Tintoretto: The Last Supper

Tintoretto was a popular Italian painter of 15th century Europe, who created various works of art recognized throughout the period. The most important of these is the religious painting, The Last Supper. The Last Supper is known as one of the most artistically interpreted story of the Bible. The Last Supper is literally the last supper. It is the last supper Jesus Christ had with his disciples before his crucifixion and resurrection. During the last supper, Jesus spoke to with his followers, broke bread, and offered wine in his remembrance. This story is best known for its relationship with a religious ceremony, or Eucharist. It is a practice performed by Christian denominations around the world. The ceremony known as Communion is an important symbol in Christianity. It represents belief in Christ, including his birth, death, resurrection, and teachings. In this way, The Last Supper represents classic art that reflects the religious movement of the time. It encourages devotion and Catholicism through symbolism, light, and identity.

Jacapo Robusti, known as Tintoretto, was born 1518 and died 1594 in Venice, Italy (Lewis and Lewis 304). It is rumored that Tintoretto had an “apprenticeship with Titan” however, “a contemporary pointed out that Tintoretto’s style was formed by studying formal elements of the Tuscan school” (Pallucchini). Tintoretto learned about and studied art formally. This helped to produce a unique style that is popular and greatly recognized today. In his lifetime Tintoretto painted many pieces, most reflecting religion and Christian stories of the Bible. He practiced art utilizing various forms. From sketches to molds and sculptures, Tintoretto played with and mastered the form of light (Pallucchini). He painted ceiling art also. It is seen in his early period, painting “with mythological themes which exhibit singular refinement in perspective and narrative clarity” (Pallucchini). Stories from the Bible was often used to demonstrated his faith. It allowed Tintoretto to, “offer an illustrated Bible to the crowds of poor” in 16th century Venice (Pallucchini).

Tintoretto’s life and art is defined by the era of Counter-Reformation. Counter-Reformation is recognized as, “the roman Catholics attempt to combat the protestant reformation that had swept through much of Europe during the 16th century” (Lewis and Lewis 305). This was expressed through the Protestants and Catholics battle of beliefs. Although both are Christian denominations, each side argued over different fundamentals of the Bible and social control of the people. To encourage Catholicism, “in 1545, Pope Paul II convened the Council of Trent to recommend changes in church policy and new initiatives” (Lewis and Lewis 304). One initiative was religious art, decoration, and representation. This artistic era is known as Mannerism. It was a time after the Renaissance and before the Baroque. Mannerism offers the important link between the two eras. It “reflects the dynamic spirit of Counter-Reformation” (Lewis and Lewis 304). Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent gave rules and regulations for the art of this era. It held that, “the faithful are instructed and strengthened by commemorating and frequently recalling the articles of our faith through the expression in pictures or other likeness of the stories of the mysteries of our redemption” (qtd. in Albury and Weisz 12).

Counter-Reformation represented Catholicism and its biblical interpretations. Tintoretto represented this in his artistic piece, The Last Supper. This piece is of historical and artistic importance for various reasons. Albury and Weisz state that, “The Last Supper has been a constant theme in Western Art from at least the 6th century”. Today, there are various interpretations of the Last Supper, the most popular being by Leonardo Di Vinci. The two artistic representation of the Last Supper by Di Vinci and Tintoretto has been compared and analyzed by various scholars for their differences in style, color, use of light, and overall interpretation. Lewis and Lewis describe Tintoretto’s style of painting as, “dramatic, full of energy, opposing motions, and swirling lines” (305). As a result, Tintoretto was able to, “make his biblical stories live” (Lewis and Lewis 305).

Tintoretto’s, The Last Supper, is uniquely different from other interpretations. The table of the last supper is not symmetrical and is drawn at an angel, almost as if the end of the table is disappearing into the shadows. Although there are twelve known disciples, they cannot be pointed out in the painting and the image of Judas cannot be identified from the crowd. Judas is often thought to be an intricate part of the story and its representation. Judas is the known antagonist, the disciple who would betray Jesus for pieces of silver. Another unique interpretation of Tintoretto’s piece is Christ himself. In this painting, “Christ is not a static, stationary figure, nor is he the clear center of the composition; he stands about halfway down the table handing out bread” (Lewis and Lewis 305). The viewer can point Jesus out from the rest due to his glowing halo. The representation also includes angels floating, animals, and servants, amid a dark room.

Tintoretto’s depiction of The Last Supper is important to Catholicism and represents the era and time of the piece. Catholics believe not only in Jesus, but also in saints and others of divine order. Catholics relate to and identify themselves with holy and divine people. This aspect can be observed in Tintoretto’s interpretation. To bring closeness to the story and relate it with the times, Tintoretto incorporated specific elements to the piece. “Tintoretto has added everyday events, like servants clearing away food and a cat looking into a basket; This normal scene makes the rest of the picture seem even more miraculous by contrast” (Lewis and Lewis 305). As a result, Tintoretto depicted a biblical image that is uniquely Catholic. He encouraged personal identification with Jesus, the disciples, and the last supper. This was done by incorporating the servants into the image and encouraging a personal environment. The picture is generally dark, except for Jesus’ halo and the light surrounding the disciples. “The complete darkness in the painting not only reflects the darkness of the evening of supper time, and also symbolizes the domination of ignorance in the human world”, including protestants, (“bachelorandmaster.com” 2012).

There are elements found in The Last Supper that caused criticism. Some have criticized this piece due to inaccuracies. However, these inaccuracies are allowed by the Council of Trent. It was done purposely by the artist to dispel controversies about the meaning of Communion. This includes rules of nature and fundamental foundations of Catholicism. “Painters were allowed to embellish their subjects in the interest of persuasiveness and these embellishments could include inaccuracies so long as they were not contrary to doctrine or mortality” (Albury & Weisz 13). Such criticism and inaccuracies include Judas and the fact that he could not be found and there is no clear arrangement of twelve disciples. As a result, the piece lacks realism. This can be seen in, “the roughly dressed people… as senseless as the animals painted in the painting”, (“bachelorandmaster.com”, 2012). Instead, Tintoretto’s interpretation involves movement, light, background, and foreground. This allows the painting to depict more than Jesus and The Last Supper; it represents spirituality, comradery, and life, both heavenly and earthly.

Although Tintoretto lived in a time that was dominated by religious art, ironically Tintoretto was observed painting biblical paintings even before the Council of Trent in 1545. This is important to understanding the artist. Consequently, he illustrated Biblical stories not because of law or initiatives. Tintoretto did this because of his love for his religion and his devotion to his art. His work, as seen in The Last Supper and others, it shows Tintoretto as a classic religious artist of his time. It demonstrates his, “deep but independent faith in the religious myths, unrestricted by any rules of the Counter-Reformation, is apparent” (Pallucchini).


Works Cited

Albury, W, and G Weisz. “Depicting the Bread of the Last Supper: Religious Representation in Italian Renaissance Society.” Journal of Religion and Society. 11. (2009): 1-17. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2009/2009-1.pdf&gt;.

“The Last Supper by Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto.” bachelorsandmasters.com. Bachelor&Master.com, 24, Apr 2012. Web. 24 Apr 2012. <http://www.bachelorandmaster.com/artsandpaintings/The-Last-Supper-by-Jacopo-Robusti-Tintoretto.html&gt;.

Lewis, R, and S Lewis. The Power of Art. 2nd. Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2009. eBook. <http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=BdyK2zuKeacC&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=the power of art by lewis and college&ots=x6YkmTFQLq&sig=lyiD5Gl9fXsAp3EGVIZOT7lOJ2o

Pallucchini, R., “Tintoretto.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://www.britannica.com.proxygsu-dek1.galileo.usg.edu/EBchecked/topic/596682/Tintoretto&gt;.

About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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