Friday, January 29, 2010

Does this language strike you as a tad anachronistic? "At the beginning of the reign of Philip III, El Greco's client base was expanding. " (p. 185)*

Just think what he could have accomplished with Twitter. Marketing efforts aside, late in his career and in the last decade of his life, El Greco had moved into a larger studio in Toledo and at last had the time and the means to work on his own paintings as well as
his commissions.

Although this painting was never finished and the figure of St. John is bizarre it's so big, I still like its expressionistic quality - the looseness, the sense of movement, those figures twisting and changing at the moment of the Apocalypse. Quite a departure from the kinds of works his contemporaries leaned toward. The Vision of St. John dates from between 1608-14.

Some critics have suggested that El Greco's elongated figures are the result of an astigmatism, but in my reading I've found many who disagree and you can read why here. In brief, they point out that 1) the tendency to elongate the figure grew out of the Mannerist style that helped shape El Greco's work in the early stages of his career, and 2) that a person with an astigmatism would not draw some figures in typical size and others larger and that, 3) the effects of astigmatism do not change over one's lifetime, but El Greco's depiction of figures did change . In any case, St. John certainly looms in this work. What do you think?

Here's a more conventional El Greco, Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino. (Looks like a college boyfriend of mine.) The richness of the browns doesn't really come across on a monitor. Time to go to Spain, I guess.

*from El Greco to Velazquez by Schroth and Baer, MFA Boston, 2008


  1. Let us know when you do come to Spain, Suzanne. Madrid, where I am based and very close to Toledo, is always worth an art visit, but with the new impressionist show at the Madrid Fundación Mapfre gallery, with over 90 works from the Musée d'Orsay, this is as good a time as ever. The Paris museum is undergoing major work and partly closed so it is lending out a large number of works, many of which have never left Paris before.

    The show is here until April 22nd and then it will go out closer to your neck of the woods, San Francisco.

  2. Wow, that sounds fabulous. It's been twenty years since I was last in Spain. Saw a lot of El Grecos then in Toledo. The current show sounds great.
    Thanks for writing.

  3. Since El Greco began as an ikon painter in Crete, I wonder if the disproportion of St. John to the other figures is a throwback to traditional ikons, like this and this, where the most important figures so dwarf the others.

  4. That's an interesting point - I'll have to do a little more research and see what I can turn up.