Tintoretto: The Huge Scale of Creation


"The Coronation of the Virgin." Tintoretto, c. 1580.

No way was this painting going to fit to the left of my text, as usual, so I just stuck it at the top. It’s still too small to see properly. But I put it here because it gave me an important idea – creation can be vast. Sure, “creation” in the traditional sense of God’s creation, the world, is big. But I’m talking about the creation of the human mind – art, music, literature, ideas. How can we make vast creations for the 21st century?

Detail from Tintoretto, "Coronation of the Virgin." Some of the spectators.

I discovered this painting in my “Masters of the Louvre” lectures. The artist, a Venetian known as Tintoretto, won a contest to replace a burned-out fresco with this scene. It’s huge in scale, bold, fantastic. At the top center, the Virgin is re-united with Christ and crowned in heaven. Many Renaissance painters worked with this scene, but Tintoretto’s creation is superior in its overwhelming sense of scale.

Look at all the people he’s packed into the clouds! Hundreds of them watch from the distant, ever-rising layers. A nice achievement, to create a huge world filled with triumph, or any other emotion. But for the 21st century, this painting needs to be even bigger…

An infinite universe, more than 13 billion years old… The history of Earth, life emerging from the oceans, continents crashing together and ripping apart, humans evolving to understand the age of the rocks and the scope of the stars…

I’m writing about some of these ideas in my current novel. But I’m still learning how to create a sense of vastness, so I only have paltry descriptions: when describing a starry sky, for example, I might say something about the age of it. Or I might have a character or the narrator mention the lightning brilliance of the human mind. Maybe someday I’ll write a vast epic that traces back to the beginning of the universe and ends with 21st-century man. For now, though, I work with smaller things.

In the Tintoretto painting – Who gets a seat to see the spectacle? Only a few are important enough to be in the foreground, which is rather discouraging. What about individual achievement? It’s rarely noticed in our age of billions, where the scale is at 7 billion people, and rising. Yet that is the world in which we create: colossal, overwhelming, unimaginable, just like this painting. Tintoretto shows us the scope needed – or rather, the scope possible – in a creative work.

How about you? Do you ever think about the vastness of the world? If you’re an artist/writer/musician/philosopher, does it ever figure in your creations?


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  1. Pingback: Silver Jubilee Cover | Sticky Networks

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