My friend Luca Simoncello (aka Luca Boerio), art expert, has recently been to Venice and he re-discovered a masterpiece by the local paiting Master Tintoretto. This is the result of his analysis of the “Final Judgement” kept at Santa Maria dell’Orto in Venice.
Venice becomes Venice as soon as you leave the most crowded allys or as soon as you turn a corner and end up in a “campo” where there are no commercial shops, but an old tavern, one of those with the wrinkled paper tablecloth and straw chairs.
I learned to leave the city map behind and lose myself in the streets without caring, or without pointing to a specific destination or even without worrying about losing the way back, especially because being on an island you cannot go any further than the limits imposed by the water.
During these casual walks you can see corners of the city that are unknown to many. For example, in the Cannareggio area, you can see Casa del Cammello or the Campo dei Mori: legend has it that by touching the iron-covered nose of Sior Antonio Rioba, luck will smile to you. While advancing aimlessly you can cross a bridge and find yourself before the Gothic facade of Santa Maria dell’Orto. This church is permanently linked to a great Venetian painter: Tintoretto. His house was not far from here and he is buried next to the altar.
The church has a simple appearance, its lines are Gothic (the result of a heavy nineteenth-century restoration), while inside, the naves are marked by a succession of lime walls and terracotta brick lines; it has something frugal, ancient, as if the Venetian had forgotten about it while the Renaissance and later Baroque churches were built. However it holds precious masterpieces. In 1993 a precious Madonna with Child by Giovanni Bellini was stolen (still missing today) from the first chapel to the left, thus the real glance comes from the apse where you can see 2 large side arches of Gothic reminescence which are occupied by the two highest Renaissance canvases in the world: The Last Judgment and the Golden Calf, both by Tintoretto.
These two paintings are 15 meters high and both hang over the altar as an imperishable memento: the end of the days.
The Last Judgment was made first, It makes reference to Mchelangelo’s fresco at the Sistine Chapel although Tintoretto painted it in his own way by enhancing the drama with an endless vortex wehre humans crush against each another and the climb to salvation is seen as a constant and bloody struggle. There is some violence here. Michelangelo’s tranquillity is set aside giving room to a dramatic and human theatricality, where the damned try to save themselves jumping on Charon’s boat in the attempt to resist the impetuous whirlwind of the waters. There is no purifying fire, because Tintoretto choose the water as an element of eternal damnation. This is where you get Tintoretto was a Venetian with a twofold sentiment of love and hate for water. This image refers to shipwrecks, storms in the open sea, Undoubtedly these paintings were scary for the devoted: a city that floats on water loves the sea, but it also knows how dangerous and lethal water can be.
Imagine an old sailor, kneeling to pray for the salvation of his soul while the image of a terrifying shipwreck stands before his eyes, one of those he might have managed to escape sometimes. He knew what a terrible punishment that might be. Also there are no clouds in the sky: everything is suspended into void, as if the bodies were holding each other on their way to heaven. The whole scene is chaotic, but it’s a chaos longing for tranquillity and calmness, a place that is represented by the Byzantine Deesis of the blessing Christ, the Madonna and Saint John the Baptist.
It is a work for which the first glance is not enough, It deserves more than one visit because you notice something new every time you look at it. The details are so many that you will never manage to get them all in one view. Not even a look at it from the comfort of your computer will do the job as nothing can be compared to seeing it live in its incredible dimension of 15 meters by 6. This large painting can give you an idea of what the last hour of humanity will be and the call to the Heaven. Watching the canvass you just hope not to run into the woman dressed in blue at the bottom of the canvas. Even if wrapped in the darkness of damnation, you can see all too well that instead of hands she has a claw to drag you into eternal damnation. Evil is always well dressed and his mask is always fascinating and seductive. It’s a marketing thing: evil must sell itself to us.
Next to the altar there is another painting by Tintoretto which Vasari considered his masterpiece: the Presentation of Mary to the Temple, right above Tintoretto’s tomb. Not that I don’t want to talk about it, but I am still analysing it to point you out something that others never did; we don’t have to over eat art, but to concentrate ourselves on a work and let us be dived inside it. It’s a journey worth the trip...