Room 9 holds most of Tintoretto’s paintings in the Academy, and among them are many notable portraits. As a painter of men, and particularly of middle-aged and old men, Tintoretto has rarely been excelled. Often little more than sketches, so far as handling goes, they have a vigour, a life, a fire, that few artists have equalled. The great number of these male portraits by the fiery genius that could cover more yards of canvas in a month than most of his brethren, either before or since, could in a year, is only another proof of the amazing breadth of his genius. Considering the gigantic nature of most of Tintoretto’s achievements, these portraits impress one as being the work of his off hours, recreative breaks, as it were, in the midst of stupendous labours. What to less appallingly fertile brains might alone have been sufficient accomplishment for an entire lifetime, seems with him the result of his playtime, his breathing-spaces. They are more brutally frank, as a rule, than Titian allowed his brush to be. There is not always about them that air of well-being, and, at least, superficial good breeding, so noticeable in the elder man’s portraits. On the other hand, they do not search the depths as do the greater portraits of Lotto. Tintoretto expressed what he saw, and also what he felt, as he transferred to canvas these solid, if a trifle heavy, these world-weary yet supremely active, these luxury-loving men of affairs, men in whose hands the future of Venice was daily growing more precarious, more certainly lost. But as for probing the secrets of their hearts, attempting any psychologic analysis of their double or single motives, that he had no time for. He might see a hint of it all in furtive eye, in erect, suspicious carriage, in overtense movement, in deepened, tale-bearing line. Well and good, into the portrait the half-closed lid, the watchful air, the furrowed cheek, the weakened mouth would go, and you could draw your own conclusions. He was far too intent on weightier matters to do it for you, or to give any fuller answer to your probing questions. The portraits here of senator, ambassador, procurator, doge, show his characteristics strongly. They are business men, these chiefs of Venetian public life, who, in spite of threescore years, are as full of life and the capacity for doing as a youth of twenty. But they show, too, almost invariably, the effect of the luxurious life of the time. They are active, but they have more interest in achieving their own purposes, in filling their own pockets, than in conserving the rights of others or in steering their ship of state to a noble course.
Among them all it is, perhaps, invidious to pick out any few for special description, but certainly one of the most famous is that of the Doge Alvise Mocenigo, a picture formerly in the Ufficio dei Procuratori di Ultra. It is a life-size, little more than half-length portrait, and represents the doge sitting, turned three-quarters to the left, his eyes turned in the opposite direction, his hands resting lightly on the arms of the chair. His robes are brown, and the whole picture is a symphony of brown and gray. The doge has his ducal cap on his head; his beard is long but thin, showing plainly his full-pursed lips. His large, watchful eyes, long, heavy nose, and the somewhat bloated flesh under his eyes, indicate a coarseness of fibre in the sitter that history does not contradict.
Extremely vigorous in delineative power is the Portrait of a Man, shown standing, clad in a belted, full black jacket bordered with ermine, a white collar over the fur at his neck. He is facing three-quarters to the left, his eyes turned to the spectator, an opening in the wall beside him displaying a roughly executed landscape, and at the right behind him a drapery of green tones. He is of middle age, with short dark hair banged irregularly across his high but rather narrow forehead, his short beard and moustache not fully covering the upper lip. The lids are heavy, the nose fleshy and long. The effect is that of an inactive, stub-born personality. The colouring of the flesh is reddish, and the whole picture is painted with that surety and ease which were Tintoretto’s birth-dower.
The portrait of Antonio Cappello, Procurator of San Marco in 1525, has been ascribed to Titian, and also to Mazza. If it is Tintoretto’s, it is probably an early work, showing a solidity but hardness of modelling characteristic of his youthful style. It represents a middle-aged man with graying hair and beard, in a claret-coloured robe bordered with ermine, his right hand held out before him. The tones are luminous against the dark background, and, as one critic aptly remarks, he looks quite the modern Englishman.
Marco Grimani is another of somewhat doubtful attribution. It has even been given to Palma the Younger. It is a life-size, half-length portrait, dis-playing the procurator standing, turning three-quarters to the right, his head to the left. His hair, beard, and moustache are white, his loose robe a dark red brocade bordered with ermine. His right hand holds a white handkerchief or scarf. Piercing eyes look out from under shaggy brows, and give life and thought to an otherwise heavy and ordinary face.
Andrea Cappello, another Procurator of San Marco, is depicted richly dressed in a garnet gown, ermine-edged, with black hair and white beard and moustache, his body facing three-quarters to the right, his face turned full to the spectator. At the right is a column, on which is an escutcheon and the letter A.
More noted is Battista Morosini, a canvas which is a study in gray greens. The figure is standing before a wall, three-quarters turned to the left, the gaze regardful, keen, the black hair and white beard and moustache making a strong contrast, and furnishing the only vigorous accents in this nearly one-toned picture. At his left is a green drapery, at the right a distant view of a landscape which carries out the green note of the composition.
Beside the portraits in this room, there are many religious pictures by Tintoretto, most of which, however, do not show the master at his finest ex-pression.
In one of these, the Virgin Enskyed with St. Cosmo and St. Damian in Adoration, there is to be found little real feeling, or any high conception of the requirements of a sacred composition. The Madonna herself, however, is wonderfully tender and lovely, despite her gigantic figure with its Michelangelesque strength and commandingness. Seldom did Tintoretto succeed in expressing such womanly charm and beauty. Not less exquisite is the little Christ, leaning forward on her lap, gazing intently at the scene below. If this part of the picture could be cut out and taken away from the lower mass, with its turbulent clouds and its excited saints, it would undoubtedly be considered one of Tintoretto’s most inspired works. As it is, the composition is badly spotted, the saints are bent and twisted in an unexplained furor, and the whole thing strikes a strident, theatric note.
In the upper left-hand corner sits Mary, on rolling clouds, her foot resting on the crescent moon. She, as well as the Child in her arms, is bent for-ward, looking at the two saints, Cosmo and Damian, who kneel on the ground far below, at the right and left. The Madonna is so far above their heads that it is evident they have difficulty to see her at all. This necessitates such a strained position that they appear in momentary danger of falling backward. Between them and the Madonna, amidst a mass of clouds at the left, is St. Cecilia, her hand on her breast, her head lifted high in profile, gazing distractedly at the Madonna, her small pipe-organ on the clouds beside her. At the right are seen St. Theodore holding a standard, and another saint pressing a child to his breast. St. Theodore is in full armour, and, with extended hand, seems presenting the two kneeling ones below to the Madonna. About in the sky are cherubim and seraphim.
The colour of this picture is rather vivid, emphasized by the masses of white clouds, and the lighting, as well as the action of the figures, is positively violent in its contrasts and movements.
The Madonna with Sts. Theodore, Sebastian, and Mark Adored by Three Senators reveals the Madonna sitting at the top of a low flight of steps, holding Jesus on her knees, with St. Joseph behind her. On a step at the left is St. Sebastian, sitting, pierced with arrows, arms bound to a pillar. On the other side are St. Theodore, in armour, and St. Mark below him. Before this group in the foreground kneel the three senators, one of whom is spokesman, and back of them, at the right of the composition, are their attendants with the bags of gold. A portico with three rows of pillars is at the left, behind, a landscape at the right.
The three senators are marvels of portraiture, executed, it seems certain, with a fidelity of observation that leaves no doubt of their faithfulness to life. The Madonna has a noble figure, with unidealized face, but with dignity and stateliness of bearing.
The Pietà is an impressive, nobly conceived composition, full of a weird, unplaceable light that emanates from one knows not where. The chiaroscuro is powerfully treated, the strong light on the dead Saviour’s body and the Madonna’s face balancing with dramatic intensity the deep shadows flung over the others in the scene, as well as the impenetrable depths in the landscape that serves as background. In this representation of the Deposition, Tintoretto has kept himself somewhat more in hand than usual with his impetuous nature. The only figure of the five here portrayed that can be accused of expressing emotion too violently is Mary Magdalen, and even she shows a certain amount of restraint in her grief. As a composition, its lines, massing, and chiaroscuro are masterly.
At the foot of the ladder, leaning against the cross, Mary has been sitting, the body of her sacrificed Son across her knees. The moment portrayed shows her fallen back, fainting from her agony of grief, into the arms of a woman, who is leaning tenderly over her. At the same time a disciple standing behind the two has just caught Jesus under his arms, preventing his falling to the ground. Behind all these in the centre, Mary Magdalen is shown, leaning over the group, her arms spread wide in terror and despair. The landscape is bathed in darkness, with only a glimmer in sky or on the distant plain to break the mystery of gloom.
With his customary ignoring of the traditions, Tintoretto has shown here no emaciated, thin-chested Christ. The dead man’s figure is noble in its strength, with beautifully modelled arms, chest, and legs, the concentration of light that sweeps so irresistibly over it emphasizing the perfection of the superb physique.
Still more affecting and remarkable is the Crucifixion, a much smaller canvas than the great one in San Rocco, In parts it seems only a variation of that in the Scuola, but it has figures and incidents of its own that are worthy of highest praise, even if one cannot quite follow Ruskin in his eulogium of it. The canvas was painted for the Church of SS. Giovanni and Paolo, and it is generally titled Tintoretto’s second Crucifixion.
In the centre in the foreground, at the foot of the cross, which with its burden rears far above, is a group of women about Mary, who is prostrate, half-insensible in her grief. At the left are other women and a child, paying scant attention to the cross, and still farther, at one side, a standard-bearer with flying flags. Beyond are Jews and Romans, some on horseback, others on foot. At the right is a knight, mounted on a white horse, whose *plunges would seem to be in danger of throwing him out of the canvas. The knight is supposed to be a portrait of Tintoretto himself. This spirited horse with its rider has received more unstinted praise than any other part of the picture. Never before, it has been said, has there been shown on canvas such a horse as that. Below this charger, in front, three men are doubled up over a game of dice, so entirely absorbed that they see neither the agony about them nor the plunging animal near.
In this composition, the crosses bearing the two thieves are placed in profile on either side of Jesus. The twisted, contorted limbs and terror of face and figure of the two malefactors are sharply contrasted with the sunken head, the quiet suffering, that al-lows not so much as the quiver of a muscle, of the Man of Sorrows. He does not even pay the slightest attention to the two executioners who are descending the ladder which is placed against the cross. The sky is dark, and over all is an atmosphere of bluish gray that gives a strange, mysterious aspect to the whole scene.
As in the San Rocco Crucifixion, Tintoretto has shown his usual disregard for all traditions as to the manner of presenting the scene. The vast crowd of the populace exhibit the indifference or the merely superficial interest that would be natural to such a gathering. Only the immediate followers of Jesus himself are depicted as feeling any real sorrow, or even realizing the meaning of this Crucifixion. This fidelity to what must have been the actual state of things, gives by its very reality a greater pathos and deeper sense of tragedy.
The Madonna with Three Saints and Three Treasurers is really a portrait group much more than it is a religious picture. In it are seen all the great attributes that Robusti possessed as portrait-painter. The earnestness, solidity, the insight into character, the power to make these likenesses fairly teem with life, joined to a restraint, a sobriety, a simple honesty, all are characteristics of Tintoretto as a delineator of the men of Venice, and all are found in both this and another canvas of like nature, St. Justina and Three Senators with their Secretaries.
Here are six portraits of men of varying years, from the white-bearded secretary who is gazing so curiously, almost defiantly, at the saint, to the mere boy whose head peers above his. The three treasurers in front, who stand in a rather stiff line across the foreground, are all men of early middle life, and, in spite of their similar positions and almost identical cut of beard and hair, they are three distinct and firmly characterized portraits of three different personalities. The positions of their hands, all six of which Tintoretto rather unwisely allowed to show beneath their robes of state, are the least excellent part of the composition. St. Justina, mounted on a rock at the right, standing above them, is a majestic woman, with the grand lines and full modelling of a figure by Michelangelo. She is lifting out her yellow mantle as if to shield the three secretaries beneath its folds.
The Woman Taken in Adultery is also in this room, and has been considered one of Tintoretto’s greatest works. The portraitlike character and the splendid massing of the many heads so nearly on a line, the management of the chiaroscuro, and the beauty and tenderness of the woman with the child, are certainly all Tintoretto at his best. But the face of Jesus is as certainly very unsatisfactory, with little of real nobleness or beauty. The woman who has been brought to be condemned is hardly more successful. She has little about her to call for comment except a sort of silly prettiness that might go with the supposed weakness of her character. Much more of power and character-drawing is shown in the man who leads her forward, called by some her deceived husband. His bowed figure and lined, troubled face are well worthy of the painter, than whom no one better portrayed middle-aged men. The young mother, who stands at the left of these two drawing her small boy close to her as if to shield him from all harm, is much finer in face and expression than most of Tintoretto’s women. The delicate oval of her face, the lovely curves of lip, the shadowed eyes, the forehead off which the hair grows so prettily, all proclaim her right to be called beautiful. Her tender air of loving motherhood and the sadness in her expression add still more to the charm of her personality.
The picture is a long panel, showing the figures little more than half-length. At the right Jesus sits, his body to the left, his head turned to the right toward an old man standing in profile next him. Before him is the youthful sinner, pushed forward by the middle-aged man, who may be her husband. She wears a crimson-brocaded waist, a yellow fichu, a green skirt, and a white head-dress. The man is in a rose-coloured mantle that falls in big, clumsy folds about him. The mother and child are at his left, and back of these is the crowd of disciples and listeners.
Most of Veronese’s works in the Academy are in Room 9, which, in honour of him, is called Sala di Paolo Veronese. Of them all by far the most famous is the Feast in the House of Levi. But of the others there are many that in part or whole show’ the master not far from his highest.
The two panels representing the four apostles were once, it is said, four corners in a ceiling deco-ration in S. Niccolô della Luttuga, of which deco-ration the People of Mira Going to Meet St. Nicholas, now also in this room, was the central panel.
The apostles are splendidly posed, and are sharply individualized, John on his eagle being particularly interesting, with his youthful, vigorous face and figure. A beautiful golden-haired angel is kneeling beside St. Matthew, reading from a scroll, which they both hold. The graceful lines of his drapery and contour are marred by a rather heavy left leg.
The People of Mira is a round canvas sur-rounded by the heavy stucco framing of the ceiling, and is chiefly remarkable for the vigour of action and curious, but excellent, placing of the eight middle-aged men against the sky.
The four pictures representing scenes from the life of St. Christina, who, in spite of divers tortures, refused to return to the worship of the heathen gods of her father, are painted in the silvery key that is Veronese’s own, and, though they are pictures of a decidedly worldly and beautiful Venetian woman of Veronese’s time rather than of a pale and suffering martyr, they have the atmospheric clearness, the transparence of colour, and the simple realism characteristic of the painter. In some of them there is a superabundance of drapery with an exaggeration of gesture that recalls Paolo’s followers rather than himself.
The Crucifixion in this room, which Ruskin said ought to be taken down and burned, does not compare even remotely with the same subject by Veronese in the Louvre, and it does seem to merit some of the stringent condemnation that others beside the Englishman of letters have bestowed upon it. It is to be conceded that unless a picture representing the Crucifixion has within itself elements of tragic passion, of religious fervour, and of unmistakable and deep feeling, it has no excuse for being. If it be simply an excellent portrayal of plein air, of figures of handsome men and women, making a more or less successful grouping and composition, then the three crosses might better be eliminated, or changed to something else, and a new title appended to the picture. Atmospheric feeling, fine colour, natural and inevitable grouping, Veronese could hardly fail to achieve. But it is easy to believe that the sombreness and tragedy of the Great Sacrifice were opposed to his sunny, light-hearted nature, and it is only occasionally, as in the one in the Louvre, that he does show unexpected pathos and true depths of feeling.
In this in the Academy the foreground and actual centre of interest is taken up by a group of executioners sitting on the ground in evident fright and terror at the approaching storm, and by a cavalier mounted on a prancing steed. In the middle of the second plane is seen a crowd of men, women, and children, some on foot, some mounted, rushing away in a panic from the scene. At the right, entirely unmoved, sitting by a fountain, are some women. Only at the left, really almost in the distance, are the three crosses. An executioner mounted on the ladder is about to nail the inscription over the head of Christ. At the foot of the cross are the Magdalen, a beautiful figure rather theatrically posed, the centurion kneeling with his pike over his shoulder, and, fainting in the arms of her women, the Mother.
Undoubtedly this portion of the picture is not the most important part of it, compositionally considered, and thus, from artistic as well as religious reasons, it can be condemned.
The Assumption of the Virgin is a circular-topped, tall panel, showing the Virgin with angels and cherubs in the clouds, and below, the open tomb with the affrighted apostles gathered around it. This was painted for the high altar of Santa Maria Maggiore. The colouring is both strong and delicate, cold and transparent. The group below of apostles and friends is firmly, almost brutally expressed in its deep and resonant tones, while the heavenly vision above has an airy lightness and translucent brilliance that admirably suggests the vast difference between these celestial dwellers and the earth-born ones below.
The varying attitudes and expressions of the wondering and fearing disciples are superbly displayed without the exaggeration of which Tintoretto was so often guilty. Mary, whose billowing folds of white mantle are held up by two charming, wide-winged angels, is a radiant vision, but hardly remarkable for her spirituality of expression. Especially lovely are the two tiny baby angels clasping her knees, one entirely back to, the other in profile, his round, earnest little face turned three-quarters out to the spectator. Myriads of cherubs circle about the group, while slightly below are three delightful little angels playing on musical instruments. Altogether it is rather fuller of religious feeling than usual with Veronese. Unfortunately, however, it is much restored.
A not dissimilar composition is the Virgin in Glory. In the sky, in the midst of a silvery, golden cloud, is Mary, holding on her knees the Child, who is leaning forward, watching the scene taking place below. Here is St. Dominick on a low, marble platform, distributing roses which an angel kneeling beside him is presenting. On each side is a kneeling concourse of dignitaries, among whom are seen an emperor, a Pope, a doge, a cardinal, all waiting for the holy flowers. Back of them is a blossoming hedge.
The Virgin has a sweet serenity of expression, but the greatness of the picture lies in its fore-ground group, where every face and figure seem a living portrait. The panel was painted for the Society of the Rosary at S. Pietro Martire de Murano.
The Battle of Lepanto, or of Curzolari, as it is called, is a glorification of the fight at sea when the Turks were defeated by Don John of Austria in 1571. The whole lower half of the canvas shows a very forest of masts and yard-arms rising above the crowding galleys so huddled and jammed that it is impossible to distinguish Turk from Christian. This portion is very dark and roughly painted. Dark streaks, rays of light, and burning arrows are descending from heaven on to these fighting sea-men. Above in the clouds are seen the Madonna listening to the pleas of the protecting saints of Venice, St. Peter, keys in hand, St. Roch with his staff, St. Justina, crown on her head and a poignard in her hand, and St. Mark with his lion by his side. Back, at the right, are a choir of angels, and a single one, who is sending the flaming arrows downward.
This is curious rather than beautiful, though the angels and Mary have a delicacy of form and colour tellingly contrasted with the battle-bathed ships below.
The Coronation of the Virgin is another subject which was a favourite with the Italian painters, but which Veronese was less fitted to portray than most of the artists of the Renaissance. Of the one in this room, Sir Charles Eastlake says, ” Colour, design and technical skill of execution seem wasted upon this large work, which but for the sacred title it has might be compared to the transformation scene in a theatrical extravaganza.”
Above in a glory, kneeling on clouds, is the Ma-donna, dressed in a white robe embroidered with blue, a yellow mantle falling off her shoulders up-held by two kneeling angels. Behind and over her are, at the left, Jesus, represented as a young man, and God the Father, a white-bearded, heavily robed old man, the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove over them, and all about, partly lost in the glory of light, unnumbered cherubs. Immediately below this group is another, in which are seen a Pope, King David, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, St. Andrew, St. Peter, and other apostles, and farther back in the light a crowd of women. Be-low these comes still a third assemblage, wherein are St. Paul, St. Jerome, St. Clara, St. Cecilia, St. Lucy, St. Catherine, the four Evangelists, St. Lawrence, and many other women.
Here Veronese has clothed his blessed in the richest robes of patrician Venice, and, with the exception of the angels attending Mary, there is little to suggest the celestial subject. Mary herself has a sweetness of expression that is of a doll-like prettiness, instead of being lofty or ideal. Through-out the picture there is vivid characterization, and, considering the subject, with its impossibilities of treatment, extraordinarily excellent and effective massing.
The Annunciation is fairly vibrant with the col-our harmonies only Veronese knew how to obtain. The silvery tones of the marble, the transparence of the light, clear colours of costume and sky, the splendour of architecture, the atmosphere that fills every part of the scene and surrounds the figures like an invisible yet fully felt envelope, all this is Veronese’s own particular domain, a domain in which he seems to reign alone.
In a gorgeous vestibule of a marble palace, the Virgin is seen at the extreme right, just rising from a prie-dieu. With hand on breast she is turning to the left, gazing with a mixture of surprise and joy toward the angel of the Annunciation, who is approaching from the other end of the hall. Nearer the centre, over one of the marble pillars, the dove of the Holy Ghost appears in a blaze of light. Courts with arcades and columns open beyond this first vestibule, giving, in the distance, a glimpse of a chapel with trees and sky.
The angel, whose wings are red and green, is dressed in a yellow and orange-coloured robe which is twisted and flying about him as if blown by the rapidity of his flight. The whole posture and movement of his figure are indicative of swift and unhindered rush through the air. Mary is not overexpressive in face or figure. There is more than a hint of heaviness in each, but the clear brilliance of her flesh-tones and the soft light of her eyes make her a pleasing example of the type of woman Veronese chose oftenest to paint.
The Feast at the House of Levi hangs at one end of the gallery, and, seen through the door from the next room, its atmospheric reality is so extraordinary that it seems as if one were looking at a real scene taking place before one’s very eyes. This marvellous power of portraying actuality is one of the greatest attributes of Veronese.
Though the picture here is of less size than the famous Marriage at Cana in the Louvre, it is nevertheless an enormous canvas, holding about fifty life-size figures. The setting for the scene is a marble loggia, or portico, divided into three arcades separated by grained marble Corinthian columns and pilasters. Beyond are seen the white palaces and towers of a possible Venice, and beyond all the pulsating blue of the Venetian sky. At the right and left in the foreground a marble balustrade marks a flight of steps that lead down-wards. Through the centre of the gallery runs a damask-covered table, and about it are seated the many guests at supper. In the centre, facing, is Jesus, turned to his left, speaking with John, who, dressed in red and blue, is next him. At Jesus’ right is Peter, clad in rose and gray, and at the moment helping himself from the dish in front of him. These are the only disciples positively to be recognized. But all down the long line of table are Venetian guests en fête. Crowds of servitors are about, some waiting on the feasters, some on the steps, some climbing on the wall for better view.
It is a gay gathering, and even in its present shape scarcely conforms to one’s idea of the meal which the Son of Man took in the house of the Levite. As Veronese first painted it, it was even further removed from that idea. For, though among the assemblage are still visible a clown tormented by a negro boy, a dog sitting gravely back, to, and servants slyly drinking the wine from the goblets, worse, or more amusing, incidents, which Veronese originally introduced, he was obliged to paint out. This was the picture which, in 1573, brought him before the officers of the Inquisition. It was painted for the Convent of SS. Giovanni e Paolo to replace Titian’s Last Supper, which had been destroyed by fire. The churches and church-men of Venice had never been overscrupulous as to. the requirements of a religious picture. Providing it was good art, and could be given some sort of Biblical or churchly title without too blazing anachronism, they were generally sufficiently satisfied. But this great, glowing, sunlit Venetian feast, with clowns and buffoons and monkeys and German drunkards, one of these latter heretics shown actually stanching a bleeding nose in the presence of the Lord ! this was really too much ! Besides, it was desirable to show the world, and Spain, that Venice was no lukewarm Catholic. Her pious objections to such a fine big picture as that would surely be heralded with much éclat, and might cover up some other heresies more essential to Venetian comfort !
Paolo’s answers to his inquisitors are proof conclusive of his own point of view. That point of view was never what was always Mr. Ruskin’s. As a matter of convenience to his patrons, and because it was the custom, Veronese was quite willing to adopt any name for a picture given him. But as for making his picture suit the ethical, moral, or spiritual requirements, the story-telling demands of that title that was another matter. He must needs fill up his canvas as seemed best to him, a painter. And a painter, good lords, has little to dohad ever better have less to do with morals on his canvases. In his last excuses he reminded his judges that he was but following illustrious examples, and that even Michelangelo, ,in his Last Judgment, on the walls of the Pope’s chapel in Rome, had represented all the sacred personages nude. Whereupon the court asked if he thought that was a proper thing to do. After which Veronese washed his hands of the whole affair, and said simply, and probably with weariness of spirit at the trivialities of the proceeding, ” My very illustrious lords, I had not taken such matters into consideration. I paint with such study as is natural to me and as my mind can comprehend.” But he had to paint out his German and his monkey and other objectionable spots within the space of three months, and at his own expense. If they had locked him up, these prudent inquisitors, they might have had to wait long before he could . finish such another glowing scene as this !
Though it still remains true that this princely banquet suggests little of the pious or the Biblical, either in its ensemble or in many of its parts, nevertheless Veronese has portrayed here a nobler Christ than have many of the so-called religious painters. The calm beneficence of that untroubled face does not dwell amidst lines of weakness and puerility. If not the head of the Son of Man as only the inner thought knows him, or even as Rembrandt has portrayed him, it has a beauty and an impressiveness that linger long in the memory.
Of the picture as a picture, not as an illustration for story or verse, it can only be said to be one of the amazing products of an astounding art. Nothing truer, more living, more naturally diverse, more individually and actually existing than these half-hundred painted figures can be imagined, save an actual living concourse of just such people in just such a palace, under just such a blue Venetian sky. And then, if the living and the simulated could be compared, would not the picture carry off the palm for beauty?
To pick out any two or three figures from the rest is like making invidious comparisons. But did one ever see in any hostelry quite such a perfect figure of ” Mine Host ” as he in gay-coloured stripes leaning against the pillar at the right? His fat jollity is assuredly a cure for all blues that rise from a sour outlook on the world. And the Venetian steward on the left, who is giving orders with so grand an air, did any one ever catch so truly the very spirit of the ” High Born Butler ” ? But it is not the figures only, nor yet the pearly, graceful architecture, nor even the gleaming of the Adriatic sky. It is all of these, and it is something more : it is the art that is under and through and over all. It is the consummate mastery of line and form and colour and light that makes the marvel. It is an art as modern as to-day, and it was the art of a man who lived over three centuries ago. In all the Renaissance it stands by itself. For it was not the art of Titian, of Bellini, of Michelangelo, o,f Tintoretto: it was the man Veronese’s own, and if it did not have some of the things the art of these other men held, it had others, perhaps in their way as great. And as art, painter’s art, it may almost be called supreme.
Most of the remaining pictures in this room, excellent as many of them are, and at times showing better workmanship than some of these already mentioned, are by men whose art was far removed from the ” grand style ” of the greater men of the Renaissance, these men of whom Veronese was the latest born. Of these younger and smaller men, the Venetian ” little masters,” the three members of the Bassano family are among the most note-worthy. Most of their pictures which are in the Academy are in Rooms 11 and 14, but both Jacopo and Leandro Bassano have a number in Sala di Paolo Veronese.
The founder of the family, or school, as it might better be termed, was Jacopo da Ponte, called Bassano from his birthplace at the base of the Cadore Alps. He began his artistic career by studying the works of Titian and Bonifazio in Venice, and at first painted in their manner. But soon returning to his native town, his own individuality gradually dominated his style of expression, and he began the production of those genre pieces which in a way recall the Dutch school. Later in life his scheme of chiaroscuro, his forced shadows and brilliant lights suggest Rembrandt. He painted the homely scenes and details he found about him, sometimes making them accessory to Scriptural compositions, sometimes merely using them for backgrounds for incidents taken from the daily life of the people. He even at times omitted figures altogether, showing interiors with kitchen utensils, a cat and a dog, or still life, somewhat in the spirit of the French Chardin.
” He throws a lucid gray over his landscape,” says Kugler, ” and carries the eye to the solemn twilight spread along the distant horizon.” ” His colours are . . . gemlike, especially his greens, where he exhibits a brilliancy peculiar to himself. Occasionally also he is seen in silvery tones of great charm.”
Berenson says of him, that ” without knowing it, and therefore without intending it, Bassano was the first Italian who tried to paint the country as it really is, and not arranged to look like scenery.” He was in this way the predecessor of the landscape-painters of to-day. In place of the grand style of the golden age of the Renaissance which was far below his attainments, he had a homely, piquant charm, full of life, vivacity, and colour, and, be it remarked, infinitely nearer the comprehension of the people of his town and time than the greater art of his predecessors.
His two sons, Francesco and Leandro, followed closely in his steps and their works have frequently been confounded with their father’s. All were skilful painters of genre and of landscape, and Leandro, especially, was a brilliant portrait-painter. All had the glowing, ” gemlike ” colour, which, in many of their works, has lasted unchanged till to-day; all had a feeling for atmosphere, for light and shade, that gives their homeliest works a poetic charm that connoisseurs have greatly praised.
Two of Leandro’s best works in the Academy, the Resurrection of Lazarus and the portrait of Doge Marcantonio, are in Room 9. The first of these is one of the most noted of his large religious compositions. After his early years Jacopo generally painted only small figures. Leandro, how-ever, often chose large canvases, with the figures even over life-size. He kept the style, nevertheless, which he had acquired under his father’s tutelage, showing great fondness for introducing animals and all sorts of commonplace details, as well as for brilliant contrasts of light and shade.
The composition of this picture has been criticized as being somewhat mechanical in the arrangement of the figures, but the figures themselves are painted with great intelligence and considerable variety, though, taken individually, they might, as has been suggested, be transferred to some other and totally different scene without loss of meaning, which is an indication of what is generally true with the entire family of the Bassani. They care far more for the mise en scene, for the general effect of the whole, for the play of light and shade, for the charm of well-juxtaposed colours, than for individual dignity, character, or expression of the figures making the composition. It is a state peculiar to the time rather than to them. And it does not, somewhat paradoxically, hurt Leandro’s powers as a painter of portraits. While he rarely gets ” below the skin,” his feeling for the picturesque, his power of copying nature with extraordinary exactitude, and his love of colour and ability in the treatment of chiaroscuro, make him one of the best portrait-painters of his era, and far ahead of most of those who came after him. It is said that his father used the invention of his son Francesco in the composition of his Biblical scenes, and the hand of Leandro when he had a portrait to paint.
Coming back to the picture once more, Jesus is seen standing in profile at the left of the tomb some distance from the foreground, his hand lifted in benediction, his eyes fixed on Lazarus, who is being lifted by two men from the sepulchre. They are removing the grave-wrappings from him, and, as he half-sits on the edge of the tomb, he is mostly nude. There is a pallid languor about his form, a weakness and inertness that remarkably express the state of one only half-awakened from the slumbers of eternity. Mary Magdalen kneels at the left of the tomb, dressed in richest robes of red and green, her expression as well as her voluptuous figure scarcely suggesting the repentant sinner. At the right a woman with a child beside her is placing a basket on the ground, and behind, on all sides, are crowds of interested spectators. In the left-hand lower corner, only part of his figure showing, is a young, richly attired man, supposed to be Leandro himself.
A fair example of Leandro’s powers as portrait-painter is the portrait of Doge Marcantonio Memmi. The Venetian is sitting in a crimson-covered chair in the robes of his office, a cap on his head, an ermine mantle over a brilliant orange-coloured tunic. The background is sage green. The doge is turned three-quarters to the left, has a long white beard, and his eyes are small and keen, quite in keeping with his shrewd, observant countenance.
The real talent of men like the Bassani is never more apparent than when comparing their work with that of such painters as Benedetto and Carlo Cagliari, Palma Giovane, and others, who, without the genius of the great masters of the Renaissance, attempted to imitate their style and manner. The Bassani, by developing their own individuality and rigorously abstaining from abject copying of the greater men who preceded them, have left an in-finitely more valuable heritage to the world than these others who simply tried to mould themselves on the pattern set by the giants of the Renaissance.
Benedetto Cagliari, brother of the great Paolo, and Carlo, or Carletto, his son, are both represented at the Academy. Benedetto, who was a skilful draughtsman, and was always of great assistance to Paolo, with Carletto helped Veronese paint the ceiling-picture of the Assumption, now in Room 4. In Room 9, Benedetto has the Last Supper and Christ Before Pilate. He was a past master in perspective, and to his aid is due much of the perfection of the architectural backgrounds of Paolo’s famous pictures. It was not till after the death of his brother that Benedetto began to work for himself.
The Last Supper is but a feeble imitation of Paolo, and with its two subjects, the Supper and the Washing of the Disciples’ Feet, has a divided interest that detracts from the compositional unity.
Christ Before Pilate shows the Master, dressed in a red robe, bound and dragged forward., under a portico by a soldier and four executioners. Before him, at the left, sitting on a throne raised high, is Pilate. By his side are an old man, two women, and a page reading a paper. At the right is a crowd, and one of the leaders, a man standing back to, in a green robe, yellow cloak, and lilac turban, is pointing out the prisoner to the others pressing about him. Near by are a horse held by the bridle and a standard-bearer. M. Blanc says that here the gestures of Paolo degenerate into mere theatric mimicry, and that Paolo’s very virtues are converted into faults. The pillars and line of palaces in the distance show Benedetto’s best work. Christ, though weak, is not without some beauty of face and expression.
Carletto Cagliari has a number of works here, the most important, perhaps, being the Way to Calvary. It shows Jesus, fainting under the weight of the cross, with Veronica kneeling beside him, offering her handkerchief to wipe away the sweat of agony. The picture has some interesting faces, and shows the technical accomplishment of its painter. But it is, after all, nothing but a copy of the style of the masters under whom Carletto had studied. In general, it may be said of most of his canvases here what a French critic has said of him, that his composition is colder than his father’s, his pencil less delicate, because it is less sure, his colour sharper, less light ; but he does show some charming heads, and excellent good taste and a decided feeling for the picturesque.
Giacomo Negretti, called Palma Giovane, the grandnephew of Palma Vecchio, was born in 1544, and died in 1628. He it was who set the wheel of the Decadence in Venice going fast and furious. Though he has been called the last painter of the golden age, it is truer, as has also been said, that he was the first of the Decadence. After studying at Urbino and Rome the works of the greatest masters, he returned to Venice and rapidly acquired the reputation of a painter of high talent, a reputation due, perhaps, to the rapidity of his execution rather than to any inherent greatness in conception. It is true that he often has detail of great beauty in his pictures, and some of his heads are lovely. Especially are his works in the Oratory of the Crucifix worthy of real admiration. After the death of Veronese and Tintoretto, Palma was left supreme in Venice. Molmenti says of him, that in his long life of eighty-four years, with his deplorable rapidity of execution, the violently dramatic gestures of his figures, he threw the art of painting into mere mannerism and opened the way to the delirium of the seventeenth century. He has a long list of works at the Academy, some of them among his best, but all showing more or less the exaggeration into which he sank ever deeper and deeper. It was as if by his forced, violent gestures, by his billowing robes, and by the crowding and abandonment of action of his figures, he purposely attempted to lead the attention away from the lack of high conception and careful execution.
The Triumph of Death, in this room, is one of his best-known canvases in the Academy. It is a very orgy of drunken disaster. On the right sits St. John, clad in a red robe with yellow mantle, writing in a big book before him. He has paused in his task and turned his head over his shoulder, gazing fixedly at the vision which he sees enacted before his eyes. Out of a dragon’s mouth, along with fire and smoke comes the strangest procession. First are three knights in armour on galloping, snorting steeds, and behind them Death, in the form of a skeleton, riding a wild white horse, his scythe in his hands, mowing his victims as he rides. Below these, thrown headlong under the trampling feet, are kings, emperors, beautiful women, the pride of the world vanquished for ever.
This was one of the four panels which Palma painted for the Scuola Grande of S. Giovanni Evangelista, representing four visions of the Apocalypse. The one called the Choice of the Twelve Hundred, in the same room, depicts the angel of the Lord marking the chosen with a cross. This shows a vast number of friars among the blessed, a natural placing, as the picture was ordered by a Fraternity !
Bearing a less distinguished name, but evincing really greater talent, is Padovanino, the painter of the Marriage Feast at Cana in this room.
It is Signor Molmenti who says that while Venetian art, like a dethroned sovereign, was daily growing weaker and weaker in the city that had viewed her greatest majesty, now and again, in the Venetian provinces would be signs of an art more alive, with more noble tendencies. Verona, for instance, was the home of Dario Varotari, born in 1539, a painter who studied with fervour the works of Veronese, and who left in that city and various near-by towns examples of his own which have grace of line and charm of pencil.
Alessandro Varotari, his son, called Padovanino in honour of his birthplace, was born in 1590, and was even more richly endowed artistically than his father. Signor Molmenti does not hesitate to call him the Master of the Venetian School of his century. Other critics assign him a less exalted position, styling him rather a weak imitator of Titian. But considering the decadent state of art in his day, it is not too great praise to say that he ranked high in a school composed mostly of mediocrities !
Padovanino lived in Venice and while there he studied assiduously the works of Titian, accomplishing several very splendid copies. In his own canvases he makes a distinct and not unsuccessful attempt to imitate the great master in his grouping, in the positions of his figures, and in his colour schemes. And yet, he did attain, finally, a style and a colour really his own, even if founded on assiduous imitation of others. His contours are delicate, his draperies full and free in fold, and in all his best works there is shown a nobility of posture, a beauty of face and form that are not, after all, spoiled because, here and there, are most apparent evidences of direct copying of this or that famous painter. M. Charles Blanc says that he may be regarded ” as a feminine Titian,” thus recognizing his grace and charm as well as his more or less servile imitation. He was, acknowledges this same critic, so free from the affectations and mannerisms of his time, that in viewing his works the spectator is transported to the days of Titian, of Zelotti, and Veronese.
The Marriage Feast at Cana is undoubtedly his masterpiece. It recalls, of course, in treatment as well as subject, the great canvas of Paolo Veronese. There is in it, however, no abject imitation, and Padovanino has chosen also an entirely different arrangement of composition. The scene takes place out-of-doors before a marble palace whose terraced marble steps and pillars of the entrance-portico are seen at the extreme right. The table, instead of being placed horizontally across, as with Veronese, is slightly at the left of the picture, and ex-tends straight back into the distance. It leaves the narrow, unoccupied end in the immediate fore-ground. By this arrangement Jesus, who sits at the left, is brought into far greater prominence than in Veronese’s. Next him is Mary, and opposite are the bride and groom. The rest of the guests fill both sides of the table beyond these four. At the right a group of musicians are furnishing entertainment for the feast, while in the foreground between them and the married couple a half-nude serving-man is pouring wine from a jar. At the left, and placed here and there on both sides of the table, are young serving-girls, clad in bright-toned flowing robes. Critics have complained that, as girls were never waitresses in Jerusalem in the days of Jesus, he was guilty of an anachronism in depicting them as such. It is an anachronism, however, that does not seem unpardonable, considering the usual freedom with which Venetian painters depicted historical and religious scenes! A lame beggar, half-lying on the ground in front, slightly at the left of Jesus, is being tended as carefully as if he were one of the invited guests. Beyond the table in the centre is a Greek temple with lines of cypress-trees that stretch pointed, fingerlike, against the sky. The vacant end of the table, occupying almost the exact centre of the foreground, would be a bad break in the composition if Padovanino had not filled it so admirably with the majestic figure of a woman. She is standing nearly back to, with her figure turned toward Jesus, her head twisted to the right. Her right hand is pointing to the Master, and she seems to be directing to his assistance the maids standing behind the bridal pair. The light strikes full on her bare shoulder and left arm, leaving her profile in the shadow that slips down her back, across her looped-up skirts. The poise of her finely built figure against the darker background, the splendid lines of her voluminous rose and green draperies, make her worthy, as many critics have not failed to note, of the brush of Titian himself. And in-deed, the whole picture, if in a gallery with fewer masterpieces, would rank as one of the chief gems of the collection. Here, it unquestionably suffers from the proximity of too many greater achievements. But it has, nevertheless, very decided and high claims to artistic recognition. Its colour, if less glowing than the Venetian school produced at its highest expression, is pure, brilliant, sympathetic. Its lines of composition are forcible, graceful, and telling. The drawing and modelling and construction of the figures are full of life, surety, and ease. If less virile than a Tintoretto or a Veronese, it has a subtle tenderness that makes it wonderfully attractive. And the earnestness and sincerity of the painter’s purpose, the freedom from exaggeration and from mannerism, make it, for the epoch in which it was produced, a memorable work.