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Making Miracles at the Scuola Grande di San Marco


In 1548 Tintoretto delivered the Miracle of the Slave to the Scuola Grande di San Marco. It was the latest in a painting cycle focusing on St. Mark, patron of both the city of Venice and the eponymous confraternity. Each painting in the cycle negotiates the tension of the foreign origins of a saint habitually conflated with the state. Tintoretto's dramatic rendition featured an upturned flying saint and a crowd of spectators gawking at the miracle. In tenor, composition, and tone the painting radically diverged from the established painting tradition that had embedded miraculous occurrences quietly into the quotidian experience of Venetian life. Tintoretto's painting was initially rejected and the painter did not work again at the confraternity for twenty years.

This dissertation argues that the seemingly abrupt pictorial caesura at the Scuola Grande di San Marco in fact continues traditional Venetian pictorial strategies but in an avant-garde visual vocabulary. In the introduction I establish the phenomenological experience of Venice and its invocation in imagery temporally and spatially. I contend that Venetian understanding of the miraculous referenced a multiplicity of time and space. In chapter one I propose that Venetian local identity was intrinsically intertwined with the foreign, a conceptualization readily apparent in the processions, architecture, and pictorial decorations making up the city's spectacle. Chapter two delves into the Venetian practice of using narrative as historical evidence and as a claim to their possession of the body of St. Mark. Chapter three concerns the failure of modernization efforts on Tintoretto's part with the Miracle of the Slave and the more successful examples of Paris Bordone and Palma il Vecchio. Chapter four looks at Tintoretto's paintings at the confraternity from the 1560s that insist on the disruptive power of miracles while retaining venezianità through invocation of local phenomenological experience. Tintoretto's Stealing of the Slave prefigures St. Mark's translatio to come by transposing the historical event in Alexandria onto the Piazza San Marco thus visualizing the body's eventual predestined resting place in the Basilica San Marco.

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