(b. 1518, Venezia, d. 1594, Venezia)
St Mark Working Many Miracles1562-66
Oil on canvas, 396 x 400 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
This painting was executed for the hall of the Scuola Grande di San Marco with three other canvases (now in the Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice).
A masterpiece of Tintoretto's full maturity, this painting is a profound expression of his originality. It creates a lyric spectacle out of extreme disquietude. In fact, it expresses a visionary notion that borders on the hallucination, and in this way the scene of the stealing of the body becomes a meteoric display. A memorable image is created that has the impact of a clap of thunder at a witches' ritual.
It has recently been shown that this picture does not, as was long assumed, show the rediscovery of the body of St Mark on June 25, 1094, but various miracles of healing worked by the patron saint of Venice: he is depicted raising a man from the dead, restoring a blind man's sight, and casting out devils. As in The Miracle of the Slave, which he painted for the same location, Tintoretto illustrates the power of St Mark by placing the invisible guidelines of his construction of the perspective in the saint's outstretched hand. The donor Tommaso Rangone, who claimed great healing powers for himself, thereby making large sums of money, had his own figure painted kneeling humbly, but none the less wearing the magnificent golden robe of a cavalier aurato. Doge Girolamo Priuli had only recently bestowed the title of "Golden Knight" on him.
Tintoretto has adopted here and carried further the expressive means of Tuscan and Roman Mannerism. There is the explosive perspective (note how the peak of the visual pyramid coincides with the raised hand of the saint performing the miracle). There are the dynamic crossing of the compositional diagonals, the nervous contortion and the bold foreshortening of the figures. Then there is the light from various sources that erupts from the tombs or spreads from the mouth of the long hall, like a nocturne in the porticoes of St Mark's. It prints rainbow along the bays, leaving an impression of instability and obsession. Finally there is the macabre element of the tomb-robbing scene and the anxiety of the jumble of figures in the foreground. Unreality reaches a peak in the pictorial rendering. The disintegration of the colour, an inheritance from Titian's late work, is seen in the dissociation of the brushstrokes from the material and their flickering, like a multitude of flames, against a somber and blurred surface.