John Ruskin: The Stones of Venice - "Venetian Index" - O

 



104 Orto, Church of Sta. Maria dell'

An interesting example of Renaissance Gothic, the traceries of the windows being very rich and quaint.
It contains four most important Tintorets: "the Last Judgment," "The Worship of the Golden Calf," "The Presentation of the Virgin," and "Martyrdom of St. Agnes." The first two are among his largest and mightiest works, but grievously injured by damp and neglect; and unless the traveller is accustomed to decipher the thoughts in a picture patiently, he need not hope to derive any pleasure from them. But no pictures will better reward a resolute study. The following account of the "Last Judgment," given in the second volume of "Modern Painters," will be useful in enabling the traveller to enter into the meaning of the picture, but its real power is only to be felt by patient examination of it.
"By Tintoret only has this unimaginable event (the Last Judgment) been grappled with in its Verity; not typically nor symbolically, but as they may see it who shall not sleep, but be changed. Only one traditional circumstance he has received, with Dante and Michael Angelo, the Boat of the Condemned; but the impetuosity of his mind burst out even in the adoption of this image; he has not stopped at the scowling ferryman of the one, nor at the sweeping blow and demon dragging of the other, but, seized Hylas-like by the limbs and tearing up the earth in his agony, the victim is dashed into his destruction; nor is it the sluggish Lethe, nor the fiery lake, that bears the cursed vessel, but the oceans of the earth and the waters of the firmament gathered into one white, ghastly cataract; the river of the wrath of God, roaring down into the gulf where the world has melted with its fervent heat, choked with the ruins of nations, and the limbs of its corpses tossed out of its whirling, like water-wheels. Bat-like, out of the holes and caverns and shadows of the earth, the bones gather, and the clay heaps heave, rattling and adhering into half-kneaded anatomies, that crawl, and startle, and struggle up among the putrid weeds, with the clay clinging to their clotted hair, and their heavy eyes sealed by the earth darkness yet, like his of old who went his way unseeing to the Siloam Pool; shaking off one by one the dreams of the prison-house, hardly hearing the clangour of the trumpets of the armies of god, blinded yet more, as they awake by the white light of the new heaven, until the great vortex of the four winds bears up their bodies to the judgment-seat; the Firmament is all full of them, a very dust of human souls, that drifts, and floats, and falls into the interminable, inevitable light; the bright clouds are darkened with them as with thick snow, currents of atom life in the arteries of heaven, now soaring up slowly, and higher and higher still, till the eye and the thought can follow no farther, borne up, wingless, by their inward faith and by the angel powers invisible, now hurled in countless drifts of horror before the breath of their condemnation."
Note in the opposite picture the way the clouds are wrapped about the distant Sinai.
The figure of the little Madonna in the "Presentation" should be compared with Titian's in his picture of the same subject in the Academy. I prefer Tintoret's infinitely: and note how much finer is the feeling with which Tintoret has relieved the glory round her head against the pure sky, than that which influenced Titian in encumbering his distance with architecture. [1877. the whole picture his now been daubed over, - chiefly this lovely bit of sky, and is a ghastly ruin and eternal disgrace to modern Venice.]
The "Martyrdom of St. Agnes" was a lovely picture. It has been "restored" since I saw it.

 
Jan-Christoph Rößler