In his 1642 biography of Venetian painter Tintoretto, Carlo Ridolfi quotes him saying "È faticoso lo studio della pittura, e sempre si fa il mare maggiore."

What is the meaning of "mare maggiore" in that context? Something to do with Venice perhaps?

  • 1
    A search in Google Books finds the quote with a translation: “The study of painting is endless and always [takes one into] a greater sea”, which seems plausible.
    – egreg
    Sep 26, 2016 at 17:48
  • It's a literal translation but not a very meaningful one, is it? Btw, didn't you tell me last time this site was not about translation anyway (just kidding)?
    – JeanB
    Sep 26, 2016 at 18:34
  • Not even too literal, @JeanB: faticoso doesn't mean “endless” and the sentence about the sea is better explained in Tony's answer.
    – DaG
    Sep 27, 2016 at 9:02

1 Answer 1


I think the issue here is that the word order seems anomalous to an English speaker. It's not so much that it's "a greater sea." It's that the sea gets wider or bigger. It's easier to see if we arrange it as "il mare si fa sempre maggiore." At least that's my sense of it.

  • That's a very good point. But why the sea? How does it connect with the study of painting? Is it, or was it then, an expression used in Venice?
    – JeanB
    Sep 26, 2016 at 21:59
  • Venice was a maritime republic, and the relation with the sea and navigation was very strong for everyone living there as Tintoretto. Even if he was a painter, he obviously had a good idea of the menaing of going offshore, over the open sea.
    – CasaMich
    Sep 27, 2016 at 7:03
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    More than a specific connection with Venice, I guess it falls within a set of Italian phrases involving figuratively the sea, such as un mare di [qualcosa] = “a large quantity of [something]”, essere (ancora) in alto mare to say “being far from the end, from a solution”, and so on.
    – DaG
    Sep 27, 2016 at 7:38
  • Ruskin uses Tintoretto's expression when he writes (1845) "Tintoret swept me in away into the mare maggiore of the schools of painting which crowned the power and perished in the fall of Venice." That's why in fact I asked the question. Does he mean the high number or expanding number of schools of painting, or their high quality?
    – JeanB
    Sep 27, 2016 at 11:36
  • @CasaMich, I thought about that. Mare Maggiore used to designate the Black Sea, which is the end of the Mediterranean world as seen from Venice, but it's not capitalized. It could still mean "far out."
    – JeanB
    Sep 27, 2016 at 11:46

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