El Greco – The Agony In The Garden

Realism gives way to the opposite extreme in this fantastic vision of a Spanish mystic. Figures and landscape are distorted, far removed from nature in shape, lighting, color and texture. But unlike ordinary dream pictures, it is organized, consistently directed to a purpose, not a mere extravagant jumble. As representation, it gives clearly enough the essentials of a story that was familiar and moving in the intensely religious age of the Inquisition. But of greater interest now is the striking design of diagonal planes and vivid colors. In composition it is one of the latest of several different treatments of this theme, in which Greco sought more and more compression and simplification, the gathering together of scattered parts, the bringing out of main features with greater emphasis. In earlier versions, for example, the sleeping disciples were large, nearby and comparatively detached from the rest of the design. Here Christ and the angel are large and bold, in slashing angular strokes, while around them swirl twisting ovals of cloud. Smaller parts echo the diagonal swirling and crisscross motion of the larger ones. The painting is all in terms of pure color, not of light and line with color added on the surface. Again in contrast with the sombre Van Eyck, it flares with a lurid phosphorescent glow of changing colors, crimson, blue-green and golden yellow. Their clashing excitement is in harmony with the rhythm of movement, and with the general spirit of ecstatic drama.