By 1883, Jacopo Tintoretto, his son Domenico and their workshop had completed the last paintings for the Sala terrena in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice. In his final decade, Jacopo, now in his mid-sixties, understandably delegated more and painted less.
Jacopo is believed to have been more involved in the aerial spectacular of The Archangel Michael in Combat with Lucifer (E&I 287), which was probably painted during the 1580s or possibly even the early 1590s. Beneath the Virgin Mary carrying the infant Jesus, her left foot resting on a crescent moon, and the figure of God the Father at the upper right, Michael is shown impaling the devil, forming a strong diagonal with his spear.
The Visitation (E&I 293) from about 1588 celebrates one of the lesser-known feasts in the Christian calendar, to mark the visit made by the Virgin Mary during her pregnancy to Elizabeth, who was at the time pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary stayed for as long as three months, which probably included her attendance at Elizabeth’s confinement and the birth of John. Their exchange leads to one of the greatest sections in the Christian liturgy, the Magnificat (“My soul doth magnify the Lord…”).
In this, his last surviving painting for the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, where it was hung on the staircase, Tintoretto shows the two women embracing and supporting one another, with their older husbands on each side.
The Doge’s Palace, or Palazzo Ducale, in Venice had been all but destroyed by fire in 1577. Among the great art works which were destroyed in that was a fresco from around 1365 by Guariento. In 1582 the commission overseeing the restoration of the palace held a competition to select a new work to replace that. Entries were received from Veronese, Palma Giovane, Francesco Bassano, and Tintoretto. Each submitted a study proposing their design for the finished work: Tintoretto’s is now in the Louvre in Paris.
The room in which this painting was to be hung, the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, is one of the most majestic and imposing in the whole building, and was used for meetings of the Grand Council of Venice, at which it considered legislation and elected the city’s magistrates.
Veronese and Bassano were successful in obtaining the commission, but Veronese died in 1588, and Bassano had made no progress. So in 1588, the task was passed to Jacopo Tintoretto, who was now seventy years old but had a thriving workshop.
The resulting painting, which is seven metres (almost twenty-three feet) high and twenty-two metres (over seventy feet) across, was probably designed by Jacopo and largely entrusted to his son Domenico and the workshop to paint. In conformity with the rules of the commission, its composition focusses on the Coronation of the Virgin, inspired by Dante’s Paradise, as shown in the detail below.
At the top, the Virgin Mary, behind whom is her traditional symbol of the white lily, stands with Jesus Christ, in their matching red and blue robes. Between them is the white dove of the Holy Ghost, and all around are cherubic heads of infant angels. To the right are the scales of justice, also for the weighing of souls.
Even at the height of his powers, and with his exceptionally fast brushwork, completing such a huge work would have been a major feat for Jacopo.
At the time, the workshop also produced substantial works for other rooms in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, Il Redentore, and Sant’Afra in Brescia.
Now in the Accademia in Venice, this marvellous painting of the Dream of Saint Mark, or Pax Tibi Marce, (E&I 305) probably from the early 1590s, was originally one of several made for the Sala Grande of the Scuola Grande di San Marco (note San Marco, not San Rocco), mainly under the direction of Domenico. In this instance, it is thought that Jacopo had greater input to its design and composition, with its references going back to his Miracle of the Slave in 1548.
The last three paintings with which Jacopo seems to have been closely involved perhaps reflect his own thoughts as he reached his mid-seventies.
This Last Supper (E&I 309) from 1592-94 was painted by Domenico and the workshop for the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. It is more formal than Jacopo’s earlier compositions, showing Christ administering the sacrament to his disciples. The almost signature dog is now almost hidden under the near corner of the table, while another pet buries its head in a basket of food. There is no sign of any crawling child on the floor, which is quite crowded with those serving the meal. The double oil lamp hanging above the table is emanating angels.
Another Last Supper (E&I 310), also from 1592-94, was probably designed by Jacopo but executed by Domenico and the workshop for the Duomo di San Martino in Lucca, Tuscany, far to the south-west on the other side of Italy. It shows Jacopo’s influence receding, with slightly awkward persepective projection (the table, in particular), and loss of his signature details.
The last surviving painting in which Jacopo is thought to have had control over design is The Entombment (E&I 313), also from 1592-94. This was painted mainly by Domenico for the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, although Jacopo may have contributed some passages.
Jacopo’s final years had not been without grief: in 1590, Marietta, his thirty-year old daughter and a successful portrait painter, had died. In May 1594, Jacopo himself fell ill, with severe abdominal pains and a high fever. He died on 31 May, and is buried in the Church of the Madonna dell’Orto in Venice, in the midst of some of his greatest early paintings.
Robert Echols and Frederick Ilchman (2009) Toward a new Tintoretto Catalogue, with a Checklist of revised Attributions and a new Chronology, in Falomir op cit.
Miguel Falomir (ed) (2009) Jacopo Tintoretto, Proceedings of the International Symposium, Museo Nacional del Prado. ISBN 978 84 8480 171 9.
Roland Krischel (ed) (2017) Tintoretto, A Star was Born, Hirmer (in German). ISBN 978 3 777 42942 7.
Tom Nichols (2015) Tintoretto, Tradition and Identity, 2nd edition, Reaktion Books. ISBN 978 1 78023 450 2.
Joyce Plesters (1980) Tintoretto’s Paintings in the National Gallery Part II: Materials and techniques, National Gallery Technical Bulletin 4: 32-48.