The painting

An Historical Explanation

 

DON GONZALO RUIZ DE TOLEDO († 9th December 1323)

Mr. Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo was a pious noble in the 14th Century that wished to show his faith through many different ways. This parish church Santo Tomás Apóstol, which was the place chosen for his eternal rest, was entitled to some testamentary provisions made by Mr. Gonzalo. According to these, the village of Orgaz was due to donate two rams, sixteen hens, two wineskins, two carriages of wood and 800 Spanish
maravedíes to the church administrators.

In 1564 the parish priest Mr. Andrés Núñez Madrid brought a lawsuit before the Valladolid Chancery against the inhabitants of the above mentioned village as they rejected to keep on giving the specified goods in Mr. Gonzalo’s Last Will.
After the Court’s support of the parish priest in 1569, he decided to entrust Alvar Gómez de Castro with the elaboration of a commemorative epitaph in Latin.

In this inscription, the story of a miracle occurring during the funeral of Mr. Gonzalo is included. According to this story, Saint Augustine and Saint Esteban were coming down from Heaven to bury the noble while there was a voice saying: “Such an award is received by those who serve God and its saints”. Thus, the Count of Orgaz was honoured with being laid in his grave by these two saints as a reward for his exemplary and faithful life.

El milagro fue oficialmente reconocido en 1583, y el párroco D. Andrés quiso dejar testimonio imperecedero encargando un lienzo que presidiera la recién remodelada capilla del señor de Orgaz. Para esto se sirvió del mejor pintor que por aquel entonces había en la ciudad: Doménikos Theotokópoulos, más conocido por sus conciudadanos con el sobrenombre de El Greco.

The miracle was officially recognized in 1583. The parish priest Mr. Andrés ordered the elaboration of a painting symbolising an everlasting testimony of the Count’s life. This piece of art was to crown his newly built chapel. To perform this task, he relied on the best artist in the city at that time: Doménikus Theotokópoulos, known as El Greco by his contemporaries.

 

EL GRECO (Candia, Crete, 1541 – Toledo, 7th April 1614)

Goya, and later on Picasso and other well-known authors would associate El Greco with the first impressionist artist. He is considered as the first painter able to shape a face with just two brushstrokes. For him, painting is not any longer about drawing and colouring, but also shape and volume. Surprising painting techniques can be found in his work, such as the clear reflect of Saint Esteban’s face on the armour of the Count, which indeed is made up of pure blots if observed up close.

Doménikus studied painting in Crete, his place of birth. At an early age, he became an icons painter, but almost any of his first paintings remain nowadays. They probably followed the Byzantine-style that was in vogue at that time –some elements of this style remain in his subsequent works.

He worked in Venice, at Tiziano’s workshop, and in Rome, where he studied Michelangelo’s pieces. Eventually he got settled in Toledo in 1577.

Thriving in pride and independence, he always tended to consolidate his unique and rare style, and carefully avoid imitations. One of his contemporaries defined him as “a man of eccentric ideas and habits, great determination, extraordinary reluctance and extreme devotion”.

 

THE PAINTING

On 15th March 1586, an agreement was signed between Mr. Alonso and El Greco to precisely define the iconography to be depicted on the bottom part of the painting. The payment would be made after a valuation, and the painting should be finished by Christmas on the same year. The work lasted longer than expected, and was finally completed in the spring of 1588. Luis de Velasco and Hernando de Nunciva valued
the painting at 1200 ducats, an amount that was considered excessive by the parish priest -especially when compared to the cost of “The disrobing of Christ” (318 ducats) displayed in the cathedral or “Saint Maurice” (800 ducats) placed at El Escorial.

As they both did not reach an agreement, the Archbishop’s Council intervened and declared that the 1200 ducats of the first valuation had to be satisfied.
Even though El Greco respected all the indications stated by Mr. Alonso, he resorted to his vast knowledge in oriental iconographical tradition so as to convey his own vision of the main painting’s themes.
Art is at the service of a genius; a genius is at the service of faith.

In 1975, after a comprehensive scientific study, the painting is assigned to the Spanish School of conservation and restoration of cultural property (known as I.C.R.O.A) for a restoration. Moreover, it was relocated from his original sitting to his current place of exhibition.