Domenico Tintoretto: Like father, like son

Like many other family-trained artists, Domenico Tintoretto painted in the shadow of his famous father, though at times his work was undeniably superior to that of Jacopo Tintoretto. While much of it is a continuation of his father’s figure-laden compositions in radiant colours, Domenico made his own mark in the history of painting with his portraiture. Here he goes beyond rendering mere physical likeness to achieve the Renaissance ideal of capturing the sitter’s individuality.

Born in Venice and into a well-established family workshop, Domenico initially worked alongside his father but soon secured independent commissions, including in the Doge’s Palace. His reputation as a portraitist took him to Ferrara and Mantua. He eventually took over the family workshop but towards the end of his life he lost the use of his right hand. He unsuccessfully attempted to paint with his left hand. Like his father, he is buried inside the ‘Tintoretto church’ of Madonna dell’Orto.

Domenico’s style is often compared to his father’s, with which it bears many similarities. In this sense, Domenico’s paintings do resemble his father’s agitated brushwork, vivid colours and complex compositions that stand in stark contrast to the geometric harmony typical of the Renaissance. Domenico’s works, however, begin to experiment with light as a means of defining form through the use of chiaroscuro as opposed to his father’s heavy reliance on linear outlines.

Like those of the other great Venetian portraitist Lorenzo Lotto, Domenico’s portraits are the very definition of post-Renaissance portraiture. They go way beyond life-like depictions of individuals to give a vivid sense of a real person’s presence. Domenico’s portraiture thus reflects a growth of interest in everyday life and individual identity in post-Renaissance Venice which his own artistic personality punctuates with a greater focus on detailed background in his portraits.

These attributes are visible in Domenico’s Portrait of a Man, my favourite, which now hangs at The Hermitage in St Petersburg. This striking half-length portrait from the late 1580s when Domenico was at his peak as a portraitist shows a young man whose confident gaze meets that of the viewer. The sitter’s personality, the lavish depiction of costume and the delicate background all prove that Domenico truly excelled as one of the most accomplished of Venetian portraitists.