(Venice 1518-1594)


Allegory of Music


Oil on canvas (ceiling painting)

129 ⅞ x 94 ½ inches (335 x 240 cm)



Contini-Bonacossi Collection, Florence
Stanley Moss, Riverdale-on-Hudson, 1970-2016



Princeton, The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1988
Athens, National Gallery of Greece, 18 September - 31 December 1995, El Greco in Italy and Italian Art.



Erich von der Bercken. Die Gemälde des Jacopo Tintoretto. (Munich 1942), p. 110, no. 117, pl. 33.
Luigi Coletti. II Tintoretto, (Bergamo 1940), p. 16; ( ed.1944), p. 22; (ed. 1951), p. 22.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. La giovinezza del Tintoretto (Milan 1950), p. 152.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School (London 1957), I, p. 173.
Pierluigi De Vecchi. L'opera completa del Tintoretto (Milan 1970) p. 101, no. 134.
Rodolfo Pallucchini and Paola Rossi. Tintoretto: Le opere sacre e profane (Milan 1982), I, p. 178, no. 221, II, pl. 287.
Erasmus Weddigen, “Jacopo Tintoretto und die Musik,” Artibus et Historiae, 10 (1984), pp. 67- 119, esp. p. 83.
Paul Hills, in El Greco in Italy and Italian Art, ed. Nicos Hadjinicolaou, ed., exhibition catalogue, Athens 1995, no. 17,


The Allegory of Music is a rarity in Tintoretto's oeuvre, the artist's only known illusionistic ceiling painting. The view skyward is framed by foreshortened balustrades decorated with hanging garlands upon which birds rest; at the comers pendulous baskets of flowers, a Mantegnesque motif, are supported by crouching sculpted servants. Seated among the blue clouds are three female figures -- one holding a lira da braccio, one tuning her lute, the third perhaps singing from the open music book before her. Opposite, a winged Genius rises into the golden sky as his arms seem to conduct the celestial concert.


The whole is a visual meditation on the idea of harmony— one that draws on both the Venetian pictorial tradition of musical representation and the artist’s own involvement with the musical culture of his time.

The Allegory was first published by von Bercken as a work from the years 1544-50, but Coletti and Pallucchini both place the painting a decade later, for Pallucchini around the year 1558. In the late 1550's, Tintoretto's works manifest a clear response to the artist's contemporary Paolo Veronese. This is evident, as Pallucchini indicates, not only in compositional and stylistic details, such as the elegant and open facial types, the luminous and sensual handling of the female flesh, and the overall clarity of design, but in the formal construct of the painting, with its decorative framework and illusionistic space. The unusual, and for Tintoretto unique, inclusion of garlands of flowers and fruits, may be related to contemporary theater practice.


For Pallucchini and Rossi the typology of the protaganists, both in physiognomy and figure, is directly bound to some of the more significant paintings by Tintoretto of the period: the Susanna in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; the figure of Tamar in the Meeting of Judah and Tamar in the Thyssen Collection, and the Allegories of Summer and Spring in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, respectively.  Hills, who allows for a slightly later date (1558-1560), points out analogies with the Miracle in the Pool of Bethesda of 1559 in the Church of San Rocco, and the Marriage at Cana of 1561, in the Sacristy of the Salute, both in Venice.


Hills has discussed the meaning of the picture, noting that the three seated female figures are portrayed just before beginning a recital. The one on the left holding a lira da braccio has just struck a note to guide the lutanist opposite, who is tuning her instrument, while the central figure studies her music and prepares to sing. The winged Genius with outstretched arms "welcomes the trio, guides the tuning of their instruments and so brings them into balance." The whole is a visual meditation on the idea of harmony-- one that draws on both the Venetian pictorial tradition of musical representation and the artist's own involvement with the musical culture of his time.