PICTURING THE PASSION: ‘Christ washing His disciples’ feet’ by Tintoretto (1548-49)

 The narrative of today’s painting is simple and yet its significance is revolutionary. The Gospel of John recites: ‘Jesus got up from the table removed His outer garment, and taking a towel wrapped it around his waist. Then he poured water in a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.’ Clearly, Jesus employs simple ordinary means to express His magnificent extra-ordinary love.

The love for this theme of art is best expressed by the Italian painter ‘Tintoretto’. Born Jacopo Comin, Tintoretto (the little dyer) took his name from his father’s profession of dyeing (tintore in Italian). Noticing the paint daubs on the dyer’s wall, his father apprenticed him to the studio of Titian. However as fate would have it, Titian sent the young chap home in 10 days, apparently ‘jealous’ of his extra-ordinary skills.

These spectacular skills were spelled out in most of his paintings with phenomenal energy that earned him the term ‘Il Furioso’. He imitated the bold muscular style of the Mannerist school of art while emulating the colour and light of the Venetian school. It is with this noble conception that he placed above his studio a plaque that read, ‘Il disegno di Michelangelo et il colorito di Tiziano’ (The design of Michelangelo and the colour of Titian).

Tintoretto staged his narratives as a theatre director. He employed light and dark, foreshortening in order to transform religious scenes into enthralling performances. The spirit of Counter Reformation reverberated through his art works. One such beat is ‘Christ washing His disciples’ feet’. Painted in 1548 – 49 for the Church of St. Mark, currently it is on display at the Prado Museum in Spain.

Tintoretto approaches the narrative in a practical manner. The foot washing would have probably lasted for 40 minutes. He therefore does not paint his subjects in solemn silence. Rather on the wings of his imagination he soars beyond sanity.

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