Caino e Abele

Cain and Abel

Jacopo Robusti detto Jacopo Tintoretto

Author
Jacopo Robusti detto Jacopo Tintoretto
Venezia, 1519 - 1594
Title
Cain and Abel
Catalogue
41
Date
1550–1553
Support
Canvas, 149 x 196 cm
Provenance
Purchased 1812, from Venice, Scuola della Santissima Trinità
Hall
Hall XXIII

The story depicted is that of Cain and Abel, the two sons of the first parents Adam and Even, when Cain, jealous of the favour God has bestowed on Abel, kills him on the stone sacrificial altar. An eighteenth-century print by Antonio Zucchi shows that the canvas was slightly cropped along the right margin, cutting the hovering figure of God the Father as he banishes Cain, who now seems to be roaming alone in the landscapae in a later episode of the story. The canvas came to the Gallerie dell'Accademia from the Scuola della Santissima Trinità as early as 1812, and was one of the few Tintorettos on permanent display as it served as a model for the study of nudes by the students at the new educational institution.The composition was inspired by Titian’s ceiling on the same subject for the Venetian church of Santo Spirito in Isola, painted in about 1542 and then moved to the church of Santa Maria della Salute in the seventeenth century. Tintoretto transfers the dynamic of the ceiling to a wall canvas, removing it from the transfiguring background of the sky and inserting it within an Edenic landscape of the creation of the world. The two figures form a whirl of chiaroscuro and light, overwhelmed by their own dynamism, their faces barely visible to viewers. Another point of reference is a painting by Andrea Schiavone, one of Tintoretto’s friends, on the same theme, now at the Galleria Palatina in Florence. The landscape is monochrome, dark, and at the same time immersed, within the painting's contrasting levels, in a golden light that strangely enough reminds us of the young Rembrandt. The tree trunk separates the scene of the fighting men from the scene in the lower portion with the decapitated head of a calf, its eyes still languidly those of a victim, that represents the sacrifice of Cain, and above Cain himself fleeing, with the staff of a wayfarer over his shoulders, an allusion to the first steps taken by humanity as it moves further and further from terrestrial paradise.