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Tintoretto: A Rebel in Venice

tintoretto documentary

The documentary Tintoretto: A Rebel in Venice celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of the great artist of the Italian Renaissance, Jacopo Robusti, known as Tintoretto. If you like art, Italy and/or Helena Bonham Carter, you will definitely enjoy this documentary.

The film starts with a David Bowie (who owned an original Tintoretto) quote: “Tinteretto […] built his career as a proto rock star. I suspect Tinteretto was a very smart, charismatic, strongwilled, pigheaded, cocky opportunist […]”. Ok, so that sets the tone, doesn’t it?

The life and work of Tintoretto

The documentary traces the life of the groundbreaking painter, his skills as an artist and his rivalry with Titian and Paolo Veronese (he outlived them both though!).

Tintoretto: A Rebel in Venice is directed by director and art director Giuseppe Domingo Romano (aka Pepsy Romanoff) and narrated by Helena Bonham Carter. I really love her as an actress but I had never realized before how beautiful and soothing her voice is. She has the perfect voice to tell the story of this 16th-century Venetian artist. I think the docu would not have been as powerful with another narrator actually. Her voice and the choice of music are both spot on.

Large dramatic ‘movie scenes’

Tintoretto means little cloth dyer which was his father’s trade – hence the nickname. Anyway, his work was often large and dramatic, a bit like a movie scene, which would explain why Jean-Paul Sartre once called Tinteretto ‘the first cinema director in history’.

Frederick Ilchman explains in the documentary Tintoretto: A Rebel in Venice how Tintoretto used the concept of the freeze frame. If you look at his painting ‘Tarquin and Lucretia’, you will see that the pearls from Lucretia’s necklace that just broke are kind of frozen in the air before they hit the ground. Just like a movie still. I like that about Tintoretto’s paintings, they tell a story and are dynamic.

Speedy Tintoretto

Tintoretto worked hard and very fast. He made about 300 paintings in his life, most of them being commissions for churches and other buildings in Venice.


The two tall paintings he did in 1563 in the presbytery of the Church of Madonna dell’Orto in Venice are stunning (The Last Judgement and Idolatry of Golden Calf). They are about 14 m high! He did those for free, as he knew that it would be good publicity for him. He is buried in that church as well. Tintoretto was quite the business man.

He was known for often undercutting other painters by offering his work at prices far below their true value which, of course, irritated other artists.

The guy was obviously bold and ruthless and did things his own way. He wanted recognition mostly, even more than money or fame.

Il Paradiso

I was very impressed by the painting Il Paradiso in the main hall of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. It’s one of the world’s largest paintings. It’s 22 meters wide and 7 high! The story about this work is interesting as well, as Tintoretto wasn’t even supposed to paint it.

A fire destroyed part of the Doge’s Palace in 1577, including a fresco by Guariento. There was a competition to replace the damaged painting and Tinteretto really wanted to do it but his rival Veronese and Francesco Bassano got the commission. Veronese died suddenly though and Tinteretto replaced him.

The enormous painting was painted in sections and completed by Tintoretto’s workshop under the direction of his son, Domenico. One can see it in the large main hall of the Scuola della Misericordia. It’s stunning and truly impressive. Pictures do not do it justice though, you’ll have to take a little trip to Venice 😉

Il Paradiso

If you are visiting Venice and want to see the works of Tintoretto, I recommend reading this New York Times article. The journalist saw about 150 Tintoretto paintings across 23 sites throughout Venice. Great read!

Arts in Cinema

Arts in Cinema is a series of high quality documentaries about some of the best artists in history. It consists of 9 titels in 2019. The documentary Tinteretto: A rebel in Venice will be released in cinemas next week. We saw Water Lilies of Monet in January and the brilliant Degas: Passion for Perfection in February.

Did you know Tintoretto? Who is your fav painter?

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