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Knights of the Art

Tintoretto
It was between four and five hundred years ago that Venice sat most proudly on her
throne as Queen of the Sea. She had the greatest fleet in all the Mediterranean. She
bought and sold more than any other nation. She had withstood the shock of battle and
conquered all her foes, and now she had time to deck herself with all the beauty which art
and wealth could produce.
The merchants of Venice sailed to every port and carried with them wonderful shiploads
of goods, for which their city was famous--silks, velvets, lace, and rich brocades. The
secret of the marvellous Tyrian dyes had been discovered by her people, and there were
many dyers in Venice who were specially famous for the purple dye of Tyre, which was
thought to be the most beautiful in all the world. Then too they had learned the art of
blowing glass into fairy-like forms, as delicate and light as a bubble, catching in it every
shade of colour, and twisting it into a hundred exquisite shapes. Truly there had never
been a richer or more beautiful city than this Queen of the Sea.
It was just when the glory of Venice was at its highest that Art too reached its height, and
Giorgione and Titian began to paint the walls of her palaces and the altarpieces of her
churches.
In the very centre of the city where the poorer Venetians had their houses, there lived
about this time a man called Battista Robusti who was a dyer, or `tintore,' as he is called
in Italy. It was his little son Jacopo who afterwards became such a famous artist. His
grand-sounding name `Tintoretto' means nothing but `the little dyer,' and it was given to
him because of his father's trade.
Tintoretto must have been brought up in the midst of gorgeous colours. Not only did he
see the wonderful changing tints of the outside world, but in his father's workshop he
must often have watched the rich Venetian stuffs lifted from the dye vats, heavy with the
crimson and purple shades for which Venice was famous. Perhaps all this glowing colour
wearied his young eyes, for when he grew to be a man his pictures show that he loved
solemn and dark tones, though he could also paint the most brilliant colours when he
chose.
Of course, the boy Tintoretto began by painting the walls of his father's house, as soon as
he was old enough to learn the use of dyes and paints. Even if he had not had in him the
artist soul, he could scarcely have resisted the temptation to spread those lovely colours
on the smooth white walls. Any child would have done the same, but Tintoretto's
mischievous fingers already showed signs of talent, and his father, instead of scolding
him for wasting colours and spoiling the walls, encouraged him to go on with his
pictures.
 
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