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Saint Basil
Anonymous (Copy after: El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos))
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Anonymous (Copy after: El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos))

Saint Basil

Second third of the XVII century. Oil on canvas.
On display elsewhere

This canvas represents the full body of a bishop from the front, wearing an alb, a rich brocade chasuble and a mitre. He appears in a meditative pose while reading a book, which he holds in his left hand. On his right, he holds the pastoral crozier, which is decorated with a green cloth sleeve, in his right hand. The figure is located in the foreground, in an exterior dominated by a very open landscape. This scene portrays mountains in the background and a long wall in the middleground, to the viewer’s left. At that same level, numerous figures can be seen listening to the talk or preaching of a figure wearing a mitre, probably the same as the main figure in the composition, framed by the wide cloudscape that emphasises his monumentality. The identity of the figure was recognised quite early on as Saint Basil. Nevertheless, the dependence of this representation on the canvas of Saint Ildefonsus painted by El Greco between 1608–13 for the Oballe chapel in the church of San Vicente Mártir in Toledo, now preserved in the royal monastery of El Escorial, would explain the fluctuations in the identification of the saintly bishop. Amongst other reasons, this may be explained by the fact that this important work by the Crete native was not recognised as Saint Ildefonsus until the 20th century. Previously, the saint had been identified as Saint Eugene or even Saint Blaise. However, both the provenance and early references in the painting clearly indicated its identification as Saint Basil the Great. The latter was one of the four fathers of the Greek Church, born in Caesarea in Cappadocia, Asia Minor, in 328, who became a bishop in 370. Although not common in depictions of the saint, the scene in the background illustrates the meeting between the bishop, the emperor Valens and the prefect Modestus before the walls of Caesarea. That was where Basil showed his uncompromising position against the advance of the Arian heresy. It was precisely in the depiction of the landscape with the scene in the background that the painter of this canvas introduced the fundamental variations with respect to El Greco´s composition, the Saint Ildefonsus in El Escorial. The saint is completely loyal to the original, but he has been surrounded by a larger space that has made it possible to include these landscape and narrative references. The pictorial treatment departs from the characteristics of El Greco in his final years, and the modulation of the face or the clothing proves an artistic affiliation close to the naturalist painting of 1630–1660.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, El Greco en el Museo Nacional del Prado: catálogo razonado, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, p.250-252

Technical data

Inventory number
Anonymous (Copy after: El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos))
Saint Basil
Second third of the XVII century
Height: 241 cm; Width: 162.5 cm
Madrid, Convent of San Basilio, sacristy, until 1835; Museo de la Trinidad, 1835-1872.

Bibliography +

Cruzada Villaamil, Gregorio, Catálogo provisional, historial y razonado del Museo Nacional de Pinturas, Madrid, 1865, pp. 149 n.421.

Viniegra, Salvador, Catálogo ilustrado de la exposición de las obras de Domenico Theotocopuli llamado 'El Greco', J. Lacoste, Madrid, 1902, pp. 16 n.2124d il..

Cossío, Manuel B.1857-1935, El Greco, Victoriano Suárez, Madrid, 1908, pp. 564.

Mayer, August L., El Greco, Delphin Verlag, Múnich, 1916, pp. 11.

Camón Aznar, José, Dominico Greco, II, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1950, pp. n.1348.

Soehner, Halldor, Greco in Spainien. Teil II. Atelier und Nachfolge Greco's; Teil III katalog der Gëmalde Grecos, seines ateliers und seiner Nachfolge in Spanischem besitz, Münchner jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, IX-X, 1958-1959, pp. 147-242 [317].

Camón Aznar, José, Dominico Greco, II, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1970, pp. 883.

Angulo Íñiguez, Diego, Historia de la pintura española: escuela toledana de la primera mitad del siglo XVII, Instituto Diego Velázquez, Madrid, 1972, pp. nº83.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

El Toledo de Domyco Theotocopuly: El Greco, Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección General de Bellas, Madrid, 1982, pp. n.106.

Angulo Íñiguez, Diego, Historia de la pintura española: escuela madrileña del segundo tercio del siglo XVII, Instituto Diego Velázquez, Madrid, 1983, pp. 204.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 321-322.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (II). Museo de la Trinidad, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1991.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, El Greco en el Museo Nacional del Prado: catálogo razonado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2007, pp. 250-252.

El Greco y su taller, SEACEX, Madrid, 2007.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 2124d.

Catálogo Museo de la Trinidad, 1865. Núm. 421.
ESCUELA TOLEDANA. / DOMINICO THEOTOCOPULI. (El Greco.) [...] 421. S. Basilio, obispo. / Lienzo. - Al. 2,42.- An. 1,63. - Fig. t. n. / ¿El Greco? / El Santo de pontifical, de pié, en el campo, leyendo. [...] Este cuadro es sin disputa de los más bellos, si no el que más, de los que pintó Greco [...] Este cuadro estaba en la sacristía del convento de Basilios de Madrid. [...] Hay quien pretende que este cuadro sea original de Tristan, discípulo del Greco, fundándose en el carácter del fondo y de las figuritas que hay en él; pero aun cuando estos detalles sean de Tristan, no conocemos a nadie más que al Greco, en sus lucidos intervalos, capaz de pintar la figura del Santo, que concuerda perfectamente con todo el aspecto del cuadro núm. 90, que representa S. Eugenio, [...]

Inv. Museo de la Trinidad, Pintura. Núm. 421.
421 / Sn Basilio obispo. Vestido con casulla / mitra y palio y en la mano Izq.da un libro y en la / Dra. cogido el baculo con un paño verde á lo lejos se / ve figuritas muy pequeñas fig.s tamº nat.l y cuerpo en- / tero / Autor Greco / Alto 2,41 ancho 1,62 [Nota en margen derecho] Forrado y sin marco y en la Academia [Nota en margen izquierdo] Nº 36 / S.G.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 831.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 831.

Inscriptions +

36 salón grande
Scrap of paper. Front, lower left corner

Scrap of paper. Front, lower right corner

Exhibitions +

Los Grecos del Prado
04.12.2007 - 10.02.2008

El taller de El Greco
15.10.2007 - 06.01.2008

Location +

Toledo - Museo de El Greco (Deposit)

Displayed objects +


Update date: 10-06-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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