Saturday, February 06, 2016


This painting by Tintoretto is called Christ at the Sea of Galilee. One would think of some other episode in the Gospels, but this represents the passage from St John, post-Resurrection, when the apostles return empty-handed from overnight fishing. Tintoretto was a spiritual man, and this painting is a wonderful example of how his reflections on the life of Christ are expressed in design and paint.

Some things give the painting an unearthly quality: the green tinge, the lighting, the (typically Tintoretto) wire-like scribble which represents something, in this case the shore on which Christ stands. Beyond that is the calling on two other important encounters between Christ and the apostles, once when they were in a tempest-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee (Lk 8:22-25), once when he came to them, walking on the water (Mk 6:47-52), and merging these with the post-Resurrection meeting which was in the morning, with a calm sea. On one of those earlier occasions Christ had walked on the water – as He seems to do here – and when Peter asked to do the same, Christ held out His hand and responded, “Come”, as He seems to do here. Peter appears to be drawn by the power of that outstretched hand. And look at the waves and the clouds flung about by a wind that has bent the very mast; yet the leaves on the tree, balancing (on the right of the picture) the figure of Christ, do not stir, nor do Christ’s robes. In fact, while His hand is outstretched, His finger points in what seems to be an admonitory gesture, as if ordering the tumult to cease.

Over and above these aspects there is the extraordinary
link to Modern Art: those blocks of sea and sky suggest Braque and Picasso.

The only one who was directly influenced by this kind of painting from Tintoretto’s hand was El Greco, so much so that at one time he was believed to be the painter!

This painting does not idealise anything or anybody. It uses paint and design to give substance to thoughts in the painter’s mind which could not be expressed by him in any other way. And on the canvas these thoughts are given the ideal expression. 

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