Excerpts from the series:
The Marietta Robusti Tintoretto Story

Marietta Robusti Tintoretto (1560-1590)

Marietta Robusti Tintoretto was the gifted daughter of the celebrated Venetian painter, Jacopo Tintoretto. Jacopo favored Marietta above his other seven children and she was his constant companion for many years. He personally saw to her education by having her dress in boy's clothing so it would be possible for her to accompany him everywhere and learn at his side. Marietta observed and practiced Jacopo's renowned painting techniques until it was said that her hand was indistinguishable from that of her father's.

By the 1580s Marietta's portraiture achieved success and fame. It became fashionable in the aristocratic circles of Venice to sit for La Tintoretto. Her likeness of Jacopo Strada, Emperor Maximilian's antiquarian so impressed the emperor that he invited Marietta to be the painter of his court as did Philip II of Spain and the Archduke Ferdinand. At her father's urging, Marietta refused all offers to leave his house and did not marry until Jacopo d' Augusta, a jeweler, agreed to live under the elder Tintoretto's roof. Marietta had worked in the Tintoretto workshop for fifteen years while simultaneously completing scores of portrait commissions. But, her work has not survived, having either perished or, more likely, been submerged into her father's body of work. Most modern scholars attribute only a single work to her, Portrait of an Old Man With Boy. Long considered one of Jacopo Tintoretto's finest portraits, Marietta's characteristic "M" signature was discovered in 1920. In death, as in life, it is hard to disentangle Marietta from her father.

Marietta died in childbirth, four years after her wedding at the age of thirty, leaving a grief stricken father who, some said, never recovered. She was laid to rest in the modest Gothic church of the family's parish, Santa Maria dell' Orto, in view of several of her father's paintings. A poignant tale of long ago that deals with contemporary life issues spun from the fiber of the magnificent and moody Venice..........

Commentary on this exhibit by Lucy R. Lippard.










All work is copyrighted by the artist, and cannot be reproduced without permission.


Several years ago I was reading a book that was an anthology of women artists when I came upon a couple of paragraphs that told of Marietta Robusti Tintoretto. As people have speculated, it was her name that particularly attracted me to her story but not because it was my name. I was named for my mother and it was because of my mother that the story originally intrigued me. Of course Tintoretto was just one of many women artists whose lives were depicted in the book. Almost all the stories told of struggles, hardships and careers forsaken or overshadowed. But Marietta's story was emblematic of all the stories. Marietta Tintoretto's story stuck with me. In 1994 I applied for a grant based on the Tintoretto story to The E.D. Foundation and when they awarded me the grant I devoted the next two years of my work to Marietta's story.

It took some research a good deal of trial and error before I found a format that felt right for the question I was asking which was, "why did women find validation in the arts so difficult to attain?" I addressed this question by focusing on issues that Marietta Tintoretto faced and incorporated those into the paintings. The three largest paintings were the first pieces I completed which are composed of fractured elements because women often get fragmented by their various roles. That fragmentation makes focusing on a career in the arts difficult at best. The elements in these larger paintings take on many guises which, for me, symbolize Venice, the Renaissance and my ideas of Marietta's life. They are my commentary. The oval paintings of Venice depict the context for the story, a place of much grandeur and love of the arts. Venice had a great influence over the West. It was (and is) an enchanting place that paradoxically harbors dark stories and times.

The smaller paintings with fabricated frames are like the small formats that so many women artists use. They whisper instead of shout and one must become intimate with them. The frames were constructed of many different media which reminded me of the way some women can seemingly make 'something from nothing,' whether it's dinner or a dress. I used different configurations of the only picture references that I had of the cast, Marietta's father, Jacopo Tintoretto, Marietta herself and the one painting that is currently attributed to her, Old Man and a Boy, to express different thoughts I had about her story.

The project took a lot of incubating and starts and stops. I discarded some of my early attempts to distill the story to it's essence. I had a grand time building the frames with pieces that I cast from molds which I made from some personal, meaningful objects. I loved the oil paint and the luscious colors and derived great pleasure from the gold leafing. I was raised in an 'old world' home and the imagery and materials that I used in Marietta's story seemed familiar. They held both nostalgia and aversion for me. Perhaps the final work retains some of that tension and contradiction.

In this work I want to present the idea that there are many things in our own minds that can stop us, even when the opportunities to fly free present themselves. I use the historical context so women artists can better understand those forces, internally and externally, that both drive and deter them. I have attempted to embody in this work the things that influence us both good and bad. Through telling Marietta's story, I gained an understanding of my mother's decision—away from a career in the arts that was so demanding and risky. My intent is to be non judgemental and generous because after all, I am my mother's child and thus this story is mine as well.


Marietta Patricia Leis is a visual artist from Corrales, New Mexico. She has had a diverse career with her work extending to paintings, drawings, prints and constructions. Leis received her BA from Antioch college and her MA/MFA in studio art from the University of New Mexico. She also studied art at the University of California, LA, Otis/Parsons and Santa Monica Community College.

Ms. Leis has been the recipient of The E.D. Foundation's artist grant in 1994, 1995 and 1996. These grants have funded the Marietta Robusti Tintoretto Story which will be premiering at the Jonson Gallery, the University of New Mexico in the fall of 1996. In 1997 the exhibition will tour six North Dakota venues. Leis has also received a grant from Artist Space, NYC.

Among the places that Leis' work has been exhibited in the last two years are the Museo Italo Americano, San Francisco; Montana State University-Billings; Pindar Gallery, Soho NYC, St. Johns College, Santa Fe, New Mexico; The Clymer Museum, Ellensburg, Washington and the Holter Museum, Helena, Montana.

Leis' work is in the following collections the Corrales, Senior Center, Corrales, NM; the Holtze Hotel, Denver; St. Mary's Home, Manitowoc, Wisconsin; the University of New Mexico Divsion of Continuing Education; Ross Laboratories, Columbus, Ohio and the State Capitol Building, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Leis' extensive exhibition record as well as collections that she is in, awards that she has received and lectures that she has given is documented in Who's Who In American Art (22nd Edition, 1996-7, R.R. Bowker, A Reed Reference).

As a dedicated educator, Leis, for the past nine years has developed and taught many workshops in art for the Continuing Education division of The University of New Mexico. She also teaches in the Very Special Arts program in New Mexico. In 1985 and 1986 while teaching at the University of New Mexico Leis' undergraduate students gave her an Excellent Teaching Rating.

For itinerary and booking information contact:
Marietta Patricia Leis
PO Drawer D, Corrales, NM 87048 (505)898-1950
FAX 505/897-0975 E-Mail 76065.2346@compuserve.com

Comments to Curator

Copyright 1996 HyperBole Studios