Images of Moses and sixteenth-century Venice
This thesis addresses the striking proliferation of Moses imagery in sixteenth-century Venice by considering the images as a distinctive category. Although the narratives of Moses can be found elsewhere in Italy, the Venetian treatment of these subjects is distinguished by their number and their placement not in private chapels but in locations available to a broad audience. Additionally, a contrast can be made between the central Italian examples, which display variations on a political theme originally established by St. Thomas Aquinas, and the peculiar Venetian approach to the prophet, influenced by the city’s Byzantine roots and its constitution. In tracing the development of this imagery in the sixteenth century, initial consideration must be given to the roots of its stylistic interpretation in the Veneto where paintings for chapels of the Sacrament exhibit the group-oriented compositions that characterize the works throughout the period. In this context, the pioneering work of Jacopo Tintoretto forms the principal focus of this thesis, arguing that he was the first to introduce Moses imagery into Venice on a monumental scale. In his works for the main chapel of the Church of the Madonna dell’Orto and the ceiling of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the image of Moses takes on heightened theological significance in the general religious context of the Counter Reformation and in particular Venetian contexts of parish and confraternity. The interplay of such monumental painting and printed book illustration is also considered. It is the influence of Tintoretto’s approach to Moses on later artists that forms in part the foundation for the proliferation of the subjects in the later years of the sixteenth and the early years of the seventeenth century.