Greco, Art Institute, Chicago
Greco, Art Institute, Chicago
It is of no wonder, thus, that his huge Assumption of the
Virgin (cat. 35, The Art Institute of Chicago) reveals a
multitude of naturalistic facial expressions, much like
those of Vincenzo Anastagi and looking forward to his
celebrated Burial of the Count of Orgaz (which sadly could
not be included in the exhibition). The recently restored
Assumption, from the high altar of Toledo’s monastery of
Santo Domingo el Antiguo, is the star of the show and
core of its “Greco and Toledo” section (fig. 4). In it, the
face of the boy in the role of go-between is particularly
noteworthy, as is the drapery which the restoration has
revealed to be bold and vigorously coloured.
pope, Philip II and, most probably, Don Juan (d. 1578)
(cat. 17, The National Gallery, London). This work
is painted in mixed media (tempera grassa) on wood and
signed accordingly. More post-Byzantine elements are
also to be found in the Modena Triptych’s Allegory of the
Christian Knight, such as the infernal mouth and the
militant protagonist, suggesting further the connection
to Lepanto. After this point, as the curators underline,
Greco turned mainly to oil and canvas (as well as
leaving aside for good his earlier strong dependence on
Mannerist prints).
The exhibition correctly places the emergence of
Greco’s portraiture in his Roman years. Judging from
examples such as the early Portrait of Giulio Clovio, the
late Portrait of an Architect (cat. 21, fig. 3 here), and the
probably even later Portrait of Vincenzo Anastagi, one can
conclude that it is mainly through portraiture that Greco
was initiated into realism (as opposed to classicism), an
evolution which lasted through his first decade in Toledo.
Concerning the Anastagi portrait, Keith Christiansen
in the catalogue correctly mentions that it is “the largest
panel he painted during the ten years he was in Italy”,
necessitating the use of thicker brushes and brushstrokes
than in miniature painting, while the refined handling of
the figure suggests the use of a live model.2
Of course, Greco must have searched for new
ideas and techniques in the painting of his Italian
contemporaries. In Rome, he likely visited Raphael’s
Stanze Vaticane – as the floor of both of his Roman
paintings of Christ Driving the Money-Lenders from the Temple
(cats. 50 and 51) suggest – to further his understanding
of colour, light and chiaroscuro. He certainly visited
Parma, the seat of the Farnese family, where he
admired the grace of Correggio and particularly his use
of bright yellows and greens. And, although strongly
opposed to the linear disegno and Florentine penchant
for archaeology, he copied Michelangelo (cat. 43)
whom he clearly considered as important as Titian.
Greco never entirely abandoned the Venetian masters.
The series of Christ Healing the Blind (figs. 4, 5 & 6 in the
exhibition catalogue) and Christ Driving the Money-Changers
from the Temple (cats. 50 and 51) are based architecturally
on a related series by Tintoretto (exhibited last year in
Palais du Luxembourg) and not upon Roman classical
architecture in situ as is often repeated. Furthermore,
compositions such as the candle-lit Adoration of the
Shepherds (cat. 36), El Soplón (cat. 54), and The Fable (cat.
55), are indebted to the Venetian Jacopo Bassano.
Fig. 4 / Domenico
Theotokopoulos, known
as El Greco, Assumption of
the Virgin, 1577-1579, oil
on canvas, 401 x 229 cm,
Chicago, Art Institute.
Greco remained in Toledo because of monies owed to
him for the altarpiece of Santo Domingo el Antiguo (a
story recounted in detail in Rebecca J. Long’s essay in
the catalogue).3 The effect this had on his painting was
the gradual abandonment of realism and later turn to
extreme Mannerism. The most marked example of this
development can be seen in the last work exhibited, the
Vision of Saint John (cat. 76, New York, The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, fig. 5 here). Greco’s thought-process is
reflected in annotations from 1586 in his copy of Vasari’s
Vite (discussed in the catalogue by Michel Hochmann):
a harsh and systematic refusal of the Florentine-Roman
classicist environment in favour of the only true painting
in his eyes, that of the liberal Venetian masters (which
did not even include Veronese).4 Late Titian, who set
colours into motion, set the standard as the ideal painter.
By including the gilded wood Tabernacle (cat. 40) with the
polychromed wood Christ Resurrected (cat. 39, Fundación
Casa Ducal de Medinaceli) inside it, the curators touch
on the problematic issue of Greco as a sculptor. Although
this work is well documented, one must bear in mind that
the production of tabernacles, like large altarpieces,
involved many different agents. Although these could,
of course, have been permanent members of Greco’s
workshop (as was the painter Francesco Preboste), they
could also have been the result of more temporary
relationships. It is also possible that the anticlassicist
anatomy represented in this work was the product of a
workshop associate rather than Greco himself.
In addition to the essays touched upon above, the
catalogue includes a well-structured biography and
an impressively extensive listing of the provenance,
literature, and exhibition history associated with each of
the works exhibited. This spring the exhibition moves
to the Art Institute of Chicago, where the catalogue will
be published in English.
This is discussed in the catalogue Guillaume Kientz, ed., Greco,
exh. cat. (Louvre: Grand Palais, 2019), p. 81. Forthcoming English
language catalogue: Rebecca J. Long, ed., El Greco: Ambition and
Defiance, exh. cat. (Chicago: Art Institute, 2020).
See Christiansen in Greco, p. 32.
See Long in Greco, pp. 138-143.
See Hochmann in Greco, pp. 108-111.


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