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Tintoretto’s Coronation of Virgin: Divinity of The Subjects

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The painting is based off the traditional catholic belief that the Virgin Mary was physically crowned the “Queen of Heaven” by her son, Jesus after her assumption, a moment which was popularly painted in 14th century Florence. Yet Tintoretto’s depiction of the coronation, in the 16th century, which was a period highly dominated by mannerism, he used a classical hierarchy of scale, atmospheric perspective, and light to direct attention to the two most important, yet physically smallest, figures in the composition, the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

But before beginning my analysis, I would like to point out that although the painting hangs at a height of 1. 43 meter by 3. 62 meters in the Louvre Museum, the final composition is to be imagined in a larger, more grandiose setting in the Palazzo Ducale, Doge Palace, Venice, where it will eventually reach a size of over 22 meters by 7 meters tall. The painting at the Louvre hangs at eye level, while Tintoretto’s final piece hangs above doors where one would have to physically strain their neck upwards if standing anywhere near the painting. This difference in viewing would affect an analysis greatly, so while observing this sketch in the Louvre I have decided to also keep in mind the similar compositions final viewing place.

In Tintoretto’s oil on canvas work, he sets up his almost perfectly balanced, yet crowded composition on semi-oval planes, where in the center they begin to flatten out to only slightly rounded tableaus which in turn adds a greater depth to the painting. These tableaux’s make flat bases for the hierarchy of figures to be set. On the highest tier, we have the Virgin Mary being crowned by her son, Jesus. Mary’s body is elongated and seems to be made of only cartilage as her body curves and is crouched in a way the human anatomy cannot form itself. In her tilted and twisted position, Jesus’ head becomes the highest figurative piece of the painting, informing the viewer that Jesus is the most important figure in the composition. On the same level, Jesus’ twelve apostles sit in hierarchical order (shorter than Jesus and Mary), all bodies depicted in the same mannerist style that Mary, Jesus, and the rest of the figures are represented.

On the second level, below the coronation sits other biblical figures such as the angels, three different Popes, and St. John the Baptist, signified by his tall cross. The third tier, covered mostly by shadow, sits the heavenly band where angels are playing contemporary instruments of the time. Each level shows the importance of the figures as the highest plane holds the highest of Holy importance, the second plane holds important religious figures, and finally, the holy band and choir. Within the third tier where the heavenly band plays, in the front, those who play instruments that would ring loud in a choir like the guitar and the piano are outlined nicely while the rest of the band seems to begin to blend. This hierarchy of scale continues throughout the piece as we see Adam and Eve (depicted by their slightness of clothes) where they seem to almost double to the figure seated to their right. Their size so significant, that they take up more than just one cloud and seem to need balance from the clouds below them as their legs dangle down. Obeying to the classical hierarchy of scale, Tintoretto gives to his figures and to his composition easily readable planes; using this technique he is able to outline who are the most important figures of his depiction of the Coronation of the Virgin.

The atmospheric perspective Tintoretto creates in his Coronation of the Virgin adds to the monumentality of this depiction and goes to further emphasize Mary and Jesus’ high positions. The true vanishing point of the painting is the crown Jesus holds above Mary’s head. This high vanishing point gives the viewer the feeling they must look on high to Jesus and Mary, causing the viewer feel smaller, less significant. Within the painting, Tintoretto created such depth as if the painting never truly ends, like the viewer is right within the painting and that it hangs on no wall. By creating this depth, he is able to trick the eye into believing the crowds of worshippers is of extraordinary amounts. This atmospheric perspective adds to the energy of such a significant moment such as the coronation. The atmosphere adds a vibrating movement to each of the figures as your eye is lead upwards in large loops. Viewing the painting is similar to finding your way through a circus, your eye constantly being caught by something beautiful or something strange until you reach the center ring, and you find the Ring Master, himself. In this case, we find Jesus.

The atmospheric perspective caused by the great depths of crowds and the singular empty space in the bottom middle, lifts your eye and keeps you in anticipation as you reach the coronation of the Virgin Mary. Light is an important signifier for the viewer, in such a crowded composition as Tintoretto’s Coronation of the Virgin. The light in Tintoretto’s work seems to come from the top center of the piece and cast down its light in the growing composition. The light in this painting can easily been interpreted as God or the Holy Spirit as it seems to touch everyone in the piece and watches from above on the holy moment. The light is also most effectively used on the Virgin Mary and Jesus in the moment she is made Queen.

The light completely absorbs them and with the aid of Tintoretto’s pastel palette, they glow heavenly, almost mystically as if they themselves are being lifted and turned into the light, shining down on the viewer. Lighting and shadows in this composition emphasis other key figures in this scene. For example, the light glints off many of the Pope’s robes catching the viewers eye. And even though Adam and Eve are in one of the densest sections of the painting, they stick out as the light catches their nude skin and illuminates it a bit. Many of the angels in the painting are drenched in sun as if they are also being absorbed by the divine light. The glowing, pastel tones of Tintoretto’s Coronation of the Virgin would be unsuccessful without his choice of lighting which becomes divine in choosing who is most important, most holy in his populous composition. In analyzing Tintoretto’s The Coronation of the Virgin, one cannot help but to become lost in the composition, which not monumental in size (at the Louvre) is monumental in subject, matter, and energy.

Standing in front of the busy work, it’s as if you can hear the angels singing, and the shuffling of bodies. You can almost begin to feel the orange light sweeping against your face as you raise your eyes to Jesus and the Virgin Mary. When standing in front of the piece to long, you may be tricked into believing the Coronation is happening in front of you. Due to his obedience to the hierarchy of scale, setting his composition in an atmospheric perspective, and the light perfectly lifting you to the divine, one inclined to religious beliefs might feel a swelling within them as their Queen is crowned by the Messiah, her son, Jesus. In this truly impressive work, Tintoretto shows off his genius with scale, emphasizing those who are important, dividing them in different hierarchy’s whether in placing or size. And in comparing this work to Raphael Sanzio’s Oddi Alterpiece (1502-1504), in which the coronation of the virgin is the main subject, we see that Raphael takes the path of opening the composition to the viewer as well but does so in a much less dramatic, and in turn, much less effective way. Jesus and Mary are similarly placed above the viewer causing an effect to bring the eyes upwards, yet we view the Coronation on the same sizing scale we view the other holy figures in the painting not adding majesty to the true subject. The lighting of the Coronation in Raphael’s Oddi Alterpeice is also used in a much less suggestive tone than Tintoretto’s, as all figures receive the same use of lighting as the other. In comparing the two pieces, Tintoretto’s more dramatic and manneristic style seems to influence a more intense reaction with the audience than Reapheal’s, which I argue is more fitting to a subject of such importance. Tintoretto’s piece invites the viewer to the coronation by placing us amongst the clouds, among the angels with his atmospheric perspective, and drench’s the holy figures in light, bring the viewer and the composition closer to the divine.

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Tintoretto’s Coronation Of Virgin: Divinity Of The Subjects. (2020, April 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 28, 2022, from
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