DOMENICO THEOTOCOPULI was born in Crete; hence the nickname by which he was known: El Greco. He arrived in Spain by way of Venice and Rome; therefore in the catalogue of the Prado he is included among the Italian artists. It was either an excess of modesty on the part of the Spanish or a curious symptom of indifference thus to rob their own school of so great an artist. Nor has it the warrant of facts. Though El Greco had been a pupil of Titian and had drawn inspiration from Tintoretto, it is the fact of his art being so different from that of Italy, of his developing so unique a personality of his own, that is the distinguishing feature of his genius. Moreover, it was not until after his arrival in Spain and a sojourn of some time in Toledo that he discovered himself. It was the conditions, physical and spiritual, of his adopted country that brought to maturity the real El Greco. Spain drew forth his genius and in return he expressed the genius of the Spanish race in its spiritual aspects to a higher degree than any other artist of Spain. He was the seer, the diviner, who not only mirrored the external character of his times but also realised its soul.
The Church of his day seems to have prized his genius: the king underrated it, while contemporaries and posterity recognising him as bizarre, inclined to the theory that he was mad. It has been left to the judgment of the present day, reaching back scarcely more than twenty years, to appraise El Greco at his real valuation. The reasons for both the earlier and the most recent estimations are plain.
Philip II, patron of Titian, was enamoured of Italian art and, as we recall, imported Italian artists to decorate his palaces. Being a man of small and dogmatic mind he could not extend appreciation to work so different as El Greco’s, and set the fashion among laymen to ignore it. Later the whole trend of Spanish art in its emergence from Italianate imitation was toward naturalism. The seventeenth century was overshadowed by the genius of Velasquez. In the eighteenth century, Spain followed the lead of other countries in the academic effort to revive the forms without the spirit of the Renaissance art, until she became suddenly aware of a native genius: Goya, the temperamental, objective, impressionist. The nineteenth century was occupied with the rediscovery of Velasquez. Its watchword be-came “truth”; truth of actual appearances, the seeing and rendering of objective facts as they really seem to be. Its artistic motive, in fact, notwithstanding that it included, as it could not help doing, the limitations and variations of the personal equation, was in essence photographic. It was concerned, like the camera, with what the eye can see. Not until the end of the century did this vogue of objective naturalism abate. The inevitable reaction against this naturalistic view of art set in; quickened by the gradual realisation that photography was crowding the painter from their common field of sight. Artists, on the one hand, began to realise that there are internal as well as external facts, facts of the spirit as well as facts of matter; and, on the other, that the chief value of a picture is not in its making something look like life, but in extracting from the life represented its fullest amount of expression. Expression, among progressive modem artists, has taken precedence of mere representation. It is therefore, our own day that is giving special honor to El Greco and Goya; to Goya, the master of material expression, to El Greco who joined this, in so extraordinary a degree, to spiritual expression.
Having thus established the point of view from which El Greco should be studied, we will briefly consider the conditions under which his genius developed and then the qualities, technical and spiritual, which his works exhibit. We shall find that he broke away from the Venetian use of color, employing a sober range of hues, of extreme subtlety and a chiaroscuro all his own. That he was also a great master of composition, decorating every part of his large canvases with meaningful details, so that there are no spaces perfunctorily filled or devoid of interest. A great draughtsman also, who, although he altered for his own purpose the proportions of figures and at times dared to indulge in “bad drawing,” realises the plastic qualities of form as few artists have done, and extracts from form, gesture and action a maximum of character and expression. Similarly, in his portraits we shall discover not only a vivid rendering of external personality, but also a penetrating insight into the soul of the subject. Finally, in the presence of his work one should be conscious of a rare and elevated spirit, the artist’s own, interpreting the spiritual genius of the Spain of his day.
Almost nothing is known of El Greco’s life. No record of him exists until November 16, 1570, the date of a letter written by the Venetian miniature painter, Julio Clovio to Cardinal Nepote Farnese. It says”There is in Rome a young man from Candia, a disciple of Titian, who in my opinion is a painter of rare talent. Among other things he has painted a portrait of him-self, which causes wonderment to all the painters of Rome. I should like him to be under the patronage of your Illustrious and Reverend Lordship, without any other contribution toward his livelihood than a room in the Farnese Palace for some little time, until he can find other accommodation.” This letter establishes El Greco’s birthplace, corroborating the artist’s signature, as it appears on many canvases in Greek characters with the addition of “Cretan”; his experience under Titian in Venice; his visit to Rome and the fact that in the year 1570 he was a young man. How long he stayed in Rome is uncertain, but the next date of certainty, 1577, appears after his signature upon a picture of The Assumption of the Virgin for the Church of San Domingo el Antigua in Toledo. The fact of El Greco being engaged on this work is corroborated by documents relating to the church, in which it is recorded that the artist was paid 1000 ducats for eight pictures to adorn the high and side altars. Thus it appears that at some date between the years 1570 and 1577 El Greco reached Spain and settled in Toledo. Here he seems to have lived continuously until his death, the record of which is still preserved. “On 7th April, 1614, died Domenico Greco. He left no will. He received the sacraments, was buried in Santo Domingo el Antigua; and gave candles.” The position of El Greco’s tomb in San Domingo is not known. The only other documents in existence relate to contracts for commissions and occasional disputes and lawsuits over the prices. They have been summarised and used as data for establishing the order in which his pictures were executed by Albert F. Calvert and E. Gasquoine Hartley in their critical and richly illustrated book, “El Greco, An Account of his Life and Works.”
One document may be mentioned here, since it indicates El Greco’s brief relations with the Court. It is a royal order, dated 1580, which states that a commission had been entrusted to Domenico Theotocopuli, Greek painter, residing in Toledo, but that “the work was not being carried on for want of money and fine colors.” Therefore it is commanded, “That the said painter be supplied with money, also with the fine colors that he asks for, and, especially ultramarine, that the work may be executed with brevity as is suitable in my service.”
Since El Greco had finished his commission for Santo Domingo and had also painted an altar piece, El Expo lio, or Christ Despoiled of His Raiment on Calvary, for the Cathedral, it would seem as if his plea of no money and colors had been a pretence for avoiding, if possible, the execution of the Royal commission. The outcome of the affair is described by a Father Siguenza, writing in 1605. “There is here in the Salas Capitulares of the Escorial, a picture of San Maurico and His Soldiers by a Domenico Greco, who has come to Toledo and there made excellent things. The picture was de-signed for the proper altar of the Saint, but it did not satisfy His Majesty. It is not much, because it satisfies few; though they say that it has great art, and that its author has much knowledge and that excellent things can be seen from his hand.”
El Greco had one son, George Manuel, who was appointed architect of the Cathedral. He also practised sculpture and painting, in the latter medium imitating his father’s style so closely that some of the son’s pictures have been attributed to him. The portrait of a beautiful girl, late the property of Sir John Sterling-Maxwell and now in the National Gallery, London, has been called the artist’s daughter; but later criticism assigns this painting either to Tintoretto or to El Greco’s early Italian period when he was still a young man. The portrait of his son George, is identified in the San Martin of San Jose, and again as the youth who holds the map in the Vista of Toledo. It is also supposed to exist in the younger figure of the boy on the left of the composition of The Funeral of Count Orgaz. In the latter it has also been suggested that the face with the pointed beard, sixth from the right, represents El Greco himself ; while tradition also attributes the title of Self Portrait of the Artist to the picture in the Seville Museum of a man of middle age, holding a brush and palette. These, however, are only surmises.
The mystery that surrounds the life of El Greco is perhaps a little lifted by the account of him which Guiseppe Martinez gives in his “Practical Letters on the Art of Painting.” It is not the evidence of a contemporary, but of one who probably got his impressions from those who had known the artist or at least the opinion commonly held of him during his life.
“At that time there came from Italy a painter called Dominico Greco; it is said that he was a pupil of Titian. He settled in the famous and ancient city of Toledo, introducing such an extravagant style that to this day nothing has been seen to equal it; attempting to discuss it would cause confusion in the soundest minds; his works being. so dissimilar that they do not seem to be by the same hand. He came to this city with a high reputation, so much so that he gave it to be understood that there was nothing superior to his works. In truth he achieved some works which are worthy of estimation and which can be put among those of famous painters. His nature was extravagant like his painting. It is not known with certainty what he did with his works, as he used to say no price was high enough for them, and so he gave them in pledge to their owners who willingly advanced him what he asked for. He earned many ducats, but spent them in too great pomp and display in his house, to the extent of keeping paid musicians -to entertain him at meal times. His works were many, but the only wealth he left were two hundred unfinished paintings; he reached an advanced age, always enjoying great fame. He was a famous architect and very eloquent in his speeches. He had few disciples, as none cared to follow his capricious and extravagant style, which was only suitable for himself.”
We get a glimpse here of a strangely individual personality, reserved and proud, conscious of his destiny, working it out in a haughty exclusiveness; wrapt up in high thoughts and cultivating in the retirement of private life a rare refinement. In Toledo, then the citadel of the Catholic Faith, so dominated by the dignitaries of the Church that Philip II, who brooked no rivalry of power, was forced to transfer his Court thence to Madrid, El Greco preserved the integrity of his artistic faith and, by separating himself from outside influences, maintained the independent sovereignty of his own ideals.
El Greco left a View of Toledo; a portrait, one would rather call it, of a city’s appearance and her soul; a highly interpretative vision of the impression of Toledo’s soul upon the spiritual imagination of the artist. The view is from the hill beneath which the present railroad station lies, and looks across the broken ground to the ravine of the Tagus. In the middle distance toward the left it is spanned by the wide arch and its narrower sister of the Alcantara bridge. Thence the line of the city walls, interrupted by their Moorish towers, mount the citadel hill to the group of buildings that crown the summit. The Alcazar and the north tower of the cathedral stand conspicuously against a sky, tumultuous with emotion and lit with large aspiring clouds. These, like the architecture, catch the sharpest light, which elsewhere is distributed in masses of lower tone; a union of quiet illumination and of flashing sword-like brands of light, characteristic of so many of the artist’s compositions, so suggestive of passionate inspiration.
How different from Venice of his youth, this rock-rooted fortress city of the artist’s adoption! No less proudly aloof, but sternly and strenuously exalted ; straitened within tortuous limits; an apex once of Moorish power and luxury, now of Catholic dominion and sumptuous ecclesiastical ceremony ; its dignitaries men of high and commanding personality, its Cathedral famous throughout Spain as Toledo the Rich! The chivalric fervor bred upon countless battlefields, glowed here in an intense heat of religious mysticism. Her hidalgos, “sons of somebody,” were among the proudest of their class, self-contained, austere, yet fired with religious ecstasy. Toledo was at that time the soul of Catholicism and of the high-bred Chivalry of Castile.
El Greco, with the penetration of the alien observer, caught its spirit. It inflamed his own romantic ardor and religious devoutness; at the same time giving fibre and force to his imagination. Yet his whole art, as it developed under these conditions, was built up on observed facts. The type of his figures, both in portraiture and altar-pieces, was drawn from the humanity about him, the lean, long-limbed bodies, with high narrow heads; a type that still survives. You see it even in Madrid, still more readily in Toledo. Here too in the passing throng you may detect one of those wistful, flower-like faces, pure as the chalice of a lily, that El Greco learned to give to his Madonnas, while among the children you will find the strangely sexless, coldly passionate faces of his angels.
He exaggerated the type, just as his contemporary, Cervantes did; the latter to make it ridiculous, El Greco in sympathy with its high enthusiasm. But each from his own standpoint captured the real soul of the Spanish race more effectively than any other writer or artist of Spain. The humor of Cervantes made him intensely popular, the seriousness of El Greco has had to wait until today for recognition. His exaggeration, some-times even approaching distortion, is for the purpose of decorative effect or for enforcing character or emotion, or is more frequently employed with the two purposes combined.
A fine example of characterization is the portrait, here called S. Jerome (Frontispiece). There are replicas of this picture in the National Gallery and the Prado, where it is called S. Paul. But the title is of small account. The picture is clearly the portrait of some dignitary of the Church or at least of the type of ecclesiastics of the day. The stubby hair and the long beard are approaching white, the face is greyed over, and silvery lights relieve the rose colored mantle. The head, in proportion to the body is small but of extra length and narrowness, and the hands are extremely elongated. But by these exaggerations what expression of character is obtained ! The head is at once that of a soldier, a scholar and an ascetic. The eyes have a cold, piercing directness ; the long nose is indicative of relentless purpose and the mouth of iron rigidity and cruelty. One hand lies on the book with a gesture of refinement, almost of tenderness, while the thumb of the other is turned down with a decision that brooks no reasoning or opposition. In fine, the type is a strange mixture of intellectuality and bigotry; of elevation and narrowness, of gentleness and remorselessness. It might be that of an inquisitor, who condemns with no more hesitation than a surgeon, compelled by his diagnosis to use the knife.
Or for an example of distortion, employed with emotional effect, turn to The Crucifixion of the Louvre (p. 70). The body of the Christ is beautiful in its languor of repose; no pain or horror mars the serenity. The tragedy of the. event is depicted in the amazing impression of the sky; a murky blackish green veil, rent like the veil of the Temple, with scars of white. The Saviour rests from his labors. It is the universal tragedy of sin which will crucify him afresh, that is depicted. For my own part, I know of no other suggestion of the Divine Tragedy so spiritually moving as this one. El Greco painted this subject several times. Another fine example is The Crucifixion of the Prado, where the figures of the donor and an ecclesiastic are replaced by the three Maries and S. John, figures expressive of anguish and adoration, while angels of spiritual loveliness receive in their hands with transports of adoring ecstasy the blood from the sacred wounds. It is at once a pavan and a dirge, superb in its decorative elaboration. But in the picture of the Louvre, the decorative scheme is sublimely elemental; its very simplicity augments the poignancy of the appeal. But our original consideration was the distortion introduced. The natural appearance of the sky is distorted; the color false, there is no suggestion of actual light or atmosphere. There was, in fact, no thought of representing the sky naturally; it has been used as a symbol of expression. And it was so that El Greco chose at times to use form.
If the student peers through the spectacles of an academic pedagogue, criticising this or that because it does not conform to his canons of proportion or notions of correct drawing, he will never discover the real El Greco. If he is looking solely or chiefly for naturalistic representation, such as will pass muster in the schools, let him turn away at once. Otherwise he will be only seeking for trouble. It is with the eye of the imagination, seeking for spiritual impressions or for character of expression and expression of character, that El Greco must be studied. On the other hand, it must not be supposed that El Greco was indifferent to the facts of form. No artist better understood and valued form or rendered it with more reliance on its plastic qualities. It was, however, not the plasticity merely of its shape that attracted him, but its plasticity of expression. He made expression visible in its external appearances. He used form as an instrument of interpretation; hence, for the furtherance of expression he dared to exaggerate or even to distort it.
It is not amiss to compare El Greco to some great composer whose medium is his orchestra. The latter is made up of units, but there is no established proportion of the relation which they bear to each other and to the whole. It is a flexible instrument in which the composer makes his own adjustments. If for the interpretation of his theme he exaggerates the wind instruments or chooses to introduce new devices for attaining an effect, he is judged solely by the harmonious result. For music being a completely abstract art, the verdict depends upon the structure, scope and quality of its expression. The art of painting is less abstract, being limited by the sense appreciation of the eye and the need of attaching the expression to some visible object ; but, as far as possible with the liberty of the musical composer, El Greco composed his symphonies of form and color.
This liberty of composition was only gradually evolved. His earlier work, executed during his first years in Toledo, exhibit traces of his Venetian training. The Assumption of the Virgin, which is now owned by the Art Institute of Chicago, is in its treatment of the forms and composition still Titianesque; but already the influence of the new environment upon El Greco’s individuality is apparent. He has caught as yet little if any of the mystic fervor, but the types, particularly of the apostles, are local; the draperies are handled broadly and plastically, and the color is no longer of Venetian sumptuousness. The process of dematerialization has begun, which will be carried on until in the great works of the artist’s maturity the Venetian richness of pigment, full of mundane splendor, has entirely disappeared in cool, austere harmonies of blue, lemon and yellow, black, grey, white, olive green and silvery carnation. Touches of warm color occur but they are comparatively rare. Least of all in the great altarpiece does El Greco use color for effects of pageantry or mere decoration. His use is interpretative of spiritual significance. In his portraits it is psychologically expressive.
The latter are mostly half-lengths or busts; grand, pale faces against a sombre background, isolated by a white ruff from the black body on which the white nervous hands are displayed. On the other hand, the portraits of ecclesiastics or imaginary presentation of saints involve a variety of hues. There is a series of such presentments of the apostles in the little Provincial Museum, now established in El Greco’s house. The S. Bartholomew is entirely in white, but the others are bi-colored, showing a robe and mantle, respectively of yellow and blue, yellow-green and red-wine color, grey-blue and orange, grey-blue and apple green, and so on. It is as though the artist had searched for the most unusual and recherche combinations and had compelled them into harmony by the nuances with which he has invested them. Moreover, each is in psychological relation to the head and hands of the subject. Another point to be observed in El Greco’s use of color is that he did not spread his pigment thin over an underpainting of light and dark, but actually modeled in color, obtaining the chiaroscuro by means of values.
It is with a feeling of strangeness that one views a number of El Greco’s portraits such as is gathered in the Prado. Almost invariably the eyes are fixed on us, but with no look of recognition or sympathy.
Though the face thrills with life, it is impassive. Be-hind each living mask is an impenetrable mind, wrapped completely in the seclusion of its own spirit. Equally removed from all outside sympathies are the faces of the apostles and saints. They, however, are not impassive, for on each is the trace of inward struggle, of highly wrought meditation or spiritual ecstasy. Their personalities are so varied and distinct that one is assured they are portraits or at least studies of the types of ecclesiastics, monks or laymen which Toledo presented. They have one quality in common, that of transcendental elevation; symptomatic of the spiritual unrest of the time. For elsewhere the Protestant Reformation was making headway and Spain was its most ardent opponent. It was here that the Counter-Reformation reached its most extravagant form. The Spaniard met the challenge of reason with a passionate belief, which developed into mysticism and visionary exaltation. Of this Toledo was the volcanic center and El Greco its pictorial exponent. The mainspring of his motive was his own intense religious belief, which enabled him to give plastic reality to the visions of his passionately exalted imagination.
His pictures, when he has adjusted his style to his motive, are all visions. Even his portraits are visions of men’s souls. And the secret of his power to suggest the reality of the vision is that it is based on realism. His creations are a union of realism and idealism; or rather of realism in the true sense. For today we have learnt to distinguish between realism and naturalism: the latter a representation of natural phenomena; realism a representation of the same with a suggestion of their relation to the horizon of the idea involved in them. This becomes El Greco’s almost invariable habit. Turn, for example, to the San Mauricio (p. 75), which was executed shortly after the Assumption of the Virgin. According to legend Mauritius was the general of a Theban mercenary legion in the Roman army. He refused to pay homage to the gods and was condemned to be beheaded. Whereupon the whole legion declared their faith and shared martyrdom with their leader. One may believe that El Greco pictured the event in his imagination; its several phases, the general’s refusal, the executions and the glory in Heaven of the martyr’s crown. In the glow of religious fervor a vision shaped itself before the eyes of his spirit and he set it upon the canvas. The noble heads of the general and his lieu-tenants are clearly portraits of contemporaries, of men who no doubt believed themselves capable of imitating the example of the saint, if occasion required it. At the outset, therefore, the picture is based, not on a mere representation of certain persons, but of the latter in their relation to the idea involved. In the gravity and confidence of the saint’s face are mirrored alike the consciousness of the tragedy to be depicted and the glory that will follow. The saint himself, in fact, is represented as having his own vision of the situation in relation to its horizon of ideas.
The back of the officer who is delivering the ultimatum is modeled with intentional exaggeration, to increase the refined suggestion of the saint and at the same time to emphasise the separateness of the main group both from. the scene that is being enacted in the rear and from the Heavenly vision. The color impression of the whole picture is blue; cold tones of blue relieved by the pale red-wine color of the flag, the pale creamy yellow of some of the corselets and the extreme white of the flesh. It is a scheme which gives an extraordinary suggestion of abstraction. The lighting also reveals the beginning of El Greco’s gradually developed method of chiaroscuro. The latter grew out of his study to give to every part of the decorative pattern of his composition the life of movement. In the figures of the angels actual movement is expressed in the gestures and actions, but in the stationary figures in the fore-ground it is suggested by the curling, quivering light, especially on the legs. These light effects, so characteristic of El Greco’s work from this point onward, will embarrass the student who is looking for naturalistic exactitude. It is not until he has become used to the artist”s blending of the concrete and the abstract, that he will realise its fitness in the whole scheme of the vision.
The next great work of El Greco’s career was The Funeral of Count Orgaz, (p. 76), known in Spain as El Interrio. This masterpiece still hangs in the church for which it was painted, San Tome, in Toledo. It commemorates the legend connected with the founder of the church, the pious Count Orgaz, who died in 1323. At his funeral S.S. Augustine and Stephen appeared and lowered the body into the grave. Once more it is a vision both of the actualities of the incident and of the no less reality of the spiritual idea involved. While the priests and faithful friends, portrait-studies of El Greco’s contemporaries, assist at the solemn function, some turn their eyes to the vision above, where amid the hosts of prophets, apostles, saints and angels, with the Blessed Virgin interceding, the naked soul of the Count appears at the feet of his Redeemer. Was ever nakedness expressed so literally and yet with such abstraction? The whole vision is illuminated by a cold light which comes from within the scene itself. The sumptuousness of gold embroidery distinguishes the vestments of the two saints in the foreground, emblematic of the opulent ceremonial of the Catholic Church, while the Chivalry of Spain is commemorated in the dead body. The black steel of the armor against the ivory white of the sheet sets the key of black and white which is the general color impression of the lower part of the picture. Above, the Virgin’s mantle makes a positive note of blue among the paler and higher tones of the same color, the pale yellow, cream and occasional suggestion of mauve and faintest carmine.
The prominence given to the Virgin and the nude form, and the elongation of the latter help to isolate the Christ and increase the sense of altitude, up toward which are straining eagerly the faces of the Heavenly hosts. What a pageant of spiritual exaltation, parted by open tableau-curtains of cloud from the drama be-low! And the latterwas ever a greater intensity of gravity, dignity and tenderness compressed into a group of heads? Tradition has it that the priest to the right in white vestment is Don Andrez Nunez, priest of San Tome. The grey-bearded profile to his left is known to be a portrait of the painter, Antonio Corrubias, whose brother, Diego, appears in the white-bearded man on the left of the composition, above the figure of S. Stephen. The face with the ruff, to the left of Antonio Corrubias, is supposed to be the artist’s.
Everyone has praised the consummate characterisation and technical mastery of this lower part of the picture; but many have criticised the upper and been unable to accept it as a reasonable part of the composition. On the other hand, if study of the picture include communion with the spirit and purpose which inspired it, one is brought to feel that upper and lower parts are indivisibly associated both in the conception of the subject and in the rendering of it. The composition for a moment recalls Raphael’s vision of the Disputa, which El Greco must have seen in the Stanza of the Vatican. There, the space to be filled, though proportionately broader than this one is similarly arched, and a band of figures, representing the Church on Earth, spreads across the lower part, while in the upper, Heaven is unfolded. But beyond this all resemblance ceases. Even the earthly group in Raphael’s fresco is disposed in the manner of Italian idealism; in the Count Orgaz its naturalness is characteristically Spanish. In the up-per part of his painting Raphael continued the geometrical design of the composition by arranging the Heavenly hosts in arcs. El Greco has invented a sort of irregular, spontaneous geometry. The design has a central group of three figures, disposed to form a triangle, outside of which the spaces of cloud are divided into compartments or pockets, filled with figures. It is a borrowed motive, discoverable in the compositions of Giotto and other primitive Italians and in the mosaics that helped to inspire them. It is, in fact, Byzantine. But the latter term is merely a named and dated mile-stone on the road which stretches back in endless perspective through Persia to Buddhistic art. Today, with our opportunities of studying the latter, we can detect a curious affinity between El Greco’s arrangement and well known features of Chinese composition. Unconsciously, in fact, his genius leaped back of its conscious source to the remote spring of Oriental inspiration.
Following the Count Orgaz came a series of pictures in which passionate ecstasy reached its highest intensity. Three of them are in the Prado: The Crucifixion, already alluded to, in which angels are catching the sacred Blood, a Resurrection and The Baptism of Christ. The last named (p. 81) is not merely a representation of one man pouring water on the head of another, whose humble mien, coupled with the introduction of a hovering dove and sometimes a venerable aged man above, tells one that the picture is meant to represent the baptism of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Such is generally the jejune method of treating the subject. But here we are again in the presence of a vision, in which the real spiritual significance of the facts of the incident are made visible to the eye. Heaven joins with earth in a symphonic burst of devotional enthusiasm. Movement of life abounds, the soul’s life typified by human forms. There is even the rhythm of movement in the comparatively static figures of the Christ and S. John; in the angels that lift the crimson mantle and those who stand by adoring; while over head the spiritual energy mounts in wave upon wave of jubilance till it circles about the serene figure of the Most High God. Once more we note how a sense of far-off isolation is given to this topmost figure by introduction of taller angels in the front plane; also that there is nowhere any space unfilled with meaning, even the grey-green creamy clouds seeming to mount upward with their angelic burdens. But beyond all possibility of description is the degree to which the picture kindles and lifts the imagination.
Amazing also is The Resurrection, now in the Prado. The figure of the Lord, long and supple as a reed, is poised above, while down below the ‘soldiers are in agitated consternation. They have been roused out of sleep by the shock of the rending tomb and, still dazed, confront the miracle. One has fallen backward in his fear, some shield their eyes from the light, while others carve the air with their swords in frantic efforts. With the exception of one fine young figure that reaches up his hand, as if in acknowledgment of the miracle, they are all nude, the bodies wrought to extreme tension of expression.
To this time also belongs The Dream of Philip II, in the Escorial. It was followed by a period of serener pictures, such as those which were painted for the Chapel of San Jose, Toledo. The finest of these, and the best known, is a narrow upright panel, the S. Martin, dividing his cloak with a nude beggar. The youthful figure of the sainta portrait of the artist’s son George, in the beauty of his first manhoodclad in black armor, is mounted on a white horse which has black accoutrements. The animal has one foreleg lifted and arched; the others parallel the legs of the beggar, recalling somewhat the treatment of the legs in the San Mauricio. The two figures are seen against the sky, which soars above a distant view of Toledo. In the statuesque plasticity of the forms and the chastity of the color scheme of white, black, green and pale greyish blue the picture is one of extraordinary nobility and tenderness and of extreme abstraction. Facing it is the exquisitely tender and reverential Virgin and Saints (p. 85) in which perhaps, more than in any other of his works El Greco has yielded to the charm of facial loveliness. Above the high altar hangs the Coronation of the Virgin. The center of the composition is a trefoil arrangement of the three figures of the Father, Son and Virgin, beneath which are two adoring figures, the rest of the pattern consisting of clouds in arc-like forms only less full of expressional value than the figures. It is a motive that Velasquez borrowed in his picture in the Prado of the same subject.
To this period is attributed the Crucifixion in the Louvre (p. 70) to which allusion has been already made. Let us note afresh the infinite calm of the Saviour’s form as characteristic of this period of spiritual calm in the artist’s own genius. By this time, also, we are better able to judge the introduction of the two worshippers in the lower foreground. They were probably included of necessity, representing the donor and the priest of the Church for which this picture was painted. But they also introduce that touch of naturalism, dear to the Spanish imagination; and the artist has made them contributary to his conception of the scene as a vision. It is a vision of the holy scene which these men of his own time are contemplating and the contrast of their reality lends to the vision an increased abstraction.
Also to this period chiefly belong the many Annunciations and Holy Families. Of the latter we have a fine example in the Hispanic Museum, New York, which recalls with certain modifications that of the Prado. In all these subjects the type of Madonna is drawn from the people. But it is not left in its stolid plainness as by Velasquez in his Adoration of the Kings, or sentimentalised as by Murillo. By El Greco it has been rarified, purged alike of grossness and earthly emotion; in fact, spiritualized. We may also assign to this period the small Santiago of the Metropolitan Museum, New York; exquisitely choice in its tonal scheme of blue, slightly relieved by dull ochre yellow, yet virile in handling and inspired by an exalted purity of imagination.
To the artist’s latest period belongs another picture in the Metropolitan Museum, The Nativity. It is the product of a newly awakened ardor, such as characterises the most important work of El Greco’s closing life. The participants in the event are lowly folk; the Mother a girl of the people; the shepherds large-modeled, shrewdly featured peasants. But all are possessed with the exaltation of the moment; their naivete and crudity are caught up in a frenzy of amazement. In the darkness of the night the scene is all aflame with spiritual incandescence. How marvellously the light and obscurity are interwoven! What a strange diversity of plastic forms and subtlety of sober coloring are wrought into the composition! Strangeness is certainly the first impression one experiences; then, following it, a realisation of intense inspiration and of masterful creativeness. One is in the presence of the unusual, of a great imaginative spirit.
Similarly ecstatic is the vision of The Coming of the Holy Ghost in the Prado. At the top, the Dove in Glory; under it, a horizontal row of figures, the Virgin in the center, the heads of all tipped with flame; down below, two figures, leaning back and gazing up at the Divine Glory. Some recollection of the old Titianesque crimsons and blues appears, but nothing of their mundane qualities. The whole conception is one of passion-ate receptivity toward the illumination from on high. The final expression of tempestuous energy appears in the Death of Laocoon and His Son in San Telmo, Seville and in the Apocalypse, or as it has been wrongly called, The Sacred and Profane Love, owned by the artist, Senor Zuloaga.
El Greco had pupils but left no followers. Some of his pupils, Luis Tristan, for example, and his son, George Manuel, learned to imitate his manner sufficiently closely to have caused confusion in the attribution of certain pictures. But El Greco’s style was so directly the product of his own intellectuality, sensitive and passionate esthetic imagination and highly wrought soul, that it could not be absorbed in its integrity by others. But his art influenced no less a master than the great Velasquez. We have noted that the latter borrowed from the Toledan artist his composition for the Coronation of the Virgin and may add the debt which his portrait of Innocent X appears to owe to El Greco’s Don Fernando Nino de Guevara. It was how-ever in the matter of color that the influence is most marked. Velasquez adopted, as Senor de Beruete says, “certain silver-grey tints in the coloring of the flesh, the use of special carmines and a greater freedom of execution in the draperies, fabrics and other accessories.” These same qualities, and the intellectuality and abstraction of his conception and style have begun to affect some modern artists. The most notable example was the late Paul Cezanne, whose work, in turn, is exerting a potent influence on others. Meanwhile El Greco’s pictures, until recent years known only to a few connoisseurs, are being sought for and treasured by col-lectors and museums.
Meanwhile, by the young painter of to-day El Greco should be studied closely. For the modern age in every development of life is beginning to demand intellectuality, and in painting particularly a greater degree of subtlety and abstract suggestion. The quality of expression is growing more and more to be the test by which the artist of the present and the future will be judged. El Greco, in all these respects is a master to be followed; not in the way of imitation, but for the sake of the principles involved in his conception of a subject and its technical rendering, and also because he will help to an understanding of other great artists of expression, such as Michelangelo, Giotto, the nameless artists of the Byzantine period and the known and unknown masters of Buddhistic art.