“Tintoretto’s Symbolic Imagination” -Catesby Leigh in National Review

In an article for National Review titled “Tintoretto’s Symbolic Imagination,” Catesby Leigh reviews the enduring oeuvre of Venetian painter Jacopo Tintoretto.  Tracing Tintoretto’s impressive career, Leigh observes a trademark fusion of styles—his work portrays the human body with a Michelangelesque grandeur, each figure crafted against a backdrop of characteristically Titian strokes of vivid color.  Biblical scenes comprise the lion’s share of Tintoretto’s portfolio, reflecting his deep commitment to ignore the fleeting whims of ego and instead honor immutable truths of nature.  Leigh accuses modernity of gutting from art that which is true and beautiful; he thus pleads for a return from the expressionism of The Starry Night back to the vaulted majesty of Crucifixion.  While this essay focuses on art, Lehigh does not overlook what its decline means for culture writ large.  Per Lehigh’s telling, modernity has stripped truth from much of the world—in succinct fashion, this article identifies art as one of the victims. 

Some excerpts from the piece:

Much of Tintoretto’s mature work reflects the studio motto attributed to him — though a striking variety in conception and execution would remain a hallmark of his career. The rich reds, greens, golds, and blues and luminous flesh tones associated with the Venetian school and Titian in particular are much in evidence, but in his religious pictures especially Tintoretto ventured into a distinctly atmospheric realm demanding a distinct palette.

Mankind as the cosmic point of intersection between the realms of matter and spirit is the supreme theme of Western art, and it dominates Tintoretto’s paintings — which also incorporate nature’s manifold beauties to a degree Michelangelo’s oeuvre, so closely focused on the human body, most assuredly does not. But it is also important to bear in mind that the prodigious scale of Tintoretto’s output reflects the foremost practical task confronting the Renaissance artist, that of decorating the structural world, as the late painter and critic Pierce Rice would put it.

Modernism, in short, has brought about the abandonment of a symbolic realm that nourished the imaginations of great artists for thousands of years. Modernity’s adepts would appear to have succeeded in politicizing that metaphysical realm, stigmatizing it as an intrinsically reactionary, as well as hopelessly obsolete construct, rather than recognizing it as an invaluable component of the emotional life that sustains not only art worthy of the name but civilization itself.

 

Read the whole article here.