Art of the Day: El Greco, “View of Toledo”, 1596-1600

  February 4th, 2011

       (click to enlarge)

       El Greco, View of Toledo, 1596-1600
    ”As I look at El Greco’s View of Toledo, I think of the first line of dialogue in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: ‘And this also,’ said Marlow suddenly, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.’” (Source: Brian A. Oard from his terrific essay “City on a Hill”).
    Yep. That basically sums it up for me too. This painting has always taken my breath away with its malevolent, crackling power, & with its weird compositional whirlpool (that citywall spine and various ridges/bridges all sort of black-hole collapsing /tumbling at various complex visual-sinkholes on the terrain). But is it all so Skeletor? — perhaps I’m just bringing the gothyness myself. Maybe he’s just capturing the way the city looked on an overcast day to him?
    Likely not — he must have had the awareness at some point that he was producing something distinctly spiritually-overcast. After all, his era wasn’t exactly welcoming to artistic explorations of stormy interior states or projections of said states onto their paintings’ subject matter (nor, I imagine, was Toledo). Did he decide then to forge ahead regardless? Or did he decide: “I’ve created something dangerous but extraordinary, too extraordinary to destroy, therefore I’ll tuck it away until I figure out what to do with it?”
    I don’t know the answers, but Oard’s essay (link above) goes into superb, lucid detail on the subject (for instance, he explores Toledo’s key role in the Spanish Inquisition as a possible motivator for Greco’s tone-decisions). You should check it out if you want to know more about this piece, its remarkably dark tone, and what might’ve been going on in its creator’s mind at the time he was painting it.
More El Greco art, & info at The Met’s site

All writing except where noted © copyright C. Way / 2011

[posted by C Way at 3:49 PM]


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