Art & Culture (le cose belle)

Review: Tintoretto at le Scuderie del Quirinale

In a major coup for the Roman art scene, the Scuderie del Quirinale is currently playing host to the great Venetian artist Tintoretto for the first time. A great proponent of Mannerism and a prodigious experimenter with form and style, Tintoretto gives the impression of a restless, brilliant inventor, and his work stands apart for his refusal to conform to the artistic currents of his time. Although many of his best works are either too large or too precious to move from his native Venice, a small and astutely chosen collection of 40 works focuses on the themes of mythology, religion and portraiture in his work.

Unusually for Rome, this is a show of real curatorial clarity; although a rather chronological and monographic course is taken, in this instance it works well and provides real focus on his development as an artist.

Nicely mirroring the trajectory of Tintoretto’s painterly career, the exhibition starts with a bang: his stunning Miracle of the Slave (1548), thoroughly contentious in its time for its daring narrative and compositional focus on the slave, ensured Tintoretto was catapulted to somewhere between fame and infamy in the public consciousness. In this monumental work, clarity of figure combines with powerful movements and intense, vivid colours synonymous with the Venetian School. It is a powerhouse work and arguably a risk to place it at the beginning of the exhibition, but it is a risk that pays off owing to the strength and diversity of the works that follow. A distinct highlight proves to be two of his Last Supper paintings – painted just five years apart yet contrasting so sharply in terms of style – placed side by side.

Upstairs proves yet more revelatory. Tintoretto as a portraitist lamentably receives little public or critical attention, but this exhibition offers a strong collection. The most arresting element of Tintoretto’s portraiture lies in his ability to look beyond social class, avoiding obvious status symbols used so frequently by his contemporaries; in this way his portraits have such an impact and really are strong enough to merit an entire exhibition in themselves, characterised as they are by an austere chromatic range, sober brushstrokes, vivid lighting and a dark background that serve to bring the subject so strikingly to the fore. Flattering and beautiful they are not, but how they brim with life!

Equally remarkable are his religious works. A highlight proves to be Susannah and the Elders (1555): an astonishing painting full of light, sensuality, intrigue and voyeurism that adds a new twist on the apocryphal narrative where Susannah plays a more active role in this intriguing power relation. These religious works are flanked by works by Veronese, Titian and El Greco, which speaks of the strength of Tintoretto’s paintings. Far from filling space, by placing his works alongside the greats of religious painting, the curators quite rightly are pictorially justifying his status amongst them.

In an exhibition that opens and closes with such verve and drama, the overriding message is one of Tintoretto as a master technician and dramatist unafraid to experiment and court controversy. This is an uncontroversial show that takes no strong scholarly position, but it is perhaps all the better for it, bringing simply to the public’s attention a great artist too long in the shadow of his contemporaries.

What: Tintoretto
Where: Scuderie del Quirinale, Via XXIV Maggio, 16
When: Through June 10th: Sun-Thurs, 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat, 10am-10:30pm
How much: 10 euro

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