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: El Greco Works in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Editor's note: When Mr. Gudiol was in Minneapolis toward the end of April he expressed great interest in the El Greco paintings in the Art Institute; particularly in the Portrait of a Man acquired in 1935 from the collection of the late Herschel V. Jones. He also expressed a wish to contribute some comments on these works to the “Bulletin” and it is with great pleasure that we print the following notes, received just before Mr. Gudiol's unexpected return to Spain. During the past winter he has served as Carnegie Professor at the Toledo Museum of Art. Mr. Gudiol is one of the foremost contemporary authorities on the work of El Greco, and his remarks concerning the El Greco paintings in the Art Institute will be received with unusual interest.The paintings connected with the name of El Greco which are to be found in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts are three precious milestones in the study of the fascinating problem presented by this famous Greco-Spanish artist.It is not necessary to dwell on the beauty and high quality of the earliest of the three, The Cleansing of the Temple, whose importance has been stressed in countless books. There are nine versions of this painting, of which one—that in the Cook Collection in Richmond, England—exhibits the nervous quality expressive of Greco's Venetian period. The Minneapolis version is considered to be a later replica executed by El Greco himself soon after his arrival in Rome in 1570. This chronological attribution has been derived from the fact that one of the four men portrayed in the lower right corner of the canvas is the miniaturist Julio Clovio, the protector of El Greco during his stay in Rome. This portrait is obviously taken from the life sized Greco portrait of Julio Clovio in the Museo Nazionale in Naples, believed to have been executed in 1570.The compositional scheme in the Minneapolis version of The Cleansing of the Temple includes an arrangement of the figures very similar to that in the Cook canvas, although the background and several details have undergone a thorough transformation. The style is also transformed and shows that El Greco had already taken a long step toward his definite style, later developed in Spain.This composition, of which several later replicas exist—some painted by El Greco but most of them by his assistants and imitators—is extremely important to an understanding not only of the evolution of El Greco's style but to a clarification of the dark problem of his methods of work. Following the system of mediaeval workshops, El Greco used to paint a model for each composition. He and his assistants made from these models replicas of different sizes, more or less transformed according to the requirements of the composition in hand. In each replicas, of course, he gradually changed his technique and style while keeping the general scheme of the composition. The version of The Cleansing of the Temple now in Minneapolis marks the highest point of El Greco's Italian period and the beginning of the style which culminated in The Espolio, in the paintings in Santo Domingo Antiguo, and in other famous works in Toledo.The second Minneapolis composition, representing The Espolio—Christ being disrobed of his tunic before the crucifixion—although not from El Greco's hand is an important work, valuable as a document in the study of the methods employed in Greco's workshop, to which we have referred above. The model of this composition was probably painted by El Greco in Italy. He later painted several replicas in Spain. One, of which the Minneapolis canvas is a very close copy, is in the Pinakothek in Munich; another, dated 1579, is to be found in the Cathedral in Toledo.The difference between these outstanding versions is seen in the painting of an old man's head in the upper right corner of the composition. In the Munich canvas—and in the Minneapolis copy—it is viewed from the back. In the version now in the Cathedral in Toledo it has been replaced by a bearded man facing Christ. In addition to this improvement in the composition, the evolution of the style leaves no doubts about the priority of these two paintings.The chronological problems of The Espolio, of which at least seventeen replicas exist, has not yet been very well clarified. These various replicas betray many different artists. One of them was Jorge Manuel, the son of El Greco, who signed the replica in the Prado Museum in Madrid. The Minneapolis copy, as stated above, is close to the Munich canvas and must have been taken from the original model before the transformation of 1579, so that it can be classified as a work by an anonymous Spanish artist of the late sixteenth century.Whoever he may have been, this artist was a very good interpreter of El Greco and one who, at the same time, took the liberty of introducing certain stylistic innovations of his own; innovations that prove the importance of his personality as an artist. The hand of one of the feminine figures in the foreground is painted in a style opposite to Greco's conception, yet it is none the less a remarkable achievement. In the same way we could point to several other original qualities. This painting retains a great many of the chromatic effects of El Greco's Italian period, as may easily be seen by comparing it with the famous Cleansing. Unhappily we do not know enough about El Greco's milieu even to suggest an attribution.In the latest El Greco work in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts it was indeed an exciting surprise for me to see for the first time the Portrait of a Man dressed in a simple black costume emphasized by a golilla and white ruffled cuffs, and with a medal hanging from his neck. A. L. Mayer, M. Legendre, and A. Hartmann classify this painting as a work of Greco's last period. Ludwig Goldscheider, in his Phaidon volume on El Greco, published it as being painted between 1604 and 1610. A careful, comparative analysis however, proves that those cannot be the right dates for such a work. The style of the portraits included in the Greco paintings at Illescas, in 1604, are much more advanced and absolutely representative of the phosphorescent style of El Greco's last period, when he gave to his figures a strange inner light and an appearance of distortion.The gentleman in the Minneapolis painting belongs to the constructive period of El Greco; the climax of his career when he succeeded in obtaining his amazing and truthful expression. The picture must have been painted very close to the period of the famous Burial of the Count of Orgaz, finished in 1586. The gentleman of the Minneapolis portrait can join the group of standing personages appearing as witnesses to the scene of the miraculous Burial without any sense of being a stranger among them. He is one of them, and even shows a striking resemblance to the bearded man raising his hand in the central group of this famous painting, now in the cathedral of Santo Tomé in Toledo.Undoubtedly the problem that has bothered critics and scholars in connection with this portrait has arisen from the fact that the costume and accessories were left in the preparatory stage. The head, however, rendered in the greenish tonality of El Greco's portraits, displays the final touches in white that are characteristic of this period. The unfinished quality does not detract in any way from the beauty of this marvelous paintings. It provides, rather, an additional valuable document for the study of El Greco's technique. This portrait, in superb condition and with all the qualities of what is considered to be El Greco's greatest period, can be placed in the highest rank among his portraits. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts may well be proud of its presence in the group of El Greco works that fate has reunited there.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Portrait of a Man by Domenico Theotocopoulos (El Greco). Spanish, XVI century. Dunwoody Fund, 1935.
  2. The Cleansing of the Temple. A work of El Greco's Italian period probably painted in Rome about 1570. Dunwoody Fund, 1924.
  3. The Cleansing of the Temple. Detail with portraits of Titian, Michelangelo, Julio Clovio, and Raphael.
  4. Christ driving the money changers from the temple. Detail of The Cleansing of the Temple
  5. The Espolio. An anonymous XVI-century copy of El Greco's Munich Version. Bequest of John R. Van Derlip.
  6. Detail of head in El Greco's Portrait of a Man.
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Source: José R. Guidol, "El Greco Works in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 30, no. 15 (June, 1941): 110-115.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009