In medieval times and later, the Old Testament was read as if it had a double meaning. All sorts of events in the Old Testament were read and interpreted as a foreshadowing of the New Testament; this is called a prefiguration. Thus Jonah on the ceiling in the large hall on the first floor (see map upstairs, no. 7 and no. 26) is a prefiguration of the resurrection of Jesus on the wall. Jonah spent three days and nights inside the fish before he was spat out and came back to life. Jesus also resided in the tomb for three days and nights after the crucifixion before coming back to life. The extended story – the fifty-six paintings – ends on the ground floor.
The centre part was painted first, in 1576, ten years after the completion of the Sala dell’’Albergo. Precisely when Tintoretto was painting the central canvas (no. 1 on the map) from July to August 1576, the plague broke out again that same year in April. The canvas is about a bronze snake, a story from the Old Testament. This event was interpreted as a prefiguration of the Crucifixion of Christ. This can be read from evangelist John in chapter III: 14-15:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Tintoretto painted a jumble of bodies. Some have already heard to look at the bronze snake, but others have not. Nudes in all kinds of difficult poses. The typical influences of Michelangelo are also in this work obvious. Some characters are traceable to Ignudi in the Sistine Chapel (here to see on Web Gallery of Art) or the lying statues on the sarcophagi in the New Sacristy (Wikipedia). This also applies to the turning of the angels that come flying with God the Father.
The vision of Ezekiel next to the Bronze Snake and opposite to Jacob’s Ladder and on the opposite wall the Assumption (see numbers: 1, 9, 8 ceiling and 31 on the wall).
The vision of Ezekiel was painted right next to the Resurrection of Christ and the Bronze Snake. What does this have to do with the resurrection of Christ and the bronze snake as prefiguration of the crucifixion?
The lines in Ezekiel 37: 1 answers this question. The text is as follows: “The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.”
This is how these paintings can be interpreted as a chronological Biblical story. Events from the Old Testament (bronze snake, vision of Ezekiel) are seen as a prefiguration of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.
In addition to paintings by Giorgione, Titian and Tiepolo, remarkable 17th century statues by Pianta can be seen in the large hall on the first floor. Strange carved figures can be seen on the wood panelling under the paintings. Some are missing arms and have weird attributes. Pianta explained these bizarre creatures (fury) on the right side at the entrance, so next to the top steps of the main staircase: he portrays Tintoretto, the character with all sorts of brushes in his hands. The symbol of curiosity is furthermore depicted: it is a spy wearing a large hat, whose head is tucked away into his jacket, leaving only his eyes visible. He spies, but does not want to be seen (See Web Gallery of Art).
The piece is close to the entrance. As you enter, you stand eye to eye with the Annunciation; it is the first piece you see. Instead of the beautiful, classical architecture, such as a balustrade, portico with columns as in the Annunciation by Titian, you will merely see a decrepit Venetian palazzo.
You will immediately notice the broken column on a high basement, which is something that can also be seen in the Sala Terrena, just like the tiled floor. The ruin is also meant to indicate that the world is in a poor state and the Saviour has to bring salvation. The ceiling, the column on a high basement and the tiled floor also refer to the actual room the viewer is in. The light is also fit to the eastern window on the left in the Sala Terrene. All elements are painted in decline. Is this a specific reference to the appalling behaviour of the highly criticised board of the Scuola?
The allocation of resources towards impoverished communities has been mishandled, stemming from a lack of commitment rather than genuine dedication. Expensive columns protruding into the piazza. They have spent 80,000 ducats when 6,000 would have been enough. The 74.00 ducats could have been allocated to those who are impoverished and in dire need, pleading for help without any means to support themselves. Source: Alessandro Caravia ‘Il Sogno di Cavia‘ 1541 (See: Tom Nichols, ‘Tintoretto Tradition and Identity’, Reaktion Books, London, 1999 pp. 149 and 151)
So, as you enter the Scuola you are met with this cheap and run-down column made of bricks (the current entrance is now changed). This decrepit column is an obvious statement against and a major contradiction to the façade with precious capitals and porphyry. The povertà is deliberately shown here. This concept has both a positive and negative meaning. Poverty is the ruined earth after the fall, so before the Lord returns to earth and redeems mankind. Tintoretto shows this in the ‘burnt’ landscapes in the Sala Superiore.
At the same time, poverty was seen as a positive thing in the 16th century (Counter Reformation): it testified simplicity and humility. The poverty of the holy family can clearly be seen in the next two paintings, the Adoration of the Shepards and Flight into Egypt. Mary’s poverty is actually a sign of the fact that she is a devoted woman.
End of Venice day 2