Tuesday, 9 February 2010

El Greco - View of Toledo

"True realism consists in revealing the surprising things which habit keeps covered and prevents us from seeing." Jean Cocteau

El Greco has a style which is quite unique in European painting: a strange combination of the expressive power of Italian Mannerism but illuminated by a mystical light and colour that reflects the artist's intense spiritual fervour.

Toledo was the religious capital of Spain and El Greco's 'View of Toledo' is a landscape painting with a spiritual dimension. He chooses to portray the scene just at that moment before a storm bursts. The heavens are at war with the sun just holding out against the impending thunderstorm and the atmosphere is electric. The spire of Toledo Cathedral seems to conduct this energy to the surrounding buildings while the landscape bristles with static charge. At this portentous moment the voice of God speaks through the forces of nature. It is an apocalyptic scene which recalls St. John's vision of the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelations, 'He showed me Jerusalem, the Holy City, coming out of Heaven from God and shining with the glory of God. The city shone like a precious stone, like a jasper, clear as crystal.'

This is a landscape of unearthly power and drama: a dialogue between heaven and earth conducted appropriately by the cathedral spire. In fact, El Greco has changed the actual positions of the cathedral and the Alcázar palace to increase the effectiveness of his composition.

El Greco's fame faded after his death until he was 'rediscovered' at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and the German Expressionists were attracted by the expressive distortions of form and colour in his painting. Picasso acknowledged this debt in his painting 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' which has many compositional similarities to El Greco's 'Opening of the Fifth Seal' (1608-1614). This late El Greco masterpiece was owned by Picasso's friend, Ignacio Zuloaga, and at the time when Picasso was painting 'Les Demoiselles' he often visited Zuloaga to view the work.

Franz Marc, one of the most renowned expressionists, said, 'the glory of this painter is closely tied to the evolution of our new perceptions on art.' El Greco was not simply an old master; he was an artist from the past whose ideas were three hundred years ahead of their time.

text taken from www.artyfactory.com

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