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'El espolio' (The Disrobing of Christ)

El Greco (Kríti [Crete] 1541 - Toledo province 1614)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1577 - 1578

Materials

Oil on pine panel

Measurements

557 x 347 mm

Place of origin

Toledo

Order this image

Collection

Upton House, Warwickshire (Accredited Museum)

NT 446826

Caption

Born in Crete but working mainly at Toledo, Spain, El Greco is still known by his nickname ‘the Greek’. El Greco studied in Venice, and was much influenced by Italian painters such as Tintoretto. In Spain, however, he developed his own extraordinary style and his paintings display a profound spiritual intensity. This painting is a small-scale replica of the altarpiece of 1577-79 in the Sacristy of the Cathedral at Toledo. El Greco depicts Christ before his crucifixion, just at the moment when his clothing is about to be plucked from him. This was deliberate, as the altarpiece was originally commissioned to hang in the Vestry, which is where priests’ garments are kept and put on before the celebration of Mass. Another prominent detail is the rope which binds Christ’s right hand, and which makes reference to medieval texts describing how Christ was pulled along by a rope as a thief would have been. Despite El Greco’s careful interpretation of the Biblical narrative, the work met with an unfavourable reception. The cathedral authorities declared that it was improper to place the heads of the crowd higher than that of Christ. The high emotional drama of the moment is powerfully conveyed. The diagonal lines in the vivid blue sky provide a spiritual communication between Christ and God the Father, as the crowd closes in like a swarm of insects.

Summary

Oil painting on pine panel, 'El espolio' (The Disrobing of Christ) by El Greco (Kríti 1541 - Toledo province 1614), signed in two lines on the paper/cartellino on the right (mostly effaced): Δ…ΟΣ ΘΕΟΤ…ΥΝΟΣΣ (Domenikos Theoto [copoulos] Cretan made), 1577/78. Christ stands on Calvary in the centre of a group of soldiers, one of whom reaches for His robe; in the right foreground an executioner bends over the cross which lies on the ground and pierces holes for the nails; he is watched by the three Marys (Mary Cleophas, the Virgin and Mary Magdalen) standing at the left in distress. A small version of three existing and an autograph replica which some have suggested is the model (there is prominent underdrawing visible) rather than a subsequent copy of the famous painting in the Sacristy in Toledo Cathedral commissioned by Diego de Castilla, Dean on 2 July 1577 to hang in the Vestry and completed in 1579 and could well have been originally been owned Diego himself. The scene alludes to the part of the Passion told by Matthew in his Gospel (xxvii 27-28): 'Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.' The title comes from the Latin verb 'spoliare' (in Spanish: espolio): to strip, rather than 'expilire (in Spanish: expolio)': to rape/plunder.

Provenance

Possibly owned by Diego de Castilla (1510/15-1584),1577-84; Don Gaspar de Haro y Guzman, 7th Marquis del Carpio and de Heliche (1629- 1687) as is indicated by the monogram DGH on the back of the panel; inherited by his daughter Doña Catalina de Haro, who married the 10th Duke of Alba in 1688; possibly Queen Maria Cristina de Borbón-Dos Sicilias (1806 - 1878), widow of Ferdinand VII (1784-1833); in Paris in 19th century, belonged to the artist Eugène Delacroix and later his executor Baron Louis-Auguste Schwiter (1805 -1889); Schwiter sale, Paris 3 May 1886, lot 10; acquired by P. A. Chéramy (1840- 1912), Paris; Chéramy sale Galerie George Petit, Paris 5 - 7 May 1908, lot 77: bought by M. Ducrey, Paris; bought by Wildenstein, Paris, 1938 on behalf of 2nd Viscount Bearsted who paid £5,000 for it in June; given with Upton House to the National Trust by Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted (1882 – 1948), in 1948, shortly before his death

Credit line

Upton House, The Bearsted Collection (National Trust)

Marks and inscriptions

Verso: DGH - Don Gaspar de Haro

Makers and roles

El Greco (Kríti [Crete] 1541 - Toledo province 1614) , artist

Exhibition history

Greco, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 2019 - 2020 The Greek of Toledo, Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo, Spain , 2014, no.cat.42 New Light on Old Masters, Squash Court Gallery, 2013

References

Wethey 1962 Harold E. Wethey, El Greco and his School, 2 vols., Princeton University Press, 1962, no. 80, II, pp. 54-6 Camon Aznar 1964 Jose Camon Aznar, Velázquez, Madrid, 2 vols, 1950 (revised edition 1970), no. 150 El Greco of Toledo Painter of the Visible and the Invisible (ed. Fernando Marias), Museum of Santa Cruz, Toledo, Spain 14th March - 14th June 2014, no.42, pp.191

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