“Wedding at Cana” , Tintoretto, 1561, Sacristy of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice. This was originally painted for the Confraternity of the Crocifieri, but was moved to the Salute, on their dissolution in 1657. So if you stand looking at the actual painting, you find that you have entered a wonderful banqueting hall, through a door, now behind you, on the left. Right in front of you, along the left hand wall is a long table, covered in a white linen cloth and laden with food, but the glass vessels upon it are empty. The men are seated on the lefthand side of the table with their back to the wall so that they are in the shade. In contrast the women are picked out on the righthand side of the table by the sunlight which pours in from the windows above. The scene is more like Sixteenth Century Venice than First Century Cana. The line of the table and its two rows of guests direct your eye to Jesus who is sitting with his mother at the far end. Near them, you might just notice the bridegroom who sits beside the bride. The hall is filled with busy servants. They are pouring wine from a large vessel and there are similar vessels nearby. In this way the story of what happened at Cana is told. However, there is more to be said. This is a very large painting, (436cm X 535cm) and must surely have been painted for a refectory to fill one wall and give the illusion of spatial continuity. You might think of Veronese’s lavish treatment of the same subject, or indeed, Leonardo’s last supper in Milan, both of which give this same kind of illusion. Like them, Tintoretto uses clear lines of perspective to make the room seem real. However, there are significant differences. The guests at Veronese’s Cana are European heads of state. Tintoretto’s guests are ordinary Venetians. In the works by Veronese, you might be looking at a stage set or a photograph in which each character is carefully positioned. Tintoretto manages to make it seem unposed, as if you had just opened the door. This is the key to so many of his works: you are in the room. Another difference is that Tintoretto paints the servants with the same care as he does the guests. This artist is seeing everyone in the room. Of course, he wants to to notice Jesus and the wine being poured, he uses perspective lines to lead your eye to him. Tintoretto must surely have understood the meaning of the parable in today’s gospel, that he who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself exalted. He must have understood how Jesus, who is himself being watched, sees everyone in the room and not just those watching him. But, most significantly, he does what Jesus does. He puts us there at the feast.
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