Tintoretto, The Finding of the Body of Saint Mark

Tintoretto, The Finding of the Body of Saint Mark

(piano music) Male voiceover: We’re in the Brera
in Milan and we’re looking at an enormous painting by Tintoretto, but
this is only one of a series of paintings on the subject of Saint Mark,
the single most important
Saint for the city of Venice. Female voiceover: This was commissioned
for the Scuola of Saint Mark or the confraternity of Saint Mark
in Venice by a man named Rangone. Male voiceover: And he can be seen in
the middle of the painting kneeling in that fabulous gold brocade. Female voiceover: Gesturing
down to the body of Saint Mark. Now, this whole painting takes
place creepily in a cemetery. Male voiceover: (laughing) It is creepy. Female voiceover: It’s really
creepy. It’s really dark. Male voiceover: (laughing)
Well it’s a night scene. Female voiceover: And
it’s lit by a candle. So, you have this vast architectural
space created by this rushing, exaggerated perspective. Male voiceover: But before we get
lost in the painting, let’s talk about what’s actually taking
place, what’s happening here. Female voiceover: Okay. Male voiceover: So this is the story of
the finding of the body of Saint Mark. Saint Mark had died and was buried
in Alexandria that is in Egypt, and the story goes that in the 9th
century the Venetian merchants went to retrieve the body. Female voiceover: These Venetian merchants
went to find the body of Saint Mark to bring it back to Christendom from
Islamic Egypt, from Islamic Alexandria. Male voiceover: We have
this perspectival space. It draws our eye all the way to
the back, to that dark back wall, and there we see a number of figures
both in shadow and silhouette finding the body of Saint Mark in
a tomb brilliantly illuminated, and you can see the
stone has been picked up. Female voiceover: We have
a continuous narrative. We have scene two in the foreground
on the left where we see the body of Saint Mark foreshortened, splayed
out on the ground on top of a carpet. Male voiceover: Painted with a wonderful
looseness that also reminds me of Mantegna’s dead Christ with a wild
foreshortening and the way that we look up the body from the
feet up towards the head. Female voiceover: You see the texture
of the oil paint and very dark outlines and very stark illumination on that body. Male voiceover: You also see
Tintoretto’s patron, the man
who paid for these paintings who seems to be gesturing toward the body
of Saint Mark in a very protective way. Female voiceover: In a
way that makes us sense that figure does not belong to this time. He’s not a 9th century Venetian. He’s a 16th century Venetian. Male voiceover: There’s a kind
of collapsing of time, of space. It’s a very complicated image. Not only was the body found
in the back of the painting, and then we see the body in
the front of the painting but then we see this very noble
figure in red and blue who stands up just to the left of
this yellow, dead body and that is also Saint Mark. Female voiceover: Miraculously alive,
making this grand gesture to stop the raiding of the tombs that’s
taking place to the right where we see yet another body
being removed from a tomb. Male voiceover: Okay. So if we look
at the architecture you can see again this wonderfully recessive
space with all of these arches and to the right of those arches we
can see there’s a series of tombs that are attached to the walls and in one
close to us a figure is gently lowering one of these corpses. So, there’s a kind of
desecration at the same time that there’s a kind of honoring. Female voiceover: Finally, on the
lower right we see two figures who are possessed by demons who seem
to be grabbing the body of a woman who’s moving out of the canvas towards us. Male voiceover: And we haven’t
even talked about the thing that makes this painting
most remarkable, in my eyes, which is the radical use of
light, of color, of space. I’ve never seen a painter
this early that has taken such license with the
traditions of painting. Female voiceover: The space rushes back. The body of Saint Mark
is heroic and elongated. The contrast of light and
dark are dramatic and intense. It’s as though all the tools of
the Renaissance are being used for expressive purpose. Male voiceover: Look at the
way that this produces an image that is so different from anything
that we would expect from say Raphael. Instead, this is a world
of mystery where only the faintest delineation of form is given. Female voiceover: So here we are
in the 1560s after the Reformation, after the Council of Trent. This is Mannerism. All of the balance and harmony that
we expect from the high Renaissance when we think about artists like Raphael. We have the opposite here. We have a composition that’s coming
apart, that’s stretching at its seams. We can see here decades of Venetian
artists’ experience with oil paint. Belleni in the late 15th century,
Titian, and here brought to a height of painterliness, of real visibility
of brushwork by Tintoretto. (piano music)

5 Replies to “Tintoretto, The Finding of the Body of Saint Mark”

  1. I love the juxtaposition at 4:25 of the Raphael to the Tintoretto.  The latter boots us outside our familiar natural life, outside time itself, suspended in an infinite fall into a nightmarish nothingness, the exaggerated perspective overpowering our human strength to resist.  The elegant lady perhaps represents the bloom of reason in the Renaissance, helpless against this existential fate.  Only faith can save us.

  2. I love this, as I love all the Smart History videos, but I would have loved to have heard you guys discuss the "invisible" figures in this painting.  We catch a number of glimpses of them, rendered through broken outlines of yellow and orange–it's such an interesting feature of Tintoretto's paintings, and adds to that quality of mystery and other-worldliness that he is so known for.

  3. To clarify… The Venetian merchants didn't steal St. Mark's body in order to return it to Christendom as you say. The city of Venice wanted to be the epicenter of the western world and back then, you needed to be able to claim a strong lineage to the early Church. Rome had St. Peter, and Venice needed a powerful saint too. They chose St. Mark because it was available and they knew they could get it (or at least thought, since it's debatable whether they actually brought back the real remains). There wasn't much ideological motivation behind their actions. Surely some local bishops must've appreciated the religious intent, but the motivation of the doge was political and commercial. As a side note… where we see the body on the side being pulled down… I'm not sure this is a symbol of desecration. To cover their tracks, the thieves replaced St. Mark's body with that of a much less known saint — Saint Claudia. I'm not sure why his hand would be raised though. Perhaps he's telling them to treat it with care.

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