[Greek-born Spanish Mannerist Painter, 1541-1614]
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (detail)
Oil on canvas
Santo Tomé, Toledo
No picture better demonstrates the essence of El Greco’s art than his most famous, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, which was painted for his own parish church, Santo Tomé. Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, Count of Orgaz, was a Toledan nobleman who had lived in the fourteenth century and acquired a renown as a donor to religious institutions. Before he died, he had willed certain rents from the village of Orgaz to the church of Santo Tomé, where he had elected to be buried. In 1586 the parish priest initiated a project to refurbish the count’s burial chapel, and commissioned El Greco to paint what has to be considered as his masterpiece.
The most striking aspect of the composition is the juxtaposition of the imaginative vision of heaven with the burial scene, in which all the figures are garbed in contemporary costumes and presumably represent distinguished citizens of Al Greco’s Toledo. The dichotomy in style between the upper and lower parts is one of the most remarkable feature of the painting. In the lower zone, El Greco meticulously reproduces the appearances of persons and objects. The heavenly scene, by contrast is far more abstracted. This peculiar synthesis of real and super-real is essential to El Greco’s art.