The Paradise
Tintoretto. The Paradise, ca. 1588. Oil on canvas. 169,5 x 494 cm. Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Contexts of the permanent collection 19. Tintoretto. The Paradise.
8 June to 27 August 2006
The exhibition "Contexts of the Permanent Collection 19" is devoted to Tintoretto, one of the most important painters of the second half of the 16th century. It focuses on the large-scale canvas by the artist normally on display in the Entrance Hall of the Museum. The Paradise is a travelling exhibition jointly organised by the Musée du Louvre (where it was first be seen), the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Musei Civici Veneziani. Following its Paris showing, the exhibition is now presented in Madrid and will subsequently travel to Venice.
By the time the Senate or governing body of the Republic of Venice convened the competition for the decoration of the tribune wall in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, the artistic career of Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti; Venice 1519-1594) had reached its final phase. At this period the artist was still working on paintings for the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which would be one of his greatest achievements. This complex pictorial cycle begun in 1565 for the confraternity building consisted of episodes from the Life of Christ and the Old Testament, and included canvases such as The Flight into Egypt in the Salone Terreno and Moses and the Brazen Serpent installed in the centre of the ceiling of the Salone Maggiore. As well as working on the redecoration of various rooms in the Doge's Palace (the rooms known as the Anticollegio, Quattro Porte, Collegio, Senato and Sala del Maggior Consiglio), Tintoretto was highly active producing commissions for churches and scuole in Venice, as well as for foreign courts. His flourishing career, combined with his advanced age led him to rely increasingly on his workshop, and in particular on three of his children: Domenico, Marco, and his daughter Marietta.
On 20 December 1577 the Doge's Palace was seriously damaged by a fire that affected some of the main rooms in this great building. As a consequence, the Senate decided to restore the building, and summoned leading artists and craftsmen of the day to work on the reconstruction. In order to replace the large fresco of around 1365 by the Paduan artist Guariento which had decorated the tribune wall of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, it was decided to convene a competition on the theme of the Glory and the Coronation of the Virgin surrounded by the celestial hierarchies. The exact dates of this competition are not known but all available information suggests that it may have taken place in 1582 and have involved Palma Giovane [cat. 3], Veronese [cat. 7], Francesco Bassano [cat. 12] and Tintoretto [cat. 13]. Prior to the dramatic fire of 1577 there had been an earlier but unsuccessful attempt in 1564 to replace Guariento's fresco which was by that time considerably damaged. This commission was given to the painter from the Marches Federico Zuccaro, and preparatory drawings by the artist for this unrealised project are known. Various reasons have been suggest for the failure of this first project, including the possible opposition of local artists who objected to a non-Venetian painter working on the most important area within the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, and Tintoretto may have been prominent among them. As an alternative to Zuccaro's design, Tintoretto presented the canvas now in the Musée du Louvre [cat. 13]. X-radiographs obtained during its restoration in 1994 have made it possible to study the original design of this canvas. Visible in the x-rays at the upper edge of the canvas is a vaulted ceiling corresponding to the ceiling of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio but which was replaced in 1582 by a flat one.
The competition of the early 1580s brought together the most celebrated Venetian artists of the day. The two winning designs were produced by Veronese [cat. 7] and Francesco Bassano [cat. 12], artists of notably different styles. Tintoretto [cat. 13] presented the same preliminary study that he had presented in 1564 at the time of Zuccaro's involvement, but modified and updated to fit the new space. He cut down the upper part of the canvas to eliminate the former vaults of the ceiling and added to it at the lower edge in order to accommodate the group of musician angels just above the tribune. The death of Veronese in 1588 and the fact that the great canvas which he was to have produced in collaboration with Francesco Bassano had not been started by that date, may have prompted Tintoretto to present a new design in the form of the preparatory oil now in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum [cat. 14]. Adroitly taking advantage of the situation, as he had done on other occasions during his career, Tintoretto finally won the commission for this major project, which was actually carried out, with some modifications, by his son Domenico. In this second study, Tintoretto eliminated the circular groupings of figures in order to present a composition more in line with the prevailing taste of the day.
The exhibition offers visitors the chance to see the proposals of the various artists involved in the competition organised by the Senate, which have been reunited for the first time, as well as to assess the opinion of the judges who considered Tintoretto's second proposal to be the most appropriate as a backdrop for the tribune occupied by the Doge and his Councillors on important occasions.