Far too many years ago, in college, I was a frequent participant in what was known as “lit events”. Cryptic crosswords, trivia quizzes, dumb charades and that sort of thing. Events would normally be held on the weekends in empty classrooms by enthusiastic organizers, seven or eight teams comprised wholly of people from Bengal and Bangalore, and a lively crowd of nobody. And the only women around were those who wandered in by mistake and then left promptly.
For some never explained reason, during these evenings of fun and frolic, the “20 questions” event was always referred to as Tintoretto. Perhaps it was because the name of the great Venetian painter sounded somewhat like the term “20 questions”. Or maybe once Tintoretto himself had been the subject of a heated round of 20 questions, that then passed into lit event lore. Nobody really knew.
History tells us Jacopo Comin, as Tintoretto was known in real life, wouldn’t have minded. Not entirely averse to a little fun and games himself, Tintoretto, who was born in Venice in 1518, was very dedicated to his work. Thanks to a great propensity for the fine arts in his youth—young Comin played musical instruments and drew very well—his parents entrusted the boy to the tutelage of master painter Titian. That arrangement worked for around 10 days. Some say Titian was jealous of the boy’s abilities, others that Tintoretto’s drawing revealed too much energy and free spirit. Comin was sent home, where he spent the next many years learning independently. He slaved away at his passion, seldom leaving his house. And then created masterpieces.
Via Venice: Sabyasachi Chakraborty plays detective Feluda in Tintorettor Jishu. HT Photo
In the centuries since, Tintoretto’s paintings, however, would do plenty of travelling. One work, the Portrait of Alvise Vendramin from the Tintoretto school, for instance, recently caused a furore after news emerged a few weeks ago that the painting had made a rather dubious journey across the Atlantic in the mid-1930s.
The portrait was displayed till very recently at the Hearst Castle near San Simeon in California, US. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, when newspapers still made money, media magnate William Randolph Hearst built the castle on a family ranch. It had, among other fun things, 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms and the world’s largest private zoo. It also had plenty of great art, including the portrait of Vendramin that Hearst’s agents bought from a gallery in Germany in 1935 (the castle is now a state monument run by the government of California and draws thousands of tourists each year).
On 7 April, news emerged that the portrait was once owned by a Jewish couple in Berlin whose property was confiscated by the Nazis. After an investigation, Hearst Castle authorities recently handed the Tintoretto back to the descendants of the original owners.
Wonder if the Bengali author of a mystery novel, Tintorettor Jishu, had any inkling of this when he published the work in 1983? Tintorettor Jishu is the story of an original Tintoretto painting of Christ that goes missing from the possession of an Indian family. The thief is pursued to Hong Kong by a detective, one Prodosh C. Mitter aka Feluda. Intrigue prevails. The novel was made into a Bengali movie in December by Sandip Ray, the author’s son.
So, if you like the cover story this week, why not get a DVD of the movie version of Satyajit Ray’s Tintorettor Jishu? You could, I guess, call it the latest Ray available.
Write to Sidin at firstname.lastname@example.org