Cardinal Nino De Guevara by EL GRECO (Spanish School)
by EL GRECO (Spanish School)
THE glory of Spanish painting is confined to three men, all accidents of genius,
and the first, a Greek from the island of Crete. Under the name El Greco, the
first is one of the great portrait artists of the world, but he seldom painted a
woman. He cared nothing for the charms of flesh or the Venetian ideal of
physical splendor which he discarded on his arrival in Spain-in no circum
stances would he allow his stern penetration to be compromised by the in
sidious appeal of sentiment.
His men are Spaniards unmistakably, but they
are more than racial personages: they are the creatures of his own hieratic
vision of humanity. Drawn by a master of the structure of the head, with
asymmetric variations to enunciate individual character, they have the
strength of the spirit, not of the flesh.
The cheeks are hollow; the skin is
stretched tight over the skull; and the eyes, set within deep, bony sockets, are
streaked with high lights or alive with ascetic desperation.
His men are martyrs
or conquerors: in their gaunt visages he traces the weariness and the final
exhaustion of the body in surrendering to the mystical vision, or the savage
meditation of those entrusted with the flagellation of heretics.
El Greco’s Nifio de Guevara, painted in 1596, or thereabouts, after his dis
concerting methods had brought an equal measure of fame and disapproba
tion, is the most daring in color and the most formidable in characterization
of all his portraits.
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The subject, a prince of the Church, aristocrat, and cardinal
of Toledo, was the Grand Inquisitor in an age when the Spaniards mortified
the flesh and destroyed all things in order to win spiritual freedom.
work, the artist has, of necessity, avoided the gray tonalities associated with
many of his canvases; and has represented the cardinal in all his pomp and
ecclesiastical ostentation, relieving the red of the sanctified vestments-a red
used sparingly by other painters and a problem to printers,
in these pages with absolute fidelity-by the lavish display of white lace. To
the modern world, accustomed to
El Greco and his great influence on recent
art, the portrait has the unconventional grandeur of a timeless image; to the
Spaniards of the sixteenth century, the picture was menacing and unholy.
Some years after the death of El Greco, the portrait was studied by Velasquez
when he was honored by the commission to paint Pope Innocent X.