The collection

5th March 1999 at 00:00
Week 9. 'Christ Washing the Disciples' Feet' by Tintoretto. Shipley Art Gallery. Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.

Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display

Tradition usually dictates that Christ is in the centre of Biblical paintings. But if you look at this painting by Tintoretto, a little spaniel is in the centre foreground, while Christ is located in the far right-hand corner of the picture.

But if you stand to the right of the picture and look at it, Christ seems to be in the foreground, the disciples in the middle and the architecture in the background, making everything seem in proportion and Christ at the forefront of the scene.

This early example of an optical illusion is typical of Tintoretto's work. Thanks to surviving records that detail his methods, we know that whenever the artist had a commission for a painting that would be on show in a public building, he first examined the place where it was to be hung, to estimate the height and distance from the viewer. This painting was destined for the church of Santa Marcuola in Venice.

To help him decide upon the composition, Tintoretto would make wax figures and arrange them on a flat table in a variety of positions and arrangements. The effect in this painting is particularly theatrical.

Tintoretto was born in 1518 in Venice. The son of a dyer of textiles, he took the name of Tintoretto or "little dyer". He was apprenticed to Titian, the greatest artist of the Venetian school, but legend has it that this arrangement only lasted 10 days. Some have seen this as evidence that Titian was jealous of the young man's skills.

Four versions of this painting exist today. It is believed that the Shipley version is the original painting from Santa Marcuola, removed from the church in 1648. A later replacement now hangs in the church.

Kate Reed is a marketing officer for Tyne and Wear Museum Service.Contact the education department at the Shipley Art Gallery, Prince Consort Road, Gateshead, Tyneand Wear. Tel: 0191 477 1495.

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