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Sublime donkey & vague peasant at the Scuola

Published May 20, 2022
Updated Oct 27, 2022

📍 🇮🇹 Sublime donkey & vague peasant at the Scuola

Fifty-six paintings by Tintoretto (1518-1594), Venice's favorite Renaissance painter. And when we say Renaissance, remember that "late 16th century Renaissance" is meant here - the manierist kind, full of chaos and lighting effects (when early Renaissance was more about harmony and balance earlier in the 16th century).

With English historian John Ruskin in hand, we'd like to insist on two pictures, as they introduce the entire museum best.

First, the “Mary’s Flight into Egypt” in the lower room (on the left wall). The donkey below is wonderfully rendered according to Ruskin - "such noble animal, made sublime by the grand motion of the nostril and writhing of the ears", writes Ruskin. The Virgin's head is equally studied and nuanced - "landscape painted hastily as all should be subordinated to the beauty of this single head".

Now compare this impression with "the Adoration of the Shepherds" in the upper room to the left. Here, the animals are poorly recognizable - "the cow, which is full of sunshine, is recognizable for a cow more by its size and that of its horns, than by any care given to its form"... and the peasants are equally mistreated as "Tintoretto purposely vulgarizes their rusticity, painting them ill, composing their draperies tamely".

Venetian at heart, the painter offered dignity only to stately or religious figures but "rarely to a man belonging to the lower classes". Venice's aristocratic principle embodied here.

____ Sources ____

>> John Ruskin, “The Stones of Venice”, 1851

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16th CE