the Church of the Madonna dell’Orto in Venice – part two
The Church of the Madonna dell’Orto in Venice is widely considered a temple of the art of Jacopo Robusti, Il Tintoretto.
The artist, who lived and worked only one bridge far away from this place of worship (see Madonna dell’Orto: The temple of Tintoretto’s art – part one), had the chance of working and donating much of his admirable painting.
Among the most impressive works that he ever created in his career are undoubtly the two huge canvases ornating the side walls of the presbyterial area. Realized between 1562 and 1563, Tintoretto donated these works to the Church, only in exchange for the cost of the materials.
Very challenging from the point of view of the layout and shape – they are indeed narrow, tall and cuspidal, Tintoretto had to face here with complex Old Testament themes.
On the left-hand side you can see a picture which narrates two contemporary episodes from the Exodus: on the upper part Moses is receiving the Tablets of the Law; on the lower part is the Worship of the Golden Calf. In the bottom section you can distinguish the Israelites collecting gold and jewels to be melt and cast the Golden Calf, whose clay model is already ready.
The brother of Moses, Aaron, maker of the idol, is sitting in the foreground at the far right. Belzaleel, with compasses, and his assistant Oholiab are being instructed by Aaron. Some historians have tried to recognize in these faces the portraits of Tintoretto, Veronese, Michelangelo, Tiziano, and Sansovino.
On the right-hand side is the Last Judgment. The artist has divided the space with a slightly diagonal line at half height, which works as a waterfall dividing the calm world of the Blessed on top, from the diabolic world of the Damned on the bottom. At the cuspid is Christ between Mary and St. John the Baptist. Christ is welcoming first of all, and significantly, the personification of Charity, a lady with children. It is likely that Tintoretto had fun depicting some portraits also in this canvas, though many have not been identified yet.
In 1577 Tintoretto depicted a masterful alterpiece for the Contarini Chapel, where it can still be seen.
Story has it that young Agnes was a beautiful girl, only 15 years old, when promised to the son of the Roman prefect, Liciunus.
She refused to marry him, though, willing to dedicated her life to Christ. She was punished and taken to a brothel, where Liciunus wanted to abuse of her. He could not even touch the young bride of Christ, that God struck Licinius dead to the ground. Agnes started praying and resurrected him: notice how Tintoretto depicted Liciunius, about to wake up from death, on the bottom left in the painting. Agnes was thus accused of witchery and sentenced to death.
The beautiful young girl is depicted in the middle of the foreground, wearing white, the color of purity and innocence, next by to her attribute which is typically a lamb (Agnus/Agnes), while angels are about to crown her from above with some palm leaves. The flying angels who dominate the upper part of the work wear vivid light blue clothing, which can hint at the Canonici Secolari dell’Isola di San Giorgio in Alga, also called “Celestini” for the color of their habits, under whose management the Madonna dell’Orto Church reached a considerable development.
Tintoretto was so emotionally attached to this church that he desired to be buried here. He died in 1594 and he was interred in the tomb of his friend and father-in-law Marco Episcopi. Also his beloved daughter Marietta (d. 1590) and his son Domenico (d. 1635) were buried in the same tomb.
In the mid-19th century, the tomb was removed from its original site and the Church decided to commemorate Tintoretto with a funeral monument to be installed in the first right-hand chapel. A simple tomb slab in white stone still commemorates the burial of Tintoretto’s family. Also notice the terracotta bust with an ideal portrait of Tintoretto, executed by Napoleone Martinuzzi (1938), set on the right wall of the chapel.
The Church of the Madonna dell’Orto is a real shire of treasures.
Do not forget to visit the altarpiece by Cima da Conegliano and look for Tobias and the Angel by Titian.
To learn more about Tintoretto and his art, book a tour with a BestVeniceGuide.