BRERA, FINDING OF THE BODY OF ST. MARK

Audio File length: 2.08
Author: STEFANO ZUFFI E DAVIDE TORTORELLA
English / USA Language: English / USA

You are now in one of Brera's four main rooms, which are divided by pairs of columns and illuminated by round skylights. These rooms are called "Napoleonic" because they date back to when the museum was founded. In fact, Napoleon is still present here in flesh... and plaster, as you can see from the statue the great Italian sculptor Antonio Canova dedicated to him.

These halls are home to the museum's greatest paintings which are almost all of religious subjects, including one of the most unusual ones, The Finding of the body of St. Mark. This vast square canvas was part of a painting cycle of the second half of the 1500s by the great Venetian painter Jacopo Robusti, who was called Tintoretto because his father dyed fabrics (tintore in Italian).

The painting tells of an episode that is halfway between history and legend. Some Venetians went inside a church in Alexandria, Egypt in the middle of the night to find the Saint's remains, steal them, and take them to Venice. The relic seekers are pulling bodies out of graves by torchlight, when suddenly the ghost of St. Mark appears. You can see the Saint on the left, who calls off the hunt with an imperious gesture. A naked corpse lies at his feet on a carpet, painted in foreshortening, who in fact resembles the "Dead Christ" by Mantegna you just saw in another room.

The monumental figures, diagonal perspective, and flashing lights in the mysterious night make this work one of the freest and most fascinating innovations to Venetian paintings of the High Renaissance. In the right foreground a group of characters surrounds the figure of a possessed man: they really give you the chills!

 

FUN FACT: legend has it that to take St. Mark's body away from Alexandria, two Venetians hid him in a basket and covered him with vegetables and pork. It was an excellent idea, because when the Egyptians went to inspect the basket they stopped because the Koran would not allow them to touch the forbidden pork.

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