The Agony in the Garden by Domenico Tintoretto
Italian, 1560 - 1635
SN 74, oil on canvas

By Sharon Erickson, February 29, 2000

Domenico Tintoretto was a Renaissance artist in Venice. He was the son of Jacopo Tintoretto. Domenico was a student of his father's and worked in his workshop. He began his career by helping his father with the paintings in the Sala del Collegio and Sala del Senato in the Doge's Palace, Venice. He also worked independently in the Palace on various pieces but continued to collaborate with his father on some projects. He worked on religious commissions and in his later years was an accomplished portrait painter. He was greatly influenced by his father and continued to work in his father's style long after Jacopo's death. The style was mannerist with a sense of drama and originality. Domenico did develop his own style and used landscape in his work, his use of color became more subdued and his tendency was more toward naturalism. Dominico was highly regarded.

The painting is dated 1579-80 and is titled "Agony in the Garden". This painting depicts a story from the bible (Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). After the Last Supper and before his betrayal and arrest Christ and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ is pictured praying in the Garden. An angel appears to him and is handing him a golden chalice. The chalice represents the word of God that Christ must sacrifice his life. The agony refers to the struggle that Christ goes through during this time. The human side of Christ fears the pain and suffering that he will face, the spiritual side gives him the strength to endure. The Disciples are oblivious to this event and sleep. Peter's sleeping head is shown in the lower left of the picture.

This painting is a religious painting using the technique of Jacopo Tintoretto, Dominico's more famous father. The painting was attributed to Jacopo until just recently. Venetian artist were thought to be artists of color and atmosphere. The painting is set at night with the figure of Christ and the angel brightly lit. A second more brilliant light emanates from the head of Jesus and surrounds the chalice held by the angel. Christ is kneeling on a rocky ledge with a dark forest in the background. The angel appears to be coming out of the clouds. The spatial arrangements are disjointed. Christ and the angel are too large for their surroundings and too close to the sleeping Peter. The composition is diagonal with Christ and the angel in the upper right hand corner of the painting. The sleeping head of Peter is in the lower left hand corner. This is an off center composition with Jesus and the angel not being in the center of the picture but off to the side. This breaks with the compositional formality that was traditional at this time.
Chiaroscuro, which is the use of light and dark, is dominant in this picture. The colors are subdued and appear drained. The most commanding physical presence of Christ and the angel are dressed in slate blue robes. The rest of the painting is in darkness. The body of Jesus and the angel are somewhat elongated. The overall feeling is dramatic and religious. Light and dark are used as agents to exact a spiritual aura to the painting.
Peter's head is in darkness. He has a rough beard and wears a fisherman's hat. It is a dramatically lit composition. The painting has a mystical effect but also conveys the agony that Christ is experiencing. This painting depicts a big dramatic scene of spiritual tension with an appealing human message of salvation.
Mannerism is evident in this painting with the diagonal composition and the elongated rendering of the figures. Chiaroscuro was a technique explored by Tintoretto to give a dramatic and theatrical effect to his paintings. The use of color is not as effective as in some of his paintings. This could mean that it was intended for someone of the middle class.

In the sixteenth century, Venice was a center of economic and political power. Venice boasted a prosperous middle class, which patronized the arts. Venetian painters were free to explore and develop a new style and a brilliant use of color.