Friday 2 April 2010

Good Friday

I remember the first time I saw Tintoretto's Crucifixion, more than 40 years ago now - well, it's not the kind of picture you're likely to forget. There it is - a vast, endlessly complex, emotionally devastating composition, covering the entire back wall of the boardroom (albergo) of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice. When Ruskin saw it, on his first visit to Venice, he wrote to his father: 'I have been quite overwhelmed today by a man I have never dreamed of - Tintoret. I always thought of him a good and clever and forcible painter, but I had not the smallest notion of his enormous powers... And then to see his touch of quiet thought in his awful crucifixion - there is an ass in the distance, feeding on the remains of strewed palm leaves. If that isn't a master's stroke, I don't know what is.' The painting is full of such masterstrokes. It brings the awful mystery of the crucifixion crash into the middle of busy, casually brutal everyday life. Clusters of figures stand around and stare blankly or get on with their business, entirely ignoring the central fact. The emotional centre is the group of figures clustered around the mourners at the foot of Jesus's cross, but Jesus looks down not only on them, but on the thief to his right, as he is raised obliquely into the picture. The painting is alive with kinetic energy, radiating around, away from and towards the still centre, the figure of Jesus raised on the cross, looking down. Technically, this downward look solves a problem - that the painting can only be seen from relatively close up and from below - but it is also the emotional heart of the work. There is nothing of the neo-Platonic calm of Florentine Renaissance painting here - Tintoretto has something of Michelangelo's draughtsmanship, but The Crucifixion is entirely a Venetian painting, steeped in dense colour, painted with urgent vigour, and suffused with intense religious emotion. El Greco thought it the finest painting in the world. Well, if something has to be, it might as well be Tintoretto's Crucifixion. The only drawback is that it can only be seen in situ - but the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, with its tremendous suite of Tintorettos, is in itself sufficient reason to visit Venice.

No comments:

Post a Comment