Pieta by EL GRECO (Spanish School)
DURING his sojourn in Italy, EI Greco was only a young man well schooled in
the styles of Tintoretto and Veronese; in Spain he suddenly shed his Venetian
trappings and arrayed his genius in the most audacious and individual man
ner of painting that has ever been affected.
His transformation has been attrib
uted to two causes: first, that he was astigmatic and could not see straight;
second, that he was an ambitious outsider seeking a short-cut to fame. Both
explanations are untenable,
The Greek painter’s eyesight was normal enough
in Venice; and had he been intent on popular success, he might easily have
found it by continuing to paint like the Venetians, since the great patron,
Philip II, was enamored of the Adriatic decorators.
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The truth is that EI Greco, though ambitious for fame, would have it only
on his own terms; that he forfeited royal patronage and made no effort to re
gain it, preferring by right of conviction to work for the Church.
It is likewise
true that he was an experimenter in search of the maximum of expressiveness
in paint; and that, in his final stages, his violation of natural shapes and his
distortions of the human body, in the interest of the hysterical religiosity of
Spain, carried him beyond the tragic into the dubious borderland of the sen
sational and the ghastly.
The Creco-Spaniard, whose elongated anatomies and flaring <if~signs have
borne heavily on modernist art, was essentially a spiritual interpreter.
he was not excessively agitated, or reflecting the Jesuit fanaticism of his day, he
was one of the most powerful and moving of religious painters. In this Pietd,
one of several, the flame burns clean and pure and lights up the tragic region
of the spirit of which he is one of the masters: the figure of the Lord, though
attenuated beyond the natural scale, is saved from distortion by the context
which called for emphasis on suffering divinity.
There are no textural distinc
tions in the picture and no traces of the sensuous touches of the Venetian
school; the physical restrictions of the figures have been abolished or changed
into symbols through which the tragic emotion is made articulate.
mystical inclinations, his refusal to consider the physical side of man, and his
strange iconography, EI Greco becomes the spiritual brother of the old Byzan
tines who expressed the tragedy of the Crucifixion in a language of symbols.