'The Martyrdom of St Stephen', after TintorettoArtist:
, Italian, 1854 - 1931
Artist: after workshop of
, Venetian, 1519 - 1594
Material and Medium: watercolour and bodycolour on paper
Dimensions: Mount: 610 x 457mm
Support: 513 x 326mm
Accession Number: CGSG00333
Tintoretto, or more probably his assistants, painted the Martyrdom of St Stephen as an altarpiece for the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice in 1593.
What is the Story of St Stephen?
This watercolour shows the death of St Stephen, who was one of the first biblical martyrs. His story comes from the Book of Acts. Stephen was a preacher, sent out to work in Jerusalem by Christ's disciples and was able to perform miracles. One group of Jews put Stephen on trial for his beliefs, and when he stated that he had seen a vision of God with Christ at his side, they dragged Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death.
This work shows men stoning St Stephen, who is looking up at figures of God and Christ above him. His attribute, or identifying object is the book of Gospels, which is in the lower left of this painting, and the martyr's palm in his arms.
Why did Ruskin admire the works of Tintoretto?
Ruskin said that Tintoretto was 'the most powerful painter whom the world has seen' and admired Tintoretto's painting for his use of colour for its symbolic and emotive meaning. Certain colour symbolisms have become conventional in art; for example in this work, St Stephen wears, as is typical for him, a red gown. Ruskin felt that Tintoretto had original ideas about how to transmit messages through colour and knew also how to use 'chiaroscuro' or bright light and dark tones to create an emotional scene.
In this painting, the halo of St Stephen and the light of God shine out of the work and are more powerful because of the darkness that surrounds them. Ruskin noticed the figure of Saul (later St Paul) in the background of the work. He is not an important figure in this story and Tintoretto has placed him in the background, but the artist acknowledges Saul's later importance as a saint by dressing him in the same colours, black and red, as God. Ruskin explained that most artists would have painted St Paul in a more reverent manner, but for Tintoretto, 'colour is enough.'