Three's company

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  March 11, 2009

DANAË: You wonder why Titian put her face in shadow as she experiences her first orgasm.

Alongside Titian, Tintoretto looks dark and dramatic and self-promoting. Titian's world is (barely) suffused with divine light; Tintoretto's is chiaroscuro, flashes of lightning from Heaven (or the artist), as in St. Augustine Healing the Lame (with its homage to Michelangelo's muscular men) and The Temptation of St. Anthony (a flying Jesus saves) and The Baptism of Christ and The Deposition of Christ (with its shrouded, sunken Virgin and glory-shone-around Mary Magdalene). His St. Jerome in the Wilderness is the saint as artist, a toned body and a probing mind, both winning Heaven's favor. His Supper at Emmaus, with the corner of the table turned toward us, is an uproar of discovery.

St. George, St. Louis, and the Princess could be an artist's statement. The Princess, in a flame-red dress, rides the leashed dragon as if it were . . . well, that's the point. (Back in its day, the painting was cited for a "lack of decorum.") St. George spreads his arms, palms facing upward, as if to say, "I'm the man"; his white steed stands behind him, a reminder of his potency, and if we need a reminder of Tintoretto's artistry, it's in the reflection of the Princess's face on St. George's breastplate. Her knee juts out of the picture plane, as if inviting us to join the party. St. Louis won't be joining; he looks down demurely, wrapping his robe about him.

In Susannah and the Elders, the Elders have to crane for a good look; we're better off, but the best view is afforded the (artist's?) streaming light, which impregnates Susannah as if she were Danaë. Tintoretto's actual Danaë is a different creature altogether; she stares disdainfully at the gold coins raining down, as if she were saving herself for the artist. His Tarquin and Lucretia is as blatantly sexual as anything in William Blake; it makes Titian's three versions (especially the one in the show, which is from Bordeaux) look repressed.

Tintoretto's portraits are more Titian-like, though there's a hard edge to Portrait of a Man Aged 26 and Portrait of a Man. It's too bad his two Self-Portraits don't appear side by side. In the first, from about 1547, the not-yet-30 artist is self-assured, almost arrogant — he looks like his own St. George. In the second, from 1588, he looks like the aged Falstaff.

Where Tintoretto seems to point toward Spain — El Greco, Velázquez, Goya — Veronese anticipates Tiepolo and Watteau and the French Baroque. His colors are pastel — salmon pinks, avocado greens, lemon yellows; his compositions bespeak order and harmony.

In Virgin and Child with Angels Appearing to St. Anthony Abbot and St. Paul the Hermit the division between sky (Mary's blue robe) and earth (the saints' brown garments) is mediated by rumbling clouds; the Virgin and Child are so serene, they could be a porcelain statue. Veronese's Rotterdam Supper at Emmaus verges on self-parody, Jesus looking heavenward as he's about to bless the meal; it could be a Norman Rockwell Venetian Evening Post cover. His St. Jerome in the Wilderness seems modeled after Titian's, but the wilderness isn't very wild: St. Jerome has his books and and his cardinal's hat and his friendly lion, and there's a church and an obelisk in the near distance.

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Related: Slideshow: Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese at MFA, East meets West, Let's talk about sex, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Isabella Stewart Gardner, Mary Magdalene, Louvre Museum,  More more >
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