Palazzo Ducale

Doge's Palace

TINTORETTO’S PARADISO. Artists competing for a commission at the Doge’s Palace


Curated by Giandomenico Romanelli, Jean Habert and Maria del Mar Borobia Guerrero, the exhibition covers the history of the public competition held by the Venetian Republic in 1582 to decide the commission for what is the largest canvas painting in the world: the Paradiso in the Great Council Chamber of the Doge’s Palace. Various artists of the standing of Paolo Veronese, Francesco Bassano and Jacopo Palma il Giovane – plus of course the ultimate winner, Tintoretto – submitted interpretations of the theme.

Thanks to museums such as the Louvre (Paris) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza (Madrid), which are the co-organisers of the event, it has been possible to bring together some of these paintings for the first time in more than four centuries. The subject-matter was rigidly defined by the Venetian authorities and so the exhibition offers the chance to see how the interpretations reflected the personality and artistic sensibility of the painters; each composition reveals individual preferences that reflect not only aesthetic choices but also issues relating to politics and religious doctrine. Exhibited in the Great Council Chamber itself, the works can thus for the first time be compared directly with the result achieved by the artist who actually won the commission. There will also be a computer terminal which will enable visitors to cast their own vote with regard to the painting that should have been selected.

The immense and magnificent Great Council Chamber in the Doge’s Palace was the heart of the political machinery of the Venetian Republic. Along its eastern wall runs a wide wooden dais which was occupied by the doge and his counsellors. Up to the middle of  the sixteenth century and beyond, the wall above this dais  was occupied by a massive fresco of The Coronation of the Virgin, also commonly known as Il Paradiso. Painted around 1365 by the most famous local artist of the day – the Padua-born Guariento (active from 1338 to 1367) – that work had been badly damaged over time and  was then almost entirely destroyed by the serious fire which devastated this part of the Palace  in 1577.  As a result, the fresco would be covered over by the huge canvas painting which still frames the space of the dais: Tintoretto’s Paradiso, painted in the years 1588-1592. Why was a religious subject chosen for the chamber that housed the highest authority of secular  government within the Republic? And in re-confirming this subject-matter when the fresco was replaced more than two hundred years later, how did the government of the Republic come  to give the commission to Tintoretto? These are the questions to which the exhibition aims to provide an answer.