In her forthcoming book, Invisible women, Jane Fortune spotlights women whose lives and works have enriched Florence’s artistic
wealth throughout the centuries. Marietta Robusti, known as ‘La Tintoretta,’ is one of
these women, and her paintings are part of the Florentine collections.
Marietta Robusti (Venice, circa 1552-1590) dressed in boy’s
clothing until the age of 15, so she could more easily accompany her father,
the gifted Venetian painter Jacopo Robusti (1518-1594), better known as
‘Tintoretto.’ Considered the favorite of his seven children, she was his eldest
daughter and often called ‘La
Tintoretta’ (‘little dyer girl’), in honor of Jacopo, who had
inherited the nickname from his own father, a dyer.
From her early teens until her
death in 1590, Robusti apprenticed and worked in her father’s workshop,
absorbing many of the skills for which Tintoretto is most celebrated.
Especially renowned for her portraits of aristocratic Venetians, she painted in
the same flamboyant style that characterized her father’s work. As her talents
were a close match to his, it has proved consistently difficult for experts to
distinguish their hands.
Although both Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II and
King Philip II of Spain
invited Robusti to be a painter in their courts, her father, reluctant to part
with her, urged her not to accept the invitations. To ensure she would
permanently remain in Venice,
in 1578 Tintoretto arranged her marriage to a wealthy Venetian jeweler, Mario
Augusti on the condition that she would not leave Tintoretto’s house until he
passed away-a stipulation both she and her husband accepted. Sadly, Robusti
died in childbirth at age 30, four years after her marriage and four years
before her father’s death. Many historians speculate that Tintoretto’s death
was caused by the deep depression to which he succumbed after his beloved
daughter’s passing. Robusti is buried beside her father in the family parish, Venice’s Madonna
dell’Orto, surrounded by several of Tintoretto’s paintings.
The Uffizi holds two of Robusti’s works, including a
miniature, Portrait of a lady (Cassetto delle minature, room 24) and
her Self portrait,
exhibited in the Vasari Corridor. The latter, which shows Robusti as a
musician, is the only painting that has been conclusively attributed to her.
Musically inclined, both vocally and instrumentally, she played the lute and
harpsichord. In this work, Robusti carefully copied the musical score she is
holding, Madonna per voi Philiane,
by Philippe Verdelot, the father of the Italian madrigal. Its lyrics translate
as ‘My lady, I burn with love for you and you do not believe it.’ This painting
is thought to have been created for a male viewer, perhaps her husband.
Very few canvases attributed to
Robusti have survived, while several may simply have been incorporated into her
father’s oeuvre. In 1920, Portrait of
a man with a boy (1585, Kunsthistorisches
Museum), once considered
among her father’s best portraits, was attributed to Robusti on the basis of
the ‘M’ signature found on the work. Nonetheless, some scholars, reluctant to
consider that she may have produced multiple works of her own, have been slow
to uphold evidence of its authenticity.