The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes

Jacopo Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti) (Italian, Venice 1519–1594 Venice)

ca. 1545–50
Oil on canvas
61 x 160 1/2 in. (154.9 x 407.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Francis L. Leland Fund, 1913
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    This painting depicts one of two miracles during which Christ fed a large multitude with a few loaves and fishes; here he hands Saint Andrew one platter of each to be distributed. With its exaggerated horizontal composition the painting must have been commissioned for a typical deep lateral wall of a chapel in Venice, where it would have hung across from a companion painting of "Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples" (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto). The subjects of both works relate to the sacrament of the Eucharist. Designed by Tintoretto about 1545–50, like many of his larger works it was executed in part by the artist and in part by members of his workshop.

  • Catalogue Entry


  • Provenance

    ?Carlo and Domenico Ruzini, Venice (in 1642); ?Giovanni Antonio Ruzini, Palazzo Sant'Apollinare, Venice (in 1787; inv., 1787); ?Sir Joshua Reynolds, London (until d. 1792; his estate sale, Christie's, London, March 14, 1795, no. 49, as "Christ feeding the multitude," by Tintoretto, for 55 gns., bought in by Offley; his estate sale, Phillips, London, May 9, 1798, no. 33, for 2-1/2 gns. to Tresham); [Nairne, Dublin, until 1839; sold to Farnham]; Henry Maxwell, 7th Baron Farnham, Farnham, Cavan, Ireland (1839–d. 1868); Barons Farnham, Farnham (1868–1900); Arthur Kenlis Maxwell, 11th Baron Farnham, Farnham (1900–1913; sold to Douglas); [R. Langton Douglas, London, 1913; sold to MMA]

  • Exhibition History

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

  • References

    Carlo Ridolfi. Vita di Giacopo Robusti detto il Tintoretto. Venice, 1642, p. 72, mentions a picture of this subject by Tintoretto in the collection of Senators Carlo and Domenico Ruzini, Venice, possibly this work.

    Inventory of Giovanni Antonio Ruzini's Palazzo Sant'Apollinare. 1787 [Archivio di Stato, Venice, Giudici di petizion, B. 482/147/No. 17; see Ref. McTavish 1981], lists a large painting of this subject, with no artist given, possibly this work.

    B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "An Important Tintoretto." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 8 (May 1913), pp. 100–101, ill. opp. p. 100, calls it a late work; notes Tintoretto's painting of the same subject in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, but finds the MMA picture to be more similar to his "Gathering of Manna" in San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice.

    Robert Langton Douglas. Letter to Edward Robinson. February 24, 1913, states that it dates from Tintoretto's last period, and is in a perfect state of preservation.

    August L. Mayer. "The Miracle of the Distribution of the Loaves and Fishes by Jacopo Tintoretto." Art in America 2 (August 1914), pp. 342, 345–46, 349, fig. 1, dates it "not later than 1560, and very probably some years earlier"; considers it a pendant to a lost painting of Moses Striking the Rock, known through a sketch in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt.

    August L. Mayer. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. November 28, 1914, dates it before 1550.

    F. P. B. Osmaston. The Art and Genius of Tintoret. London, 1915, vol. 2, p. 177.

    Detlev von Hadeln. "Early Works by Tintoretto—II." Burlington Magazine 41 (December 1922), p. 288 n. 8, calls it "scarcely earlier" than the end of the 1560s and states incorrectly that it was formerly in the collection of John Ruskin.

    Erich von der Bercken and August L. Mayer. Jacopo Tintoretto. Munich, 1923, vol. 1, pp. 54, 178, 199–200; vol. 2, pl. 14, date it 1544–47; assume that it was commissioned for an unknown brotherhood.

    Mary Pittaluga. Il Tintoretto. Bologna, 1925, p. 281, dates it before 1548 and repeats the erroneous Ruskin provenance [see Ref. Hadeln 1922].

    François Fosca. Tintoret. Paris, 1929, p. 144.

    Adolfo Venturi. "La pittura del Cinquecento." Storia dell'arte italiana. 9, part 4, Milan, 1929, p. 616 n. 1.

    Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 562, lists it as an early work by Tintoretto.

    Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 483.

    Wart Arslan. "Argomenti per la cronologia del Tintoretto." Critica d'arte 2 (August 1937), p. XXX.

    [Erich von der] Bercken in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. 33, Leipzig, 1939, pp. 190, 194.

    Harry B. Wehle. "Tintoretto's Finding of Moses." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 34 (December 1939), p. 276, calls it an early work.

    Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 199–200, ill., suggests that it might be the work mentioned by Ridolfi [see Ref. Ridolfi 1642]; notes a replica formerly in the Palazzo Giovanelli, Venice.

    Erich von der Bercken. Die Gemälde des Jacopo Tintoretto. Munich, 1942, pp. 64, 98 n. 25, p. 118, no. 250, pl. 124, dates it about 1566–72; repeats the erroneous Ruskin provenance.

    Luigi Coletti. Il Tintoretto. 2nd ed. Bergamo, 1944, p. 22, compares it with the version in the Contini Bonacossi collection, Florence (formerly Palazzo Giovanelli, Venice; later Stanley Moss, New York).

    Hans Tietze. Tintoretto. London, 1948, pp. 36, 356, fig. 9, dates it 1544–47.

    Hans Tietze. "Bozzetti di Jacopo Tintoretto." Arte veneta 5 (1951), p. 60, calls it an early work.

    Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 176.

    Paintings from Irish Collections. Exh. cat., Municipal Gallery of Modern Art. Dublin, 1957, p. 11, under no. 27, calls it a pendant to "Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples," also from the Farnham collection (now Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto); mentions a catalogue of the Farnham collection of 1843.

    Rodolfo Pallucchini in Enciclopedia universale dell'arte. 13, Venice, 1965, col. 944, calls it a replica with many variations of the Contini Bonacossi painting.

    Pierluigi De Vecchi in L'opera completa del Tintoretto. Milan, 1970, p. 101, no. 140, ill., dates it about 1560.

    Anna Pallucchini. Tintoretto. English ed. [1st ed., 1969]. London, 1971, p. 14, implies a date in the mid-1550s.

    Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 200, 279, 606.

    Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 71–72, pl. 86, tentatively date it to the late 1540s; call it probably a companion to the Toronto picture of Christ washing the disciples' feet, adding that "the subject matter and the large size of the two pictures seem to indicate that they were intended to decorate a hall or refectory in a confraternity or convent".

    Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 1974, p. 253.

    Francis Broun. Draft of Ref. Broun 1987. 1977, states that "a connection cannot be positively established" between this work and the painting of this subject by Tintoretto included in the two auctions of Joshua Reynolds's collection; gives details of the Reynolds sales.

    Denys Sutton. "Robert Langton Douglas, Part III, XIV: Agent for the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 109 (June 1979), p. 423, fig. 27.

    David McTavish in The Arts of Italy in Toronto Collections, 1300–1800. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario. Toronto, 1981, p. 43, under no. 31, discusses the New York and Toronto paintings as companion pieces and calls them relatively early works; tentatively identifies them with two works listed in a 1787 inventory of Giovanni Antonio Ruzini's palazzo in Venice [see Ref. Ruzini 1787].

    Rodolfo Pallucchini and Paola Rossi. "Le opere sacre e profane." Tintoretto. 2, 2 vols., Venice, 1982, vol. 1, pp. 170–71, no. 179; vol. 2, figs. 238–39 (overall and detail), date it about 1555.

    Francis Broun. "Sir Joshua Reynolds' Collection of Paintings." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1987, vol. 2, p. 314.

    Bert W. Meijer. "Flemish and Dutch Artists in Venetian Workshops: The Case of Jacopo Tintoretto." Renaissance Venice and the North: Crosscurrents in the Time of Bellini, Dürer and Titian. Exh. cat., Palazzo Grassi, Venice. Milan, 1999, p. 143, includes it among paintings by Tintoretto with landscapes executed by northern painters working in Tintoretto's shop.

    Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Venice and the Veneto." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 63 (Summer 2005), pp. 28–30, fig. 23 (color), suggests that the exaggerated poses of the figures may derive from the artist's study of Michelangelo.

  • Notes

    A smaller picture of the same subject was with Stanley Moss, New York, in 1982. It was formerly in the Contini Bonacossi collection, Florence, and the Palazzo Giovanelli, Venice. Another version is in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice.

    This work may have been painted as a companion to "Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples" (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto), which, like the MMA painting, came from the Farnham collection.

  • See also