El Greco: Holy Toledo!

El Greco, View of Toledo, c. 1596 - 1600, oil, approx. 19 x 17 in.

When in doubt, post an El Greco. This is my blogger's creed! It is a blog after all. Why not let the master do the heavy lifting of beauty and provocation? What I get from this is a swirling feeling of high, menacing energy. The whole landscape, buildings and sky included, pulses and swells with life. It's a mystical vision of the world, suggestive of what van Gogh would be up to three centuries later, though their painting style isn't similar. Sure, we know that plants and such are alive, but the aliveness being communicated here is the power that imbues and animates all of the manifest material world -- all of creation, if you will. For comparison here is a van Gogh from 1889, Landscape with Wheat Sheaves and Rising Moon.

oil on canvas, approx. 31 x 36 in.

Prior to coming across View of Toledo this last week, I was only familiar with El Greco's portraits and groupings of saints, angels, and striving humans. This makes sense, since Wiki tells me that there are only two surviving El Greco's that are pure landscapes. Here is an El Greco that mixes figures and landscape, and which explicitly demonstrates the swirling energy that is present to some extent in many, maybe even most, of El Greco's works. Called The Vision of St. John, it's currently owned by the Met in NYC. Their website clarifies that this "canvas was an iconic work for twentieth-century artists and Picasso, who knew it in Paris, used it as an inspiration for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon" (shown here below the El Greco), a painting that resides diagonally across Central Park from the Met. So their proximity is both aesthetic and geographic.

El Greco, The Vision of St John, c. 1609 - 14, oil on canvas, 87.5 x 76 in.

Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas, 8' x 7'8"

One last note: The reason he is called El Greco is because he was born in Crete but lived and worked in Toledo, Spain. If he would have stayed put, we would know him by the much more unwieldy Doménikos Theotokópoulos. And, of course, had he stayed put, maybe he would not have been inspired to create work of such consequence. Yes, this is idle speculation, but this is, as I said, a blog.

View a previous post on El Greco.


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