Cinzia Maestrini
Article by Cinzia Maestrini

The “Miracle of the Slave” by Jacopo Tintoretto: an absolute Masterpiece

It is revolutionary, it breaks all the rules of the pictorial representations, it simply comes out of the blue: this is the impression one gets from observing the “Miracle of the Slave”, painted by Tintoretto in 1548 for the Scuola Grande di San Marco. Today we can admire it in room XI at the Accademia Galleries.

Tintoretto, The Miracle of the Slave, Accademia Galleries, Venice
 

The History

The master takes inspiration from the medieval book Legenda Aurea by Jacopo da Varagine: here we read the story about a Christian slave, condemned by his master to be tortured for having prayed on St. Mark’s tomb. The torture consisted in breaking the slave’s legs and pulling out his eyes.

The slave is represented lying on the ground, with his torturers that are about to carry out the sentence… 

But, all of a sudden Saint Mark flies down violently from the sky: the instruments of torture get immediately broken and the servants show them to their master, who, astonished and incredulous, jumps up from his armchair with his arms wide open. The slave is safe!

 
Miracle of the slave, detail, Jacopo Tintoretto, Accademia Galleries

 

The Pictorial Technique

The saint’s face is in the shadow: the brightness coming out of his halo is almost blinding. The halo is one of the main sources of light in the painting. Saint Mark’s figure is the largest and it is underlined also by the saint’s fluttering vest of different shades of red.

 
Miracle of the slave, detail, Jacopo Tintoretto, Accademia Galleries

 

 

Quite a few people surrounds the slave who is lying on the ground naked, suffering, his flesh is bloodless. The plastic representation of this figure reminds of Michelangelo’s and Giulio Romano’s influence.

 
Miracle of the slave, detail, Jacopo Tintoretto, Accademia Galleries

 

The painting is structured like a theatrical set: the miracle happens between the column on the left and the slave’s master on the right.

This masterpiece reveals all the peculiarities that will be fundamental for Tintoretto’s style. It is the same kind of features that we can find in the large canvases at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco: the diagonals, the circular movement of the different groups of people, the contrast between light and shadow, the sudden foreshortening, the theatrical scenery. The dynamicity in the works of art by this great master involves the viewers themselves, almost drawing them into the paintings, so that they can become part of the scene.

In this “Miracle of the Slave” the chromatic shades are stunning. The background is dominated by the white architecture and the blue sky. Several different shades of red are used for the clothes of St. Mark, of the slave’s master, of a figure on the lower right, of the woman on the left, of the turbans of some of the bystanders. 

 
Miracle of the slave, detail, Jacopo Tintoretto, Accademia Galleries

 

 

Is it possible that Tintoretto at this stage was influenced by Titian’s colorism?

It would be nice to travel back in time and ask the painter himself, whose self-portrait peeps out directly from this masterpiece…

There would be so much more to add… I would like to do it in person! So, I’ll be waiting for you for a guided tour at the Accademia Galleries.

Ciao!

Cinzia Maestrini
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