Italian painter Tintoretto, new film


This video is called Tintoretto. A Rebel in Venice [2019] Documentary.

On 1 April 2019, I went to see the film Tintoretto. A Rebel in Venice, by director Giuseppe Domingo Romano.

Another director, Peter Greenaway, explains some of Tintoretto’s works in it.

The film celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of Tintoretto (1518-1594). He is sometimes called the last great artist of the Italian Renaissance.

He was a productive person: over 300 paintings, including the biggest ones painted so far.

Like Titian and Paola Veronese, he worked in Venice city. Unlike the two others, he was born there.

To be able to have his work in public buildings, Tintoretto used tricks a bit typical of a commercial city like Venice, like undercutting the wage proposals of his rivals to get commissions.

Tintoretto was an innovative artist. He is sometimes seen as a predecessor of movies, as his paintings suggest movement.

Tarquin and Lucretia, by Tintoretto

This Tintoretto painting shows the ancient legend of Lucretia. According to Roman historiography tradition, Prince Sextus Tarquinius tried to rape her. In the painting, that causes the breaking of Lucretia’s pearl necklace. The pearls fall down; some are depicted as they move half way between Lucretia’s neck and the floor.

The rape of Lucretia story inspired many other artists, including Rembrandt. The legend says that in 509 BC the son of the king of Rome, Sextus Tarquinius, raped Lucretia. He thought he could commit that crime with impunity, as he was a man, Lucretia a woman; he was a prince, Lucretia a subject. Like in 2015 a scion of the Saudi royal family harassed women sexually in the USA, saying: ‘I am a prince and I do what I want. You are nobody!’ Sextus Tarquinius told Lucretia that if she would not submit to being raped, then he would kill both her and one of her slaves, place their bodies together, and claim he had defended her husband’s honour when he caught her having adulterous sex. In despair, after the rape Lucretia then committed suicide.

Anger in Rome about the rape and suicide of Lucretia led to a revolt in which the royal family was deposed and replaced by the Roman republic.

That Roman republic became an inspiration for later revolutions in which monarchs were overthrown and replaced by republics. Like the eighteenth century American revolution against King George III of Britain, in which the first president of the USA, George Washington, was compared to Roman republican statesman Cincinnatus. During the French revolution against King Louis XVI revolutionary painter David painted scenes from Roman republican history.

In the seventeenth century, the Roman republic was an inspiration for English revolutionaries who deposed and beheaded King Charles I and made England a republic.

Why did Rembrandt, why did Tintoretto consider Lucretia a worthy subject? The film does not ask that question. According to ancient Roman historiography, Sextus Tarquinius’ royal dynasty were tyrants, killing people and taxing their subjects heavily. Like taxation and bloodshed had been causes of the Etruscan-Roman royal dynasty’s downfall, Spanish royal taxes and the Spanish inquisition burning Protestants at the stake had also been factors in the Dutch revolt. May Rembrandt not have seen a parallel between the royal dynasty of Rome and King Philip II and his successors in Spain; and between the successful republican revolt in Rome, and the succesful (at least in the northern Low Countries) Dutch revolt against the monarchy?

And may Tintoretto not have thought similarly, as his Venice, like later the northern Low Countries, was one of few republics in a Europe full of monarchies? I cannot say for sure, as I don’t know writings by Tintoretto, or Rembrandt, about this.

The film begins by pointing out that in Tintoretto’s 16th century, plague epidemics weakened Venice. The Venetian republic had been economically and politically important in the late Middle Ages. However, in the 16th century, commercial sea routes in the Mediterranean became proportionally less important than western Europe, the Americas and Asia. Yet, Venice was still artistically important.

Some of Tintoretto’s work is inspired by these plague epidemics; which he survived, but Titian did not.

Another review of this film is here.

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