Lanscapes by El Greco (-nº I-)

Prior to the “View of Toledo” by El Greco (ca. 1587), stricto sensu landscape painting was a rarity in sixteenth century Spain. Neither any landscape painter was known in Toledo, nor any acceptable picture representing that city is to be found.

Actually, landscapes were rather discouraged by the Counter-Reformation, whose rigid doctrine interpretation was against both Classicism and Humanism. Certainly, the Spanish Church of the sixteenth centuty was prone to consider human nature and Nature in general as rather corrupt and deceptive. Therefore, it can be taken for granted that with that striking canvas, El Greco initiated the Spanish landscape painting school.

Several landscapes of Toledo are mentioned in the two inventories which were made after the death of Theotokopoulos. However, among the paintings remaining so far, only two of them are real landscapes: that “View of Toledo“, and the unfinished “View and Plan of Toledo“. Along with those two canvases, Harold E. Wethey mentions another picture as a possible fragment of a landscape by that artist. But that is an incomplete canvas, repainted and in such poor state that it does not deserve much interest.

Nevertheless, El Greco also painted cityscapes and landscapes as a background of several works. Although in his Cretan and Italian stages he produced interesting landscapes, it was in his Spanish stage where he reached his peculiar style.

Perhaps the “borderline” between the Italian and the Spanish landscapes, is found in the “Penitent Magdalene” (ca.1577), a canvas started either in Italy or in his very first Spanish stage. Certainly, at the left side of that picture there is a beautiful sunrise in what seems to be a Venetian lagoon, probably an evocation of his late stay in Venice.

At the “St. Sebastian”, painted almost immediately after his arrival in Spain, there is a landscape that can be described as if were Italian. Actually, in that picture El Greco depicted with unusual “Venetian” and naturalistic precision the branches and leaves of the fig tree to which the martyr is attached, and that was never repeated in his posterior works.

On the contrary, in the “Martyrdom of St. Maurice“, a work that is close in time to that “St. Sebastian“, Doménikos avoids almost completely any landscape, because the multitude of characters, both in the foreground and in the background, practically hide a strange scenery of barren hills.

The cityscapes and landscapes which El Greco painted as a background of several works nearly always represent Toledo and its “cigarrales”, as if observed from the road that leads to Madrid. Sometimes, these cityscapes are similar to the above mentioned “View of Toledo” (ca.1587)

Title:View of Toledo ”
Date: 1597-99 ca.
Technique and Support: Oil on Canvas.
Dimensions: 121,3 x 108,6 cm.
Location: Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Certainly, the terrain and the mountainscape are unreal, and the “remontada” to the castle of San Servando is exaggerated. Some edifices show their façades whereas some others show their profiles. Some other buildings are either imagined or their relative importance is manipulated, whereas the positions of the Cathedral and the Alcazar are reversed.

Moreover, it is not possible to be sure either of the moment of the day or the season of the year, since the banks of the river Tajo look with an strange, unusual greenery. It seems as though an electric thunderstorm is gathering, or perhaps with that dreamy light El Greco wanted to depict a twilight or night-time scene.

In spite of those unconventional, amazing features and their intellectual significance, there are hints of some everyday aspects of Toledo as well. In the sixteenth century Toledo had a clothmaking industry that was important to its economy. El Greco depicted a group of people on the banks of the Tajo, perhaps involved with the fulling of the cloth when it was washed, beaten and dried before being dyed, what was done in small mills around the river. Another group of people at the Tajo seems to be fishing, an activity that was probably important to the economy of the city as well.

In the sixteenth century, a “plein air”painting was unthinkable, and far from it a nocturnal cityscape painted directly on the stony and possibly dangerous outskirts of Toledo, not even in full moon. Surely, the artist painted that canvas in his studio, based on his recollections and perhaps on some sketches.

Altogether, there an unreal, suggestive Toledo of legend, which seems to reflect the inner world of the artist, rather than the objective reality of that city. For that matter, that picture may be regarded as an “expressionistic” landscape avant la lettre. The hypothesis that that landscape had been the lower part of a trimmed work (maybe a “Christ on the Cross“) has been strongly denied by authors such Wethey.

Jerusalem, Tours, Tuscany or Troy became Toledo, because the emblematic buildings of that city were the background in front of which El Greco depicted subjects as “The Laocoön”, “St. Bernardino of Siena”, “St. Martin of Tours”, “St. Joseph and the Child Jesus” and several other characters, who obviously never set foot on the outskirts of that city.

In those views the light is as unreal as in the aforesaid “View of Toledo“. Often they are night scenes, illuminated by the silver light of the Moon, which lights up almost like the Sun. On other occasions, it is imposible to say at what time of day the scene takes place, because El Greco depicted his paintings subjectively, creating atmospheres which are both unrealistic and full of vitality.

Although several theories try to explain the logic behind such incongruous cityscapes, no definitive explanation can be found. Maybe the commissioners of those works were from Toledo, and they requested the inclusion of the familiar landscape as a sign of identity. Perhaps Doménikos, rather than imitating the stories he represented, reworked them in order to produce intellectual versions of them. Or maybe he tried to introduce the viewer into the picture by replicating his everyday.

The backgrounds in “St. Joseph and the Child Jesus” and in “St. Martin and the Beggar“, painted for the chapel of San José (Toledo) remind very much that “View of Toledo“. In “St. Joseph and the Child Jesus” the cityscape is divided into two by the imposing figures of St. Joseph and the Child, looming over a landscape with a distant view of Toledo.

In “St. Martin and the Beggar” the clouds ands the light convey a rather “Venetian” and fairy tale” atmosfere to the view of that city. Almost the same cityscape appears in the lower part of the “St. Sebastian” at the Prado Museum (Madrid). Both in that canvas, and in “St. Martin and the Beggar“, as in “St. Joseph and the Child Jesus“, El Greco painted -at the right side-  a waterwheel, a sort of hydraulic mill as they must have been common in the seventeenth century in the river Tajo.

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In contrast with the pictures so far seen, “View and Plan of Toledo” is surely inspired by the “vedute” of Venice, and offers a multiple viewpoint. Certainly, in addition to its perspectival appearance, it contains a plan of the city, held up by a young man (maybe a younger Jorge Manuel).

That complex composition was painted with the sketchy handling of the last stage of that painter, and includes an allegory of the Tajo river, seen as a golden sculpture of a young boy, holding a pitcher that pours water as a symbol of richness.

Title: ” View and Plan of Toledo ”
Date: 1600-1614 ca.
Technique and Support: Oil on Canvas.
Dimension: 132 x 228 cm.
Location: Museo del Greco, Toledo.

In that complex painting, there may be clearly identified some of the most emblematic buildings in Toledo: the fortress of San Servando, the Alcántara bridge, the Alcázar, the monastery of San Bartolomé, and the majestic gates of Bisagra, Cambrón and Alfonso VI.

In addition, great prominence is given to the Hospital of Tavera, depicted on a cloud, transferring it from its actual setting, so that its façade could be clearly shown at the foreground.

Maybe this curious relocation is a clear allusion to the administrator of that building, Pedro Salazar de Mendoza. He was a friend of El Greco and the probable commissioner of that canvas. However, that artist himself explained this strange displacement:

“Ha sido forzoso poner el Hospital de Juan Tavera en forma de modelo porqué no solo venia a cubrir la puerta de Visagra mas subía el cimborrio o cúpula de manera que sobrepujaba la ciudad y así una vez puesto como modelo y movido de su lugar me ha parecido mostrar la haz antes que otra parte, y en lo demás de cómo viene con la ciudad se verá en la planta”.

Despite the fact that the Sun is not visible, that canvas is one of the sunniest landscapes ever depicted by that master. Besides, on the sky there is the iconic image of the Virgin placing the chasuble on Saint Ildefonso (the patron Saint of Toledo), which conveys a magic carachter to that painting,

Whereas the aforementioned “View of Toledo“(ca.1587) has a much more hypnotic quality, and may be regarded as an “expressionistic” lansdcape, that other “View and Plan of Toledo”(1608-14 ca.) seems to anticipate Paul Cézanne, and even the cubist landcapes of Picasso.  Hence, I personally  think that that complex, enigmatic and fascinating cityscape should at least be appreciated as much as the more renowned “View of Toledo“.

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Frati, Tiziana; La Obra pictórica completa de El Greco; Editorial Noguer-Rizzoli; Milán-1969.
Wethey, Harold E.; El Greco y su Escuela; Ediciones Guadarrama; Madrid-1967.
Álvarez Lopera, José; El Greco, la Obra esencial; Editorial Sílex; Madrid-2014.

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A lower part of the “El Entierro del Señor de Orgaz” at the Museo del Prado

Several replicas of various masterpieces of El Greco have survived so far, which are regarded either as a work of that artist, or painted by Jorge Manuel, or by the workshop with more or less intervention of the master.

For instance, Camón Aznar mentioned in his catalogue 110 copies on the subject of St. Francis of Assisi. According to Harold E. Wethey, only 24 of those copies were painted by El Greco himself, whereas the rest would have been made by his workshop.

However, not any replica -contemporary to El Greco– of the “Burial of the Count of Orgaz” has remained so far. As a matter of fact, it is understandable that only few people were interested in that unusual subject, a mere local legend.

Even though two “Burial of the Count of Orgaz” were quoted in the second inventory made after the death of the master, one of them was a “borroncito” (a sketch), and it seems very unlikely that the other picture was the one nowadays at the Museo del Prado.

Certainly, El Prado Museum houses a very interesting replica of the “Burial”, which is thought to be painted some years after the death of El Greco. That copy represents the lower part of the original at Santo Tomé, although adapting it to a smaller format and roughly maintaining its compositional proportionality.

Title:The Burial of the Count of Orgaz “.
Date: 1625 ca.
Technique and Support: Oil on Canvas.
Dimensions: 188 x 248 cm.
Location: Museo del Prado, Madrid.

That painting was quoted by Antonio Palomino in the “Casa Profesa de los Jesuitas” (Toledo) in 1724. Due to its quality, it was firstly ascribed to El Greco, until Cossio rejected that attribution in his catalogue of 1908, pointing the name of Jorge Manuel as a possible author.

Currently, it is considered a late copy, painted by a single artist who imitated quite faithfully the images and the appearance of the original, but not the pictorial layers and glazes used by El Greco, by Jorge Manuel, or by the more direct collaborators of the master.

In any case, that skilled painter probably had been previously working at the studio of Doménikos, since he knew several pictorial resources that were used there. Certainly, he used heavily charged brushstrokes in zones such as the flames of the candles, the chasubles and the ruff-necks, whereas the processional cross was painted using small brushstrokes. Also, he scumbled and dragged the pigments in other areas such as the habit of the Franciscan, whereas  one head in the second row was depicted in a rather impressionist technique corresponding to the final stage of El Greco.

There are some changes at the little part representing the Heaven. The clouds are slightly higher than in the original canvas, while the three groups of cherubs have been eliminated. A small foreshortened angel has been moved towards the base of the clouds, in order to introduce that figure into that painting.

Moreover, a more interesting change has been made in the Terrestrial part. The cleric on the right, behind the main celebrant of the ceremony, has been curiously transformed.

Certainly, in the painting at Santo Tomé that cleric was a young man, with dark hair, moustache and goatee. However, in the copy at the Prado, he appears as an elder with a gray beard and hair.

Perhaps that cleric was responsible for the making of that painting. And maybe -if he really was the same individual- he was allowed to be included in that copy, reflecting the years that passed since he was portrayed for the first time in that masterpiece at Santo Tomé Church.

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Frati, Tiziana; La Obra pictórica completa de El Greco; Editorial Noguer-Rizzoli; Milán-1969.
Wethey, Harold E.; El Greco y su Escuela; Ediciones Guadarrama; Madrid-1967.

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The Disrobing of Christ ( Half-Lenght Version) Cardiff

Camón Aznar suggested that El Greco had painted a second version of “The Disrobing of Christ” for the Cathedral of Toledo. This variant would have been a half-length version, in order to counteract criticism for having included the Three Marys and the Preparation of the Cross. However, there is no evidence that he really made that reduced variant for the Cathedral.

As a matter of fact, four half-length versions of “The Disrobing of Christ” are currently known. Certainly, it is likely that a possible prototype of these versions may be explained by the desire of El Greco to exclude the Three Marys and the Preparation of the Cross. But no reduced original of good quality, painted by El Greco, has arrived so far. There are only those four copies, considered of his workshop.

There is only one reference of a half-length “Disrobing of Christ”, which would be a real work of the master. It is mentioned in 1687 in an inventory made after the death of Méndez Luis de Haro y Guzmán, but its dimensions (1.11 x 1.46 m.) do not coincide with the conserved canvases.

That version of Cardiff is considered as the best of the current variants, although its quality is much lower than the superior full-length copies (the one in Munich and the other one in the Museum of the Santa Cruz in Toledo).

Title: ” Disrobing of Christ ( half-lenght version ) ”
Date: 1592 ?
Medium: Oil on Canvas.
Dimensions: 130 x 163 cm.
Location: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

The three main characters in the foreground were carefully copied from the original at the Cathedral of Toledo, whereas the characters at the background were depicted somehow carelessly.

Cossio, Mayer and Camon Aznar think that painting there was some intervention of El Greco. According to Wethey, it is a mere work of his workshop.

Curiously, the action takes place at night, and the soldier at the left upper part carries a torch in his hand. Light comes from the aforementioned torch, and from the celestial lighting that makes its way through a triangular opening on the clouds, somewhat to the left of the head of Christ.

In short, it is an interesting work, but it is a pity that, so far, a half-length prototype painted by the master himself has not have arrived.

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Frati, Tiziana; La Obra pictórica completa de El Greco; Editorial Noguer-Rizzoli; Milán-1969.
Wethey, Harold E.; El Greco y su Escuela; Ediciones Guadarrama; Madrid-1967.
Álvarez Lopera, José; El Greco, la Obra esencial; Editorial Sílex; Madrid-2014.

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El Expolio (versión de medio Cuerpo-Cardiff)

Camón Aznar sugirió que El Greco había pintado una segunda versión de El Expolio para la Catedral de Toledo. Esta variante habría sido de medio cuerpo, para contrarrestar las críticas por haber incluido las tres Marías y la preparación de la Cruz. Sin embargo, no existe ninguna evidencia de que efectivamente Doménikos pintara esta versión reducida para la Sacristía de la Catedral.

Actualmente se conocen cuatro variantes de medio cuerpo de El Expolio. Es probable que el prototipo de estas versiones pueda explicarse por el deseo de excluir las tres Marías y el hombre que prepara la Cruz. Pero no ha llegado hasta la actualidad ningún original reducido de buena calidad, pintado por El Greco, únicamente estas cuatro obras, consideradas de taller.

Solamente tenemos referencias de un Expolio de medio cuerpo, que pudiera ser auténtica obra del maestro. Es el mencionado en 1687 en el inventario realizado a la muerte de Luis de Méndez de Haro y Guzmán, pero sus dimensiones (1,11 x 1,46 ms) no coinciden con las obras conservadas.

La versión de Cardiff, aunque se considere como la mejor de las variantes de medio cuerpo, tiene una calidad muy inferior a la de las mejores copias de cuerpo entero (la de Múnich y la del Museo de la Santa Cruz en Toledo).

Título: ” El Expolio (versión de medio cuerpo) ”
Fecha: 1592 ?.
Medio: Óleo sobre tela.
Dimensiones: 130 x 163 cm.
Localización: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

Las tres figuras principales en primer término parecen copiadas cuidadosamente del original, mientras que las otras figuras se realizaron con menos esmero.

En esta obra, Cossío, Mayer y Camón Aznar ven alguna intervención de El Greco, mientras que según Wethey es una simple obra de escuela. En resumen, se trata de una obra interesante, que hace que lamentemos la pérdida de un posible prototipo de medio cuerpo, realizado por el maestro.

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Frati, Tiziana; La Obra pictórica completa de El Greco; Editorial Noguer-Rizzoli; Milán-1969.
Wethey, Harold E.; El Greco y su Escuela; Ediciones Guadarrama; Madrid-1967.
Álvarez Lopera, José; El Greco, la Obra esencial; Editorial Sílex; Madrid-2014.

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The Disrobing of Christ ( Munich ) El Greco

The Disrobing of Christ (Munich)

In spite of the objections of the commissioners of the Toledo Cathedral, the “Disrobing of Christ” must have been very successful, since more than eighteen copies of that masterpiece have survived so far.

Harold E. Wethey mentions eighteen versions of that masterpiece (four of them depicted only the upper part, without the “three Marys” and without the man who prepares the cross). These eighteen versions are of dissimilar quality, with greater or lesser intervention of El Greco himself, and/or his son Jorge Manuel, and/or other assistants of the workshop, but in any case demonstrate the admiration aroused by that magnificent masterpiece which is located at the Cathedral of Toledo.

It is generally agreed that the version of the “Disrobing of Christ” in Munich is the best variant of the main painting.

That canvas could possibly have been a preparatory oil sketch for the main work, and the authorship of El Greco is recognized by most of the critics.

Title:The Disrobing of Christ ”
Date: 1580-95 ca.
Technique and Support: Oil on Canvas.
Dimensions:  165 x 99 cm.
Location: Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

According to Harold E. Wethey, that picture comes from the workshop of El Greco, although that critic has no doubt that the master himself finalized it.

Although quite large, it is smaller than the canvas in the Cathedral of Toledo. Due to its shorter scale, the heads around Christ were reduced in number, whereas the group of the Three Marys and the man preparing the Cross are magnified. Perhaps due to the objections of the commissioners in his dispute over the presence of those characters, El Greco had to reduce their size in the final painting.

Also, the second character on the right side of the canvas has his back turned, so only his left ear is seen. In the prototype, that man disappears, whereas a middle-aged man is depicted from the front, looking at Christ.

In any case, the quality of that canvas cannot be compared with the prototype. There were unfortunate scratches on the robe of Christ, which have already been suitably repaired.

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Manusso Teotokópoulos, hermano de El Greco

Manusso Theotokópoulos
(1529-1604) doce años mayor que su hermano Doménikos (El Greco), parece que tenía una buena posición económica. En Candía (Creta) ejerció como recaudador de impuestos para la República de Venecia entre 1566 y 1583. Además, entre 1569 y 1583 aparece citado como Presidente de la Cofradía de Navegantes de Candía, y en 1571 obtuvo del Dux de Venecia una patente de corso para ejercer la piratería contra los turcos.

Con una buena situación económica y buenas relaciones con Venecia, es lógico que se hiciera cargo de la manutención y de la educación de Doménikos después de la temprana muerte de su padre, y posiblemente influyó en la posterior decisión de trasladarse a Italia.

Sin embargo, en 1583 Manusso quedó a deber 6000 ducados al gobierno, teniendo que vender sus vender sus bienes, y siendo condenado a prisión durante cuatro años para acabar de pagar la deuda.

Consiguió trasladarse a Venecia, presentándose sin éxito en dos ocasiones para el Capítulo de los Cuarenta, abandonando la República Veneciana hacia 1591. En esta situación desesperada, El Greco lo acogió en su casa de Toledo, dándole cobijo hasta el final de sus días. Quizás con eso no hizo más que agradecer el apoyo que su hermano le había ofrecido en la juventud.

La fecha de su llegada a Toledo es desconocida, ya que los primeros documentos conocidos están fechados a partir de 1603, y por ellos sabemos que vivía en casa de El Greco y que, contando con 74 o 75 años, se sentía “viejo, enfermo e impedido”. En los libros de enterramiento de la Parroquia de Santo Tomé, aparece registrado el 13 de Diciembre de 1604.

Título: (Considerado como) ” Retrato de Manusso Theotokópoulos
Fecha: 1603-1604 ca.
Medio: Óleo sobre tela.
Dimensiones: 47 x 38,7 cm.
Localización: Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, California)

Este cuadro se considera un retrato de Manusso Theotokópoulos, y obra de su hermano Doménikos. No hay pruebas fehacientes, ni de un hecho ni del otro, si bien es cierto que el personaje tiene un indudable parecido con los supuestos autorretratos de El Greco, como el que aparece en el “Entierro del conde de Orgaz”.

Publicado como auténtico por L.Venturi, Mayer, Longhi i Camón Aznar. Sin embargo, para Wethey se trata de una obra de la escuela italiana, y ningún detalle de esta pintura recuerda a El Greco o a su escuela.

Manusso viste una chaqueta amarronada con cuello de piel blanca y gorro de piel negra. Parece tener entre 50 y 60 años, o sea que es posible que el retrato fuera realizado a su llegada a España. Las libres pinceladas de la cara, cabello y cuello parecen estar abundantemente restauradas. Todo el conjunto destaca sobre un fondo verde marrón. Aunque El Greco usa una paleta muy restringida, como es propio en sus retratos de este período, las cansadas facciones de su hermano toman un carácter espiritual, gracias a las sólidas pinceladas empleadas para pintar el cuello y el gorro de piel, así como el aspecto abstraído y reflexivo de Manussos.

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Colección particular, Bolonia.
Barón Michele Lazzaroni, París.
Colección Contini Bonacossi, Florencia.
Actualmente en el Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, California, USA)

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Frati, Tiziana; La Obra pictórica completa de El Greco; Editorial Noguer-Rizzoli; Milán-1969.
Wethey, Harold E.; El Greco y su Escuela; Ediciones Guadarrama; Madrid-1967.
Álvarez Lopera, José; El Greco, la Obra esencial; Editorial Sílex; Madrid-2014.

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The Holy Family by El Greco (Type-III)

The Holy Family with Mary Magdalene -Type-III-

Title: ” The Holy Family with Mary Magdalene ”
Date: 1590-95 ca.
Technique and Support: Oil on Canvas.
Dimensions: 130 x 100  cm. (unframed).
Location: The Cleveland Museum of Art (USA).

Whereas Type-II is basically a reinterpretation of Type-I, this another Type of the Holy Family by El Greco is quite different, since in it a new feeling is present. Certainly, while Type-I and Type-II give a sensation of joy, that painting conveys a feeling of sorrow, despite its sparkling lights, brilliant colors, and the lovely image of the Infant Christ.

Obviously, that picture may not be confused with a variation of the Virgin of the Good Milk, as it might appear in Types I and II.

The Child Jesus is represented elder than in those previous versions. He does not have that blunt, unattractive appearance. Instead, He is beautiful, likable, frolicsome, and quite different from His image in those Types.

While in Type-II El Greco depicted St. Anne, in that canvas Mary Magdalene is represented. Her mournful gaze foreshadows the future suffering of the Infant Christ. That episode with Mary Magdalene is not mentioned in the canonical Gospels. Perhaps it is described in an apocryphal Gospel, or it is coming from a pious tradition, which seems not to have upset the authorities of the Counter-Reformation Church.

The countenance of the Virgin Mary in not as beautiful as in the preceding Types and her thoughtful, faraway look seems to indicate awareness of the fate of her Son. She holds the Child on her lap, as if she was as mediator between Christ and the viewer.

St. Joseph offers a bowl of fruit to the Infant Jesus, full of symbolic meaning: Apples represent the fall of man; cherries, the blood of Christ; peaches, salvation; pears, the sweetness of His virtue.

As in previous Types, that painting is based on previous Venetian depictions of that subject. There are some touches of realism in the faces of the Virgin and the Child Jesus, in the bowl of fruit, and in the familiarity of the scene, which endows that image with certain accessibility and congeniality.

However, Doménikos, rather than representing the concrete reality of these characters, gives to them a visionary quality, an intense spirituality. They are depicted with the usual elongated forms so much to the liking of El Greco in that period. They seem to exist out of time and space, as if they were floating in an imprecise setting, in front of a stormy cloudscape.

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Harold E. Wethey mentioned two copies of that painting:
* One copy had been in the Royal Palace in Bucharest, and nowadays is said to belong to a private collection (Oil on canvas; 84 x 70 cm.).  According to Wethey, it is a mediocre workshop piece, but according to Cossio, Mayer and Camón Aznar, it would be authentic.
* Another copy with several variations is (or it was) in a private collection in Montreal. Wethey assigns it to Jorge Manuel, while Mayer and Camón Aznar consider it an authentic work of El Greco.

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Frati, Tiziana; La Obra pictórica completa de El Greco; Editorial Noguer-Rizzoli; Milán-1969.
Wethey, Harold E.; El Greco y su Escuela; Ediciones Guadarrama; Madrid-1967.
Álvarez Lopera, José; El Greco, la Obra esencial; Editorial Sílex; Madrid-2014.

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