BACCHUS AND ARIADNE

(TINTORET)

HIPPOLYTE ADOLPHE TAINE

It is more difficult for me to speak to you of the Venetian painters than of any others. Before their pictures one has no desire to analyze or reason; if one does this, it is by compulsion. The eyes enjoy, and that is all: they enjoy as the Venetians enjoyed in the Sixteenth Century; for Venice was not at all a literary or critical city like Florence; there painting was nothing more than the complement of the environing pleasure, the decoration of a banqueting-hall or of an architectural alcove. In order to understand this you must place yourself at a distance, shut your eyes and wait until your sensations are dulled; then your mind performs its work....

There are certain families of plants, the species of which are so closely allied that they resemble more than they differ from each other: such are the Venetian painters, not only the four celebrities, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoret, and Veronese, but others less illustrious, Palma "il vecchio," Bonifazio, Paris Bordone, Pordenone, and that host enumerated by Ridolfi in his Lives, contemporaries, relatives, and successors of the great men, Andrea Vicentino, Palma "il giovine," Zelotti, Bazzaco, Padovinano, Bassano, Schiavone, Moretto, and many others. What first appeals to the eye is the general and common type; the individual and personal traits remain for a time in shadow. They have worked together and by turns in the Ducal Palace, but by the involuntary concord of their talents their pictures make an harmonious whole.

Bacchus and Ariadne. Tintoret.

Bacchus and Ariadne.
Tintoret.

At first our eyes are astonished; with the exception of three or four halls, the apartments are low and small. The Hall of Council of the Ten and those surrounding it28 are gilded habitations, insufficient for the figures that dwell therein; but after a moment one forgets the habitation and sees only the figures. Power and voluptuousness blaze there, unbridled and superb. In the angles nude men, painted caryatides, jut out in such high relief that at the first glance one takes them for statues; a colossal breath swells their chests; their thighs and their shoulders writhe. On the ceiling a Mercury, entirely nude, is almost a figure by Rubens, but of a more gross sensuality. A gigantic Neptune urges before him his sea-horses which plash through the waves; his foot presses the edge of his chariot; his enormous and ruddy body is turned backwards; he raises his conch with the joy of a bestial god; the salt wind blows through his scarf, his hair, and his beard; one could never imagine, without seeing it, such a furious élan, such an overflowing of animal spirit, such a joy of pagan flesh, such a triumph of free and shameless life in the open air and broad sunlight. What an injustice to limit the Venetians to the painting of merely happy scenes and to the art of simply pleasing the eye! They have also painted grandeur and heroism; the mere energetic and active body has attracted them; like the Flemings, they have their colossi also. Their drawing, even without colour, is capable by itself of expressing all the solidity and all the vitality of the human structure. Look in this same hall at the four grisailles by Veronese—five or six women veiled or half-nude, all so strong and of such a frame that their thighs and arms would stifle a warrior in their embrace, and, nevertheless, their physiognomy is so simple or so proud that, despite their smile, they are virgins like Raphael's Venuses and Psyches.