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

The Massacre of the Innocents

Oil on canvas, 422 x 546 cm
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice

This is a violently dramatic, cruel scene, every figurative borrowing from Michelangelo, from Raphael and from the Mannerist sculptors, in particular from Giambologna, is transferred and absorbed in a new image of Tintoretto's vision of harmonious dramatic force.

With intense inner involvement, Tintoretto presents a picture of masculine brutality and feminine courage. As always, he uses not faces but bodies, draperies, lighting, colour, and artistic technique to convey expression. The dreadful marks on the ramp of the stairway, for instance, appear as if painted in real blood. The glance of the woman at the lower edge of the picture suggests that her right arm, cut short by the edge of the picture itself, was once stretched out into the viewer's own world in a plea for help. To achieve this literally gripping effect, Tintoretto may have attached an arm made of plaster or stucco to the picture, as many Baroque painters later did.

On the left a high wall blocks all means of escape; on the right in the background a portico can be glimpsed which opens onto a wooded landscape where the cruel massacre continues. All the details are of epic expressive violence and some attain high points of poetic effectiveness.

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