(b. 1518, Venezia, d. 1594, Venezia)

Creation of the Animals

Oil on canvas, 151 x 258 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

One of the major achievements of Tintoretto's early works is the series of canvases painted in about 1550 for the Sala dell'Albergo of the Scuola della Santissima Trinitá. And of these the Creation of the animals is certainly unique for the swirling rhythm of the composition. In a blaze of golden light, which does not entirely escape the darkness still partly enveloping the newly created earth God the Father is portrayed as if suspended in mid-air in the act of creation. The animals rush forward from behind him while the birds shoot across the sky and the fishes dart through the water like arrows from his hand. The dramatic wind-swept scene is furrowed by the profiles of the animals which cross the canvas in running lines, conveying with extraordinary concision and expressiveness the theme of the work.

Like Pietro Aretino's novel on the subject of Genesis, Tintoretto's painting shows the unicorn (right). The alleged curative and decontaminating qualities of the narwhal tusk, an essential item in every Renaissance cabinet of curiosities, were regarded as proof of the existence of this fabulous creature. Exotic creatures like the ostrich walking on the shore were much admired as gifts from guests to the princely courts of northern Italy, and were portrayed in drawings or engravings. As a true Venetian, however, Tintoretto here devotes particular artistic skill to the fishes, including sturgeon, salmon and red mullet.

Tintoretto's model for this composition was Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (National Gallery, London); he adopted the flying divine figure as well as the setting.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.