Transfigurations

El Greco at the Met

There is simply no mistaking an El Greco. But once you identify it, do you really look at it? That is precisely the challenge facing the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s ambitious retrospective (more than eighty pieces, including icons, paintings, and two small sculptures) of the work of Doménikos Theotókopoulos (1541-1614), on view in New York through January 11. The Met devotes seven well-lit salons to this expatriate Greek’s portraits, landscapes, and studies of the mystical life. It will have the veils dropping from many eyes.

El Greco was and remained an outsider. Born in Crete when it was a Venetian protectorate, he began as an icon painter. The exhibit opens with two of his earliest works, classic Byzantine-style icons depicting St. Luke painting the Virgin and Child, and Mary at the hour of her death. These early treasures are beautifully displayed and set the tone for all that follows. They convey the artist’s serious, lifelong attraction to religious subjects, and hint at his later, trademark elongated figures (a feature that came to the fore in his forties). They also introduce us to his signature in Greek, which he employed throughout his career.

At age twenty-six, Doménikos left his native island and Orthodox roots for Venice. The great republic was in its political and artistic heyday. He remained there for three years, and came under the influence of Titian and Tintoretto. The opulence, light...

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About the Author

Patrick Jordan is a former managing editor of Commonweal.