decorative figures, already suggest a new idiom. The influence of Michelangelo is evident in a splendid canvas, Temptation of St. Anthony, painted in 1552 for the cathedral of Mantua.

In 1553 Veronese was introduced to Venice and launched on a long collaboration with the Venetian authorities in connection with the decoration of different parts of the Palazzo Ducale. The first of these commissions, the partitioned ceiling of the Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci (Hall of the Council of Ten), reveals characteristics of Veronese's mature style: skillful foreshortenings that make figures appear to be actually floating in space above the viewer, chromatic splendour, and luminous passages that endow even the shadows with colour.

In 1555, probably at the summons of the prior of S. Sebastiano in Venice, Veronese began the decoration of the church that was to become his burial place. Whereas in the Palazzo Ducale he had often worked in collaboration with Zelotti, Veronese worked alone in S. Sebastiano. In the Story of Esther, depicted on the ceiling, appear the first of hisrigorous compositions of foreshortened groups in luminous architectural frameworks and his decorative fancies that juxtapose animated, almost stereometric foregrounds and background figures wrought with a few strokes of light. The skilled fresco painter, who had worked in the villas and palaces of Venetian noblemen, including the beautiful boudoir of the Trevisan family in Murano, recounted the stories of St. Sebastian in elegantly fluent frescoes painted for the church (1558). In his decoration of the two shutters of the organ (1559), he again revealed his mastery of rhythmic composition and illusionistic perspective through extreme foreshortening. Contemporaneously with the decoration of S.Sebastiano, Veronese received numerous commissions for altarpieces, devotional paintings, and some “Suppers.” The theme of the latter—depicted in such paintings as The Pilgrims of Emmaus and Feast in the House of the Pharisee—allowed him to compose large groups of figures in increasingly complex Renaissance architectural settings that attest to his knowledge of the works of the 16th-century Venetian architects Michele Sanmicheli, Andrea Palladio, and Jacopo Sansovino.


The later years

The decoration of the villa at Maser (1561), built by Palladio for Daniele and Marcantonio Barbaro, the former a scholar and translator of the works of the Roman architect Vitruvius, marked a fundamental stage in the evolution of the art of Veronese and in the development of Venetian painting. Assisted by his brother Benedetto in the execution of the architectural framework, Paolo brilliantly interpreted the villa's Palladian rhythms, breaking through the walls with illusionistic landscapes and opening the ceilings to blue skies with figures from classical mythology. Mannerism had given way to harmonious rhythms and a superb handling of colour that imbued his frescoes with glowing vitality: the mythological scenes exalting human pleasures; the depiction of Barbaro's wife with the children and the wet nurse; and the landscapes, rendered in illusionistic perspective and detailed with classic ruins.

The classic compositions at Maser were succeeded by paintings with a tendency to monumentality and with a love for decorative pomp, as in The Marriage at Cana, executed in1562 and 1563 for the refectory of S. Giorgio Maggiore (now in the Louvre, Paris). In this work the planes are multiplied, space is dilated, and an assembly of people is accumulated in complex but ordered movements. In their solemn monumentality The Family of Darius Before Alexander and the canvasses executed for the Cuccina family (c. 1572), which contain splendid portraits, are more organic in structure.

The wealth of whimsical and novel narrative details characteristically incorporated in Veronese's paintings and particularly in the Last Supper, commissioned in 1573 by the convent of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, aroused the suspicion of the Inquisition's tribunal of the Holy Office, which summoned Veronese to defend the painting. The tribunal objected to the painting on grounds that it included irreverent elements, inappropriate to the holiness of the event, for example, a dog, a jester holding a parrot, and a servant with a bleeding nose. Replying that “we painters take the same liberties as poets and madmen take,” Veronese adroitly and staunchly defended the artist's right to freedom of imagination. The tribunal, perhaps influenced by the civil authority, elegantly resolved the question by suggesting that the theme be changed to a Feast in the House of Levi .

The nocturnal tone in the Adoration of the Magi in the church of Sta. Corona (Vicenza) endows the painting with a new intimacy, without renunciation of the characteristic Veronesian richness of colour, laid on with the minute, precious brush strokes also used in small canvases, both sacred and profane, executed during this period. These paintings represent the most authentic expressions of the last 15 years of Veronese's life; for discernible in the large decorations for the Palazzo Ducale begun during this period—including the Rape of Europa and the Apotheosis of Venice—is a greater participation of his workshop, where his brother Benedetto, his sons Carlo and Gabriele, his nephew Alvise dal Friso, and others were employed. In 1588 Veronese contracted a fever and died after a few days of illness. His brother and sons had him buried in S. Sebastiano, where a bust was placed above his grave.

The sons continued their father's work, signing it haeredes Pauli (“Paul's heirs”). They were able to make use of a quantity of splendid sketches and drawings. Among Veronese's last works were superb allegorical fables, such as a series for Rudolph II that included The Choice of Hercules and Allegory of Wisdom and Strength (Frick Collection, New York City); and Mars and Venus United by Love (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City), in which the figures are bound to each other by harmonious rhythms. His final work also included biblical scenes (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) with agitated, gloomy landscapes. A pathos-filled small altarpiece of St. Pantaleon Healing a Sick Boy and versions of the PietÓ exhibit a dramatic quality and a meditative mood unusual in Veronese's works. It is the other, the serene Veronese, characterized by splendid colour and a luminosity that animates groups of figures and pure architectural structures,who above all was loved in his time and in the following centuries. Various leading artists of the 17th century found him a source of inspiration—as did Sebastiano Ricci and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, who renewed the vital chromatic idiom of Venetian decorative painting. Nineteenth-century French painters from Eugene Delacroix to Paul CÚzanne looked to Veronese, inspired by his use of colour to expressexuberance as well as to model form.

Rodolfo Pallucchini





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Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto (1518-94), was the Venetian master of dramatic Mannerism, and there is a great psychological depth to his portraits. Influenced by Titian and the expressionist Roman style of Pordenone, his series for Venice's Scuola Grande di San Marco and Scuola Grande di San Rocco and his pieces for the Doge's Palace were among his most notable works. So, too, were the religious works the Last Judgment in the Madonna dell'Orto in Venice and the Discovery of the Body of St Mark in the Brera Gallery, Milan. Tintoretto's large body of work, produced at tremendous speed, deeply infiuenced the Baroque movement.





born c. 1518, , Venice
died May 31, 1594, Venice

byname of Jacopo Robusti great Mannerist painter of the Venetian school and one of the most important artists of the late Renaissance. Early paintings include “Vulcan Surprising Venus and Mars,” the Mannerist “Christ and the Adulteress,” and his masterpiece of 1594, “Last Supper” of S. Giorgio Maggiore. Increasingly concerned with the drama of light and space, he achieved in his mature work (e.g., “The Law and the Golden Calf,” c. 1562) a luminous, visionary quality.

Background and early years

Little is known of Tintoretto's life. In a will of 1539 he called himself an independent professional man—not a surprising description in view of his imposing and forceful personality. No documents have survived regarding Jacopo's artistic education. His biographers, among them Carlo Ridolfi, whose book was published in 1648, speak of an apprenticeship with Titian that was broken off because of the master's resentment of the pupil's proud nature and exceptional accomplishment. On the other hand, a contemporary pointedout that Tintoretto's style was formed by studying formal elements of the Tuscan school, especially those of Michelangelo, and of pictorial elements derived from Titian.

Most probably, Jacopo's precocious talent prompted his father to place him in the workshop of some undistinguished painter, but one with a solid artisan tradition so that his son might learn the foundations of his craft. Traces of an absolute style in his youthful works tend to corroborate this hypothesis. But he soon became aware of the variety of approaches tried by painters working between 1530 and 1540 in Venice and already reacting against the style of Giorgione, who was the first to merge forms and to subordinate local colour to its pervading tone. It was the emigration of Roman artists to Venice in 1527 after the sack of Rome by imperial troops, as well as subsequent contacts with painters from Tuscany and Bologna, that induced the painters of the Venetian school to return to greater plasticism, without altering the fundamental chromatic nature of the Venetian tradition. The influence of Michelangelo, the visit of the art historian Giorgio Vasari to Venice in 1541, and the journeys of Venetian artists to central Italy renewed Venetian painting in depth, giving it means of expression adapted to different types of pictures. In the renewed idiom, form and colour were blended in a synthesis in which light dominated so as to express a richly fantastic and visionary spirit. Thus the early works of Tintoretto were affected by all of these influences. Critics have identified a group of youthful works of Tintoretto, above all Sacre Conversazioni, the most important of which is in the Wildenstein Collection, New York City. Painted in 1540, it represents the Virgin with the Child on her knees, facing away from her, and six saints. While the style echoes various elements of the Venetian art of Tintoretto's time, italso shows a definite Michelangelesque influence.


A group of 14 octagonal ceiling paintings with mythological themes in Modena, at the Galleria e Museo Estense (originally painted for a Venetian palace), with their singular refinement in perspective and narrative clarity, also belong to Tintoretto's first phase. Among other influences, they recall the fashion of partitioned ceiling paintings imported to Venice by Vasari. This was also the period of Tintoretto's closest collaboration with Andrea Meldolla; together they decorated the Palazzo Zen with frescoes. The fresco technique had an important part in the formation of Tintoretto's idiom, for it suggested to him the quickness of execution that was to become fundamental to his manner of painting. Unfortunately only some 18th-century prints of his frescoes and a few fragments of the numerous frescoed facades that adorned Venice survive.

Tintoretto's drawing exercises were made from nature, from statues, and from small wax models posed in various ways and artificially illuminated, as in tiny stage sets. These methods were suited to the painter's concern with resolving problems of form and light. The indefatigable draftsman acquired a narrative fluency that allowed him to trace with a brisk brushstroke and fanciful inspiration the series of biblical stories, the mythological episodes for the poet Pietro Aretino's house in Venice (1545), and sacred compositions such as “Christ and the Adulteress,” in which figures set in vast spaces in fanciful perspectives are illuminated in a distinctly Mannerist style. Tintoretto returned to an earlier form of composition in his “Last Supper” of S. Marcuola (1547), in which the choice of rough and popular types succeeds in endorsing the scene with a portrayal of ordinary everyday reality struck with wonder by the revelation of the miracle.

A few months later Tintoretto became the centre of attention of artists and literary men with his “S. Marco Freeing the Slave.” A letter from Aretino, full of praise, yet also intended to temper Tintoretto's youthful exuberance, confirmed the fame of the 30-year-old painter. Relations between Tintoretto and Aretino did not come to an end at this point, even though one of Aretino's letters contains hintsof dissension. Although Aretino was no longer to write laudatory letters to Tintoretto, he commissioned him to execute family portraits. And after his death, his likeness was to appear in Tintoretto's huge “Crucifixion” of the Scuola Grande di S. Rocco (1565). The painting “S. Marco Freeing the Slave” is so rich in structural elements of post-Michelangelesque Roman art that it is reasonable to assume that Tintoretto had visited Rome. He did not, however, interrupt his artistic experiments. Stories from Genesis, painted for the Scuola della Trinita (1550–53), show a new attention to Titian's manner of painting as well as a palpable awareness of nature. The masterpiece of this phase is undoubtedly “Susanna Bathing”; the light creates Susanna's form in crystalline clarity against a background evoked with a fresh poetic sense.

In 1555 Tintoretto, now a famous and sought-after painter, married Faustina Episcopi, who, affectionate and devoted, bore him eight children. At least three of them—Marietta, Domenico, and Marco—learned their father's trade and became his associates. An artist of indefatigable activity, of a veritable fury of creativity, Tintoretto spent most of his life in the bosom of his family and in his workshop. But the love of solitude to which his biographer alludes did not prevent the painter from forming friendships with several artistic personalities. This particular period in Tintoretto's career—marked by greater vivacity of colour, by a predilection for a variegated perspective, and by a highly decorative quality—coincided with his growing admiration for the art of Paolo Veronese, who had been working in the Doges' Palace. The assimilation and transformation of the Veronesian elements in Tintoretto's work are discernible in his beautiful ceiling paintings of Bible stories, now in the Prado, Madrid.

The use of a colour that absorbs light yielded new possibilities for suggesting spaces no longer structured by the pure play of perspective. And in those spaces the painter introduced crowds in harmonized order with the rest of the picture, a feature that had until then been missing in Venetian art. It was at that time that Tintoretto began to participate in the decoration of the church of the Madonna dell'Orto and the private chapel of the Contarini family contained within it, which in 1563 became the final resting place of the great cardinal Gasparo. Tintoretto's works for the Madonna dell'Orto, which occupied him for approximately a decade, also give an idea of the evolution of the idiomatic elements of his art: the “Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple” (1552) was according to Vasari “a highly finished work, and the best executed and most successful painting that there is in the place”; in “St. Peter's Vision of the Cross” and in “The Decapitation of St. Paul” (c. 1556), the figures stand out dramatically on a space suffused with a vaporous, unreal light. In the two enormous canvases depicting the Jews worshipping the golden calf while Moses on Mt. Sinai receives the tables of the law and a Last Judgment, Tintoretto painted two works of the highest rank with a great richness of narrative means, with an awareness of the thematic link between the two scenes that attests to a knowledge of scripture and of contemporary spiritual movements. The high figurative quality of the two paintings implies that Tintoretto made a number of experiments in this decade. Proof of this is, above all, the dramatic style in which the scenes are executed, a style that firmly impresses their romantic pathos on the beholder. Tintoretto's spatial conception has a dynamic character. As a modern critic has noted, Tintoretto conveys a feeling of an almost precipitate falling forward or of an equally swift rise. The contrasted movements give the figures a similar instability. To achieve such effects Tintoretto used formulas that were invariably different: in “The Pool of Bethesda” in the church of S. Rocco (1559) the evangelical episode is realized in a compressed space through which the foreshortened ceiling seems to weigh upon the milling crowd; in “St. George and the Dragon” Tintoretto sets the fable in a landscape of considerable depth, intersected by the white walls of the city. A series of canvases that the philosopher and physician Tommaso Rangone, grand guardian of the Scuola di S. Marco, commissioned from Tintoretto in 1562 contains similar elements.

In May 1564 the councillors of the Scuola Grande di S. Rocco decided to have the Sala dell'Albergo decorated with paintings, in place of the movable decorations used during feast days. S. Rocco (St. Roch) is the protector against plagues; the numerous epidemics of that period had given new impetus to the cult of the saint and caused great riches to flow to the Scuola, which built a splendid centre to assist the poor and the infirm. When Tintoretto presented the Scuola with his oval painting the “Glorification of S. Rocco,” the directors decided to entrust him with the decoration of the Sala. Vasari relates that designs were invited from various prominent artists, including Paolo Veronese, but Tintoretto, who presented his work already installed in the Sala, won hands down over his competitors. Similar episodes are counted by contemporary sources as proof that when it came to his work the painter knew no scruples. He was indeed a man devoured by the passion for painting and not for pecuniary gain, for he committed himself to grandiose undertakings for exceedingly modest remuneration.

The question of who assisted Tintoretto in his dizzying activity is still open: at that time Marietta was only about nine and Domenico four; but it is known that in 1560 his studio began to be visited by young painters, especially from the Netherlands and Germany. In 1565 his immense “Crucifixion” was displayed in the Sala dell'Albergo. Around Christ, in the centre, many figures revolve in a livid light that, muting the picture's colours, invests it with dramatic power. The decoration of the chamber was completed in 1567; it included other scenes of Christ's Passion, remarkable for their thematic innovations.

Vasari, who visited Venice in 1566 to bring his Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors up to date, had an opportunity to follow Tintoretto's work in progress. Undoubtedly he had the painter's most recent works in mind when he wrote that Tintoretto was “the mostextraordinary brain that the art of painting has produced.” For all his fundamental reservations about Tintoretto's style, Vasari sensed his greatness.

In 1576, with renewed zeal, Tintoretto resumed the decoration of the Scuola Grande di S. Rocco. He had finished the huge central panel of the upper hall with “The Erection ofthe Brazen Serpent” in time for the feast of the saint on August 16 and promised to paint a certain number of canvases, “wishing to demonstrate the great love that I bear for the saint and our venerable school, because of my devotion to the glorious Messer San Rocho.” In 1581 all the ceiling paintings were completed (10 ovals and 8 rhomboid chiaroscuro panels; the latter restored in the 18th century) and 10 teleri on the walls. Certainly the fundamental idea goes back to the conception elaborated in the rough illustrations of the Biblia Pauperum—i.e., the concordance of the Old and New Testaments.

It seems almost impossible that in the same year the paintershould have executed the four mythological allegories for the Doges' Palace, of which the most famous is that of “Ariadne, Bacchus, and Venus.” All are works of great elegance, with an almost academic finishing touch. But the real Tintoretto is certainly to be found in S. Rocco, where he bears witness to his great faith and, like the medieval mosaicists, offers an illustrated Bible to the crowds of the poor who frequented the beneficent institution. His deep but independent faith in the religious myths, unrestricted by anyrules of the Counter-Reformation, is apparent as much in thestriking sketch of “The Council of Trent” (Turin, private collection), executed for the Doge Da Ponte, as in the altarpiece of S. Trovaso, executed in 1577 for Milledonne, a participant and historian of the Council, with the semi-nude women who tempt St. Anthony.

By 1577 Marietta and Domenico, already officers of the painters' guild, could help their father, together with other future artists of the close of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century. Certainly the presence of collaborators is obvious in two cycles: the eight scenes of the “Gonzaga Cycle” (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), with vivid scenes of battles, painted between 1579 and 1580, and the many paintings for the halls of the Scrutinio and of the Maggior Consiglio in the Doges' Palace, which the Republic wanted toadorn with new canvases after the fire of 1577. It was certainly more his wish to finish his immense work in the decoration of S. Rocco than it was his advanced age that induced the painter to leave the canvases of the Doges' Palace largely to his workshop.

In the canvases executed between 1583 and 1587 for the lower hall of the Scuola Grande di S. Rocco, depicting episodes of the life of Mary and Christ, Tintoretto follows a new direction: light in its most lyrical meaning dominates the paintings, dissolving the colour in a flash of diaphanous brushstrokes. Space is multiplied in unlimited successions ofperspectives; the scenery at times prevails over the human figure, as in the two great works in the ground floor hall, with the “St. Mary of Egypt” and the “St. Mary Magdalene” immersed in an incandescent hazy atmosphere in which things are animated with a life of their own: an invitation to the contemplative life of the 70-year-old painter, more than ever leaning toward the view of man and his destiny offered by the Christian faith. A marvelous model (in the Louvre) of the “Paradise” for the Doges' Palace and “The Last Supper” of S. Giorgio Maggiore (see ), with the incorporeal apparitions of angelic creatures, finished a few months before his death, are proof of Tintoretto's deep spiritual bent. He died in 1594 and was buried in the church of Madonna dell'Orto next to his favourite child, Marietta.

Tintoretto was a painter with a wholly personal, constantlyevolving technique and vision. Although it is almost certain that his family was originally from Lucca, Tintoretto (a nickname meaning “little dyer,” after his father's profession of silk dyer, or tintore) is considered a Venetian painter, not only by birth but because he always lived in Venice and because with his innumerable works he contributed to creating the face of that city. He was not only an exponent ofthe witness to the life of the city, of the sacred and profane complex pictorial developments of Venetian art, but of the myths of a society that formed a part of the dramatic history of 16th-century Italy.

Tintoretto's art was much discussed and highly appreciated in Venice in the years after his death, above all in the acute evaluations of Marco Boschini, the great 17th-century critic of Venetian painting. Roger de Piles, following in the latter's footsteps, exalted Tintoretto's luministic idiom. But to the 18th century, the closer it drew to 19th-century Neoclassical rationality, Tintoretto appears excessive and too remote from its own sensibility. John Ruskin's romantic enthusiasm inaugurated a new attitude toward the art of Tintoretto. And modern art historiographyis coming to recognize in him the greatest representative of that wide-ranging European movement that was Mannerism, interpreted in accordance with the great Venetian tradition.

Rodolfo Pallucchini



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Susanna and the Elders

c. 1555

The third voyeur stood before the canvas

Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen


Susanna and the Elders
c. 1555
Oil on canvas, 146,6 x 193,6 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna




A young woman, naked, sits at the edge of a pond. She gazes into her mirror, engrossed in the reflection of her body, unaware of watching eyes. Presently, the two old men will approach her. The painting shows the moment before she is startled.
The story upon which this painting is based is thought to have occurred in Babylon, where the Jews were in exile, some 590 years before Christ's birth. One of the "most honoured" of Jews was Joakim, who "was very rich and had a fine garden". He was married to Susanna, "a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord", who liked to bathe in the garden on hot days.
According to the Greek version of the Book of Daniel, two Jewish elders who had been appointed judges would often come to the wealthy Joakim's house to discuss law suits. On seeing Susanna, they were "overwhelmed with passion" and decided to wait for an opportune moment when they might find her alone and force her "consent". If she refused them, they would let it be known that they had found her with a lover. They made their advances and established their conditions, whereupon Susanna cried out: "I am completely trapped", for she knew that witness borne by two highly respected judges would weigh more heavily than her plea of innocence, and that she would be put to death as an adultress. Should she give in to their blackmail, however, she would not only bring dishonour to her husband, but would break the divine law. Her decision was clear: "I choose not to do it; I will fall into your hands, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord."
During her trial the frustrated elders accused Susanna of adultery with a stranger, but "just as she was being led off to execution, God stirred up the spirit of a young lad named Daniel, and he shouted with a loud voice: I want no part in shedding this woman's blood!" Daniel demanded a return to court, where he subjected the elders to separate examination. Asked under which tree they had seen the lovers intimate, the first elder replied: "under a mastic tree"; the second: "under an evergreen oak". This was enough to prove they had given false evidence, and the Jews "did to them, as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbour. Acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death."
Different translations of the story have led to a number of variants. The Greek version of the Book of Daniel, for example, refers to a "mastic tree" (the quotations above, taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, are based on a Greek version attributed to Theodotion), whereas the most famous translation into German, by Martin Luther, refers to an indigenous German tree: the linden.
The original "History of Susanna" was not written in Greek but Hebrew, however, and Bible scholars have suggested the story once served to illustrate one side of the argument during a dispute between two Jewish schools of thought on the value of testimony. Yet other scholars think the story may derive from an older, oriental tale which, in time, was incorporated into the story of the prophet Daniel. Daniel is supposed to have come as a Jewish prisoner to Babylon and, even as a boy, gained a reputation for his wisdom.
Theologians arc generally unconvinced by this figure, however. Luther, for example, translated only parts of the Book of Daniel, collecting these in an Apocrypha with various other texts considered less authoratative than the rest of the Old Testament. Luther's Apocrypha opens with the "History of Susanna and Daniel", a theme that enjoyed immense popularity during the Reformation and Counter-Reformatation, especially in Italy and Germany. Various adaptations of the material appeared, including some for the stage. Sixt Birck's "History of the Pious and Godfearing Woman Susanna" appeared in 1532, and in 1535 a "Religious Play Concerning the God-fearing and Chaste Woman Susanna, a Tale Entertaining and Terrifying to Read"; in 1562 the popular Nuremberg cobbler and poet Hans Sachs wrote "Susanna and the Two False Judges".



Cowardly assault on a woman's virtue


Susanna and the Elders (detail)


The dramatized versions invariably centre the action around the trial, with copious reference to the woman's piety and fidelity, as well as to the justice of God. Such features are absent in the work of the Venetian painter Tintoretto (1518-1594). Instead, he portrays a naked woman enjoying the sight of her own body, watched by two voyeurs. Rather than moral instruction, the artist offers aesthetically ingratiating eroticism, together with the thrill of the illicit.
This was not always the case. Scenes from the story in 4th-century frescos in the catacombs, or on sarcophogi, or a 9th-century crystal vase, do not show Susanna bathing, but fully clothed, walking in the garden. One fresco depicts her as a lamb between two wolves. In this context, and at some remove from the original purpose of the tale, Susanna's besieged innocence was intended to illustrate the predicament of Christians, trapped between Jews and pagans.
Interest in Susanna as a female nude rew with the rediscovery by Renaissance artists and philosophers of the human body. In their search for appropriate themes and models, artists were drawn to the myths of pagan antiquity, especially to the figure of Venus, as well as to ecclesiastical and Biblical models. Countless versions were painted of St. Sebastian, whose body, pierced by arrows, was young, male and beautiful. Again and again, artists returned to Adam and Eve, as well as to Susanna bathing.
The artists, mostly men, characteristically played down the cowardly assault on Susanna's chastity by members of their sex, depicting it as little more than a friendly advance. Or they gave a certain frisson to Susanna's fear, flattering the superiority complex of their male spectators. In another Susanna by Tintoretto, now in the Prado in Madrid, the hand of one long-beard already rests on the breast of the un-protcsting naked woman. The scene, like the versions of several other artists, makes the prospect of an adulterous "passion" seem far from unpleasant to the beautiful woman; on the contrary, she is apparently willing to give it some thought. Thus a paragon of virtue and piety is transformed to the object of male lust.
The Roman painter Artemisia Gentiles-chi (1593-1651), on the other hand, shows the perspective of a woman in desperate straits. Her Susanna sits on a bench, over whose backrest two men threateningly lean. The relations of power are exposed in the proportions, with enormous men towering over the slender figure of a woman. Court records reveal that the artist was raped in her youth. She was painting from experience.




Beauty in the shade of trees



Susanna and the Elders (detail)


Tintoretto's painting in Vienna tells a different story. Certainly, there is something menacing in the appearance of the old man in the foreground. The shapeless red toga and powerful skull on the ground are reminiscent of a gigantic snake. The red cloak itself was seen as a symbol of power by Tintoretto's contemporaries. Only members of the patrician class were entitled to wear such robes during the 16th century, and only patricians attained high state office.
But the appearance of the two old men lays them open to ridicule, too. The behaviour of the one, crawling around on the ground, suggests a toddler rather than the dignity that comes with age, while the man in the background seems too preoccupied with his own feet and the danger of stumbling to remember the object of his desire. They would appear to have very little chance against the large, radiant body of the woman.
The painting (147 x 194 cm), now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, is undated, but most experts think it was executed c. 1555. This is in keeping with the contemporary hair fashion of braided hair.
By* contrast, the pale red tint had always been fashionable among Venetian woman, who dyed their hair with special tinctures before letting it bleach in the sunshine while sitting out on the roof gardens of their houses. To this end they would cut out the middle of their straw hats, letting their hair fall over the broad brim.
However, one contemporary gossip claimed that the splendid coiffures of Venetian ladies were usually not theirs at all, but had been "acquired". Hair, he wrote, was sold every day in St. Mark's Square. Despite his long white beard, he had even been offered some himself.
The broad-brimmed hats with centrepieces removed were supposed not only to expose as much as possible of the hair to the sun, but also to protect the face and, by dint of an attached veil, the body too. For skin had to be pale.
White skin - not only in Venice - was considered the ideal of feminine beauty. It was also a class attribute: whereas working women could not afford to cultivate a refined pallor, a lady of the Venetian upper class was unlikely to be seen bathing in the open and exposing her body to the sun.
Tintoretto shows not only the pale skin but the plump figure favoured by contemporary women's fashion. He avoids all reference to pubic hair or nipples, though it was not uncommon for Venetian women to apply rouge to their nipples and expose them on festive occasions, their breasts well supported by a steel-stiffened bodice.
But other rules applied in art - for aesthetic reasons, or for fear of the Church's watchful eye. The Counter-Reformation was in full swing in Italy, and the Council of Trent (1545-1563) intended to harness the arts to a new propaganda campaign.
Erotically charged religious themes were not in themselves considered offensive, but a line was drawn at the erotic use of sexual imagery. In painting the nude, Tintoretto always toned down, or omitted altogether, the signal colours of the female gemtalia.
The identity of the model remains unclear. It is maintained that women were forbidden to sit for artists, and that life painting was restricted to the portrayal of the male body. But this can only have applied to the academies, for in his account-books, Tintoretto's Venetian contemporary Lorenzo Lotto records: "to draw a nude, 3 libri, 10 soldi. For a mere showing, 12 soldi." Lotto noted that his sitters were "courtisans or common women without shameful scruples".
However, circumstances may have made it somewhat easier for Tintoretto. In 1553 he married Faustina, the daughter of a re-spected Venetian. His father-in-law was the headmaster of a religious "scuola", and became a patron of the artist. Venetian women usually married at the age of 15 or 16, so that Faustina, in 1555, was probably still under twenty, while Tintoretto was probably 37. Perhaps Susanna's gaze at her reflection -while drying her leg, the contemplative grace of a woman who believes herself alone, was based on the artist's own observations of Faustina. Painters, too, are voyeurs.
Faustina bore him eight surviving children. At his death in 1594 Tintoretto left all he owned to his "carissima mia consorte madonna Faustina Episcopi", his deeply beloved wife.


A centre of luxury and fashion

Susanna and the Elders (detail)


The Venetians' political and economic power had waned by the time this picture was painted. They had been driven from the eastern Mediterranean by the Turks, and a shifting alliance of forces was now ranged against them in the west. Venice was no longer the point of intersection of important trade routes. Ships now sailed from the Atlantic coast of Europe -around the Cape of Good Hope to Asia, or across the Atlantic to the American colonies.
Venice had lost its status as a world power, but its great wealth was undiminished, as was the zest for luxury displayed by its inhabitants. Jacopo Sansovino and Andrea Palladio, the architects, built the city's magnificent churches, bridges and villas. Tintoretto's contemporaries were Titian, Paolo Veronese, Giacomo Bassano and Lorenzo Lotto. Venice was a centre of the arts.
The town was also the manufacturing centre of luxury goods: in 1554 there were 12,000 workers alone employed in the production of silks. Velvet and silk, as well as jewels, silverware and Murano mirrors, were the most important exported goods. Tintoretto includes a small selection of exquisite objects in the form of a still life spread out at Susanna's feet: a pearl necklace, a hairpin, a silk scarf. The comb may be carved from ivory, while the silver vessel with the glass lid would be used to keep creams or perfumes. Mirrors of glass, rather than metal, had not been long in use, and earrings of the type worn by Susanna in the painting had been permissable, and usual ladies' jewellery only since 1525.
Perhaps it was Faustina who persuaded her husband that beautiful objects were the appropriate accessories for a beautiful woman. She had been born into a wealthy, and more highly respected family than her artist husband. His father had been a silk-dyer, a "tintor". Though his real name was Jacopo Robusti, the artist chose to retain the name given him as a child: Tintoretto, the dyer's little boy. Though the artist's dress habits were generally demure, he is reported, as an older man, to have worn a toga "in order to please his wife". His toga would not have been red, however, but black, as befitted an ordinary citizen.
Venice may have lost power and influence in the 16th century, but it remained sacred in the eyes of its citizens, who were unanimous in their desire to maintain the status quo, including its law and order. This was reflected in the administration of justice in Venice: crimes against the state were punished ruthlessly. One of the threats to public order was calumny, for magistrates depended on informants to report crimes, and denunciation was a pillar of justice. A law passed in 1542 therefore demanded that an executioner "cut off the right hand and then the tongue" of anybody who slandered an innocent person or gave false testimony, "to ensure that such persons shall not speak again". If false witness had led to the death of the accused, or to the exoneration of someone deserving the death penalty, "then the offender's head must be cut off".
In Babylon the two old men in the story of Susanna were put to death; in Venice the slanderers would have lost only their right hands and tongues, for adultery no longer carried the death penalty.
Cases of adultery, in any case, were generally settled with extreme discretion out of court during the 16th century. If the accused was a woman of patrician background, she would simply disappear into a nunnery. The crime of rape was equally rarely tried. Sentences were lenient: seldom more than a few months imprisonment and a fine. The judges were all men; and anyway, rape did not seriously undermine the public order.



Art and nature, harmony in a garden



Susanna and the Elders (detail)


Despite the unusual density of buildings on the Venetian islands, there were also gardens - though the majority of these were situated at the baek of palazzi belonging to patrician families. Those who could afford to do so had a villa built on the mainland, where there was room to spread out.
Landscape gardening was highly fashionable in the 16th century, and Tintoretto's painting records several characteristic features of contemporary design. The ideal was the harmony of nature and art, order and wilderness. Statues were essential, and several are included in the present scene. The trellis fence, wall of roses and deep perspective provide a regular structure. Various authors had demanded that a proper garden include the flora and fauna of the region, and Tintoretto's deer, ducks and bird are a tribute to local variety.
However, the animals are there to remind us of the Garden of Eden, too. Contemporary spectators sought hidden allusions to anything beyond the apparent theme of the painting, and Tintoretto's work - with its cryptic reference to prelap-sarian Eve spied upon by a serpent - is unlikely to have disappointed them. A de-sexualized female body also permitted associations with the Virgin Mary. Mirrors and water were considered symbols of purity; roses were a Marian attribute.
Besides hidden references and the illustration of horticultural fashion, Susanna's surroundings are primarily the painter's invention and arranged in such a way as to emphasize the radiant purity of the virtuous woman, while simultaneously creating an atmosphere of imminent catastrophe. The wall of roses, for example, is exceedingly dark, its triangular shadow almost black. There is an ominous-looking thicket of impenetrable trees and bushes at Susanna's back. Technically, the dark planes of colour serve to emphasize the brilliance of her body; psychologically, they signal impending doom. A similar effect is achieved by the vista in the background, which draws the eye past the old man and through the arbour to the trees in the distance. Technically, it stabilizes the composition, centering the painting along an axis; psychologically, however, it renders Susanna highly vulnerable, exposing a scene whose intimacy one might expect to find within the seclusion of a private interior.
It is not clear how often Tintoretto actually painted Susanna and the Elders. Five versions survive, of which the painting now in Vienna must surely rank as the most beautiful. These paintings, intended for private interiors, were bought by Venetian patricians, many of whom had themselves attained considerable dignity as the subject of one of Tintoretto's over 100 portraits. Several bear a strong resemblance to the old voyeurs in the painting. Whoever commissioned the work evidently was not disturbed to find - besides a beautiful nude - his own image, or those of two of his peers, portrayed in such a shameful role.
Rather than the mass production of portraits, or painting female nudes with Biblical or antique names, Tintoretto's main work, aided by his assistants, lay in the creation of gigantic religious works. On countless square metres of canvas painted for the Doge's palace, for churches and houses owned by religious brotherhoods, Tintoretto extolled the martydom of the saints, or opened the Heavens to view, drawing the spectator's eye, past hosts of angels, into the Beyond. Foreshortening, exemplified in the present work by the figure of the old man lying on the ground, dramatic lighting and surprise vistas, such as that in Susanna's garden, were typical features of his style. Exact perspective was of little interest, realism an alien notion. He painted his visions: and one of the most impressive was this - possibly quite private -view of Susanna in her enchanted garden.


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