Jacopo Tintoretto (attrib.)
The Ascension of Christ with St. Justina and St. Francis of Paola

16th century
Church of Santa Maria del Giglio, Venice

The label in the church calls the painting simply an "altarpiece depicting the Savior, St. Justina, St. Francis of Paola," but it is rather clearly a celebration of medieval Venice's annual "Marriage to the Sea," which takes place on Ascension Thursday. The Doge would sail to the Adriatic Sea on his ceremonial galleon, the Bucintoro, and toss a wedding ring into the water.

In the painting Christ rises into the heavens directly above the Bucintoro, which is flying the colors of the city. In the foreground the awe-struck witnesses of the historical ascension in Acts 1:11 are represented by two saints particularly revered in Venice and its territories. Francis of Paola had founded the Order of Minims, which operated a church in Venice's Castello district. Justina was a patron saint of Padua, which was part of Venice's terrafirma, and her feast day coincides with the anniversary of Venice's defeat of the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto, October 7.

The two saints are identified by the label provided in the church. St. Justina can also be recognized by her primary attribute, the sword that was thrust into her breast when she was martyred in Padua. Francis of Paola is very often depicted with a staff and/or a sunburst with the word Caritas ("Charity"), but here he has only the black habit of his order.

In images from earlier periods Christ is carried aloft by angels, as would be consistent with Acts 1:9, elevatus est, "he was raised up." But in the following verse the verb is active: the disciples see him in caelum euntem, "going into the sky." Following this hint, paintings of the 16th century more often have him rising unassisted, sometimes attended by angels but not lifted by them. In this painting the angels only help lift his garments.

The church's label attributes the painting to Jacopo Tintoretto, but I have not found it in any of the online catalogues of his works, some of which claim to be exhaustive. The painting does resemble some of the works of Jacopo's son Domenico Tintoretto, whose paintings tend to be more formal and balanced than his father's. In his Flagellation and Christ Crowned with Thorns his Jesus strongly resembles the one in this painting. He also tends to favor using a golden glow at the summit of paintings such as Tancred Baptizing Clorinda and the Nativity in Madonna dell'Orto.

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Read more about images of the Ascension.
Read more about images of St. Justina of Padua.
Read more about images of St. Francis di Paola.

Photographed at the site by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.