The chief reason why we all know the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo, and not the Paradise of Tintoret, is the same love of sensation which makes us read the Inferno of Dante, and not his Paradise; and the choice, believe me, is our fault, not his; some farther evil influence is due to the fact that Michael Angelo had invested all his figures with picturesque and palpable elements of effect, while Tintoret has only made them lovely in themselves and has been content that they should deserve, not demand, your attention.

You are accustomed to think the figures of Michael Angelo sublime—because they are dark, and colossal, and involved, and mysterious—because, in a word, they look sometimes like shadows, and sometimes like mountains, and sometimes like spectres, but never like human beings. Believe me, yet once more, in what I told you long since—man can invent nothing nobler than humanity. He cannot raise his form into anything better than God made it, by giving it either the flight of birds or strength of beasts, by enveloping it in mist, or heaping it into multitude. Your pilgrim must look like a pilgrim in a straw hat, or you will not make him into one with cockle and nimbus; an angel must look like an angel on the ground, as well as in the air; and the much-denounced pre-Raphaelite faith that a saint cannot look saintly unless he has thin legs, is not more absurd than Michael Angelo's, that a Sibyl cannot look Sibylline unless she has thick ones.

Paradise. Tintoret.


All that shadowing, storming, and coiling of his, when you look into it, is mere stage decoration, and that of a vulgar kind. Light is, in reality, more awful than darkness—modesty more majestic than strength; and there is truer sublimity in the sweet joy of a child, or the sweet virtue of a maiden, than in the strength of Antæus, or thunder-clouds of Ætna.

Now, though in nearly all his greater pictures, Tintoret is entirely carried away by his sympathy with Michael Angelo, and conquers him in his own field;—outflies him in motion, outnumbers him in multitude, outwits him in fancy, and outflames him in rage,—he can be just as gentle as he is strong: and that Paradise, though it is the largest picture in the world, without any question, is also the thoughtfullest, and most precious.

The Thoughtfullest!—it would be saying but little, as far as Michael Angelo is concerned.

For consider it of yourselves. You have heard, from your youth up (and all educated persons have heard for three centuries), of this Last Judgment of his, as the most sublime picture in existence.

The subject of it is one which should certainly be interesting to you in one of two ways.

If you never expect to be judged for any of your own doings, and the tradition of the coming of Christ is to you as an idle tale—still, think what a wonderful tale it would be, were it well told. You are at liberty, disbelieving it, to range the fields—Elysian and Tartarean, of all imagination. You may play with it, since it is false; and what a play would it not be, well written? Do you think the tragedy, or the miracle play, or the infinitely Divina Commedia of the Judgment of the astonished living who were dead;—the undeceiving of the sight of every human soul, understanding in an instant all the shallow and depth of past life and future,—face to face with both,—and with God:—this apocalypse to all intellect, and completion to all passion, this minute and individual drama of the perfected history of separate spirits, and of their finally accomplished affections!—think you, I say, all this was well told by mere heaps of dark bodies curled and convulsed in space, and fall as of a crowd from a scaffolding, in writhed concretions of muscular pain?

But take it the other way. Suppose you believe, be it never so dimly or feebly, in some kind of Judgment that is to be;—that you admit even the faint contingency of retribution, and can imagine, with vivacity enough to fear, that in this life, at all events, if not in another—there may be for you a Visitation of God, and a questioning—What hast thou done? The picture, if it is a good one, should have a deeper interest, surely on this postulate? Thrilling enough, as a mere imagination of what is never to be—now, as a conjecture of what is to be, held the best that in eighteen centuries of Christianity has for men's eyes been made;—Think of it so!

And then, tell me, whether you yourselves, or any one you have known, did ever at any time receive from this picture any, the smallest vital thought, warning, quickening, or help? It may have appalled, or impressed you for a time, as a thunder-cloud might: but has it ever taught you anything—chastised in you anything—confirmed a purpose—fortified a resistance—purified a passion? I know that for you, it has done none of these things; and I know also that, for others, it has done very different things. In every vain and proud designer who has since lived, that dark carnality of Michael Angelo's has fostered insolent science, and fleshly imagination. Daubers and blockheads think themselves painters, and are received by the public as such, if they know how to foreshorten bones and decipher entrails; and men with capacity of art either shrink away (the best of them always do) into petty felicities and innocencies of genre painting—landscapes, cattle, family breakfasts, village schoolings, and the like; or else, if they have the full sensuous art-faculty that would have made true painters of them, being taught from their youth up, to look for and learn the body instead of the spirit, have learned it and taught it to such purpose, that at this hour, when I speak to you, the rooms of the Royal Academy of England, receiving also what of best can be sent there by the masters of France, contain not one picture honourable to the arts of their age; and contain many which are shameful in their record of its manners.

Of that, hereafter. I will close to-day by giving you some brief account of the scheme of Tintoret's Paradise, in justification that it is the thoughtfullest as well as mightiest picture in the world.

In the highest centre is Christ, leaning on the globe of the earth, which is of dark crystal. Christ is crowned with a glory as of the sun, and all the picture is lighted by that glory, descending through circle beneath circle of cloud, and of flying or throned spirits.

The Madonna, beneath Christ, and at some interval from Him, kneels to Him. She is crowned with the Seven stars, and kneels on a cloud of angels, whose wings change into ruby fire where they are near her.

The three great Archangels, meeting from three sides, fly towards Christ. Michael delivers up his scales and sword. He is followed by the Thrones and Principalities of the Earth; so inscribed—Throni—Principatus. The Spirits of the Thrones bear scales in their hands; and of the Princedoms, shining globes: beneath the wings of the last of these are the four great teachers and lawgivers, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Gregory, St. Augustine, and behind St. Augustine stands his mother, watching him, her chief joy in Paradise.

Under the Thrones are set the Apostles, St. Paul separated a little from the rest, and put lowest, yet principal; under St. Paul, is St. Christopher, bearing a massive globe, with a cross upon it: but to mark him as the Christ-bearer, since here in Paradise he cannot have the child on his shoulders, Tintoret has thrown on the globe a flashing stellar reflection of the sun round the head of Christ.

All this side of the picture is kept in glowing colour—the four Doctors of the church have golden mitres and mantles; except the Cardinal, St. Jerome, who is in burning scarlet, his naked breast glowing, warm with noble life,—the darker red of his robe relieved against a white glory.

Opposite to Michael, Gabriel flies towards the Madonna, having in his hand the Annunciation lily, large and triple-blossomed. Above him, and above Michael equally, extends a cloud of white angels, inscribed "Serafini;" but the group following Gabriel, and corresponding to the Throni following Michael, is inscribed "Cherubini." Under these are the great prophets, and singers, and foretellers of the happiness or of the sorrow of time. David, and Solomon, and Isaiah, and Amos of the herdsmen. David has a colossal golden psaltery laid horizontally across his knees;—two angels behind him dictate to him as he sings, looking up towards Christ; but one strong angel sweeps down to Solomon from among the cherubs, and opens a book, resting it on the head of Solomon, who looks down earnestly, unconscious of it;—to the left of David, separate from the group of prophets, as Paul from the apostles, is Moses, dark-robed;—in the full light, withdrawn far behind him, Abraham, embracing Isaac with his left arm, and near him, pale St. Agnes. In front, nearer, dark and colossal, stands the glorious figure of Santa Giustina of Padua; then a little subordinate to her, St. Catharine, and, far on the left, and high, Saint Barbara leaning on her tower. In front, nearer, flies Raphael; and under him is the four-square group of the Evangelists. Beneath them, on the left, Noah; on the right, Adam and Eve, both floating unsupported by cloud or angel; Noah buoyed by the Ark, which he holds above him, and it is this into which Solomon gazes down, so earnestly. Eve's face is, perhaps, the most beautiful ever painted by Tintoret—full in light, but dark-eyed. Adam floats beside her, his figure fading into a winged gloom, edged in the outline of fig-leaves. Far down, under these, central in the lowest part of the picture, rises the Angel of the Sea, praying for Venice; for Tintoret conceives his Paradise as existing now, not as in the future. I at first mistook this soft Angel of the Sea for Magdalene, for he is sustained by other three angels on either side, as the Magdalen is, in designs of earlier time, because of the verse, "There is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth." But the Magdalen is on the right, behind St. Monica; and on the same side, but lowest of all, Rachel, among the angels of her children gathered now again to her for ever.

I have no hesitation in asserting this picture to be by far the most precious work of art of any kind whatsoever, now existing in the world; and it is, I believe, on the eve of final destruction; for it is said that the angle of the great council-chamber is soon to be rebuilt; and that process will involve the destruction of the picture by removal, and, far more, by repainting. I had thought of making some effort to save it by an appeal in London to persons generally interested in the arts; but the recent desolation of Paris has familiarized us with destruction, and I have no doubt the answer to me would be, that Venice must take care of her own. But remember, at least, that I have borne witness to you to-day of the treasures that we forget, while we amuse ourselves with the poor toys, and the petty, or vile, arts, of our own time.

The years of that time have perhaps come, when we are to be taught to look no more to the dreams of painters, either for knowledge of Judgment, or of Paradise. The anger of Heaven will not longer, I think, be mocked for our amusement; and perhaps its love may not always be despised by our pride. Believe me, all the arts, and all the treasures of men, are fulfilled and preserved to them only, so far as they have chosen first, with their hearts, not the curse of God, but His blessing. Our Earth is now encumbered with ruin, our Heaven is clouded by Death. May we not wisely judge ourselves in some things now, instead of amusing ourselves with the painting of judgments to come?

The Relation Between Michael Angelo and Tintoret (London, 1872).