Tintoretto, by himself, at twenty-five (1547), the picture of fire, the stuff of legend (public domain photo)
The day he was born, once he had stopped bawling and gotten his bearings, did he ask for a paintbrush and colors? He knew he had to get going. There was a lot of world to paint.
He taught himself. His father had sent him to study with the greatest master of Venice, Titian, but he lasted only ten days with him, no one knows why. The biographers say Titian got jealous when he saw young Tintoretto’s work, but no one believes that one. Maybe the kid made him nervous.
Tintoretto found a place to paint and to study and worked every day all day until he dropped. He copied plaster casts of the great statues in clay and wax. He drew everything that would hold still long enough and what wouldn’t too. He painted until he ran out of colors. Above the door of his workshop he wrote this motto: “Michelangelo’s design; Titian’s colors”. That’s how high he aimed.
He taught himself to make an oil painting as quickly as other men make a charcoal sketch. Sebastiano del Piombo, Michelangelo’s protégé, said Tintoretto could paint in two days what it took him two years to do.
In a contest for the commission to paint a fresco for S. Rocco, where artists were asked to send in a small design, he handed in the entire finished painting. “I don’t make sketches,” he said.
He ended up painting the whole city of Venice. Convents and churches and palaces—their walls were all filled with his paintings by the time he was old. His greatest works are in the Scuola di S. Rocco, where he worked for years.
Paradise, by Tintoretto, in the Palazzo Ducale, Venice (public domain photo)
And his last masterpiece, in the Ducal Palace, is the biggest painting ever made (74 ft x 30 ft). It is called Paradise. There are thousands of figures. If he had had more room he might have painted the rest of the souls there.