Conservation of Tintoretto's last painting completed

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Conservation of Tintoretto's last painting completed
Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto, Entombment of Christ, Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, before and after conservation. Photos: Matteo De Fina.

NEW YORK, NY.- In the final years of his life, Venetian Renaissance artist Jacopo Tintoretto received the prestigious commission to paint several pictures for the newly constructed and magnificent church of San Giorgio Maggiore. In addition to two scenes for side walls of the high altar, Tintoretto and his son Domenico completed the Entombment of Christ between 1592 and 1594 for the Cappella dei Morti, the mortuary chapel of the Benedictine monks. It is the last documented painting to emerge from the Tintoretto workshop before Jacopo's death on May 31, 1594.

While it is believed that Tintoretto’s son Domenico executed a majority of this painting, the composition and emotional impact can certainly be credited to Jacopo. The work dramatically portrays the suffering and death of Christ in the foreground, the Virgin Mary in the middle ground as she is overcome with grief and faints into the arms of two attendants, and the hill of Calvary amongst a lush landscape in the background.

In 2018, Save Venice funded an initial maintenance treatment of the painting in order to ensure that it could travel safely to be featured in the exhibition Tintoretto: Artist of Renaissance Venice at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. from March to July 2019.

Upon its return to Venice in July 2019, a comprehensive conservation and diagnostic campaign was undertaken by conservator Claudia Vittori in collaboration with Barbara Bragato and other conservation scientists and specialists under the supervision of Devis Valenti and Lucia Bassotto of the Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the City of Venice and Lagoon.

Multiple layers of oxidized varnishes and non-original surface residues were gradually thinned and removed, revealing the artist's vibrant color palette and dramatic use of light and shadow. The results of the cleaning were particularly evident in the background landscape where details had been completely distorted over time due to the darkened varnish. Non-invasive analyses using infrared (IR) photography allowed the conservators to see beneath the surface of painting and identify the artist's preparatory drawings and compositional changes.

It seems only fitting that "the last Tintoretto" was the final conservation treatment funded by Save Venice's Tintoretto 500 campaign. On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Jacopo Tintoretto, Save Venice marked the major milestone by funding the restoration of 19 Tintoretto paintings in Venice, as well as the artist’s tomb, and by supporting multiple exhibitions, educational initiatives, and publications.

On Friday, September 17, 2020, a small and socially-distanced crowd gathered in the Cappella dei Morti in San Giorgio Maggiore for conservator Claudia Vittori's presentation of the restored Entombment of Christ. Remarks were given by Father Norberto Villa, abbot of the Benedictine community in the church, as well as by Save Venice board members Alberto Nardi and Xavier F. Salomon.

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