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Saint Benedict
El Greco
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El Greco

Candía (Creta), 1541 - Toledo, 1614

Saint Benedict

1577 - 1579. Oil on canvas, 116 x 81 cm.

This image of Saint Benedict of Nursia (c.480-547) was painted for the high altar in the Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, one of the oldest convents in Toledo founded by the Benedictine order in the seventh century. In the sixteenth century, a new church was built with funding from a wealthy patron, Doña María de Silva, who died in 1575. Diego de Castilla, the deacon of the Cathedral of Toledo, was placed in charge of this project. Luis de Castilla, Don Diego´s son, had met El Greco in Rome and it is likely he was one of the people who encouraged the artist to move to Spain in search of the important commissions that were proving elusive in Italy. In Toledo, El Greco received the commission for this work, a complex project because he was charged with producing the central altarpiece as well as two side altarpieces. In addition to his involvement with the architecture of the building and its sculptures, El Greco executed eight paintings, each with different dimensions.For the high altar, El Greco produced a large canvas representing the Assumption of the Virgin (Art Institute of Chicago) flanked by four saints: two full-length images of Saint John the Evangelist and Saint John the Baptist, and two half-length portraits.One of these latter works is the present canvas, whose companion is an image of Saint Bernard (now in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg). The two saints were of fundamental importance to the Benedictine monks: one was the founder and the other a reformer of their order. For the composition of these two paintings, the artist followed the model established by the Venetian school in their portraits of humanists: a half-length figure structured as a triangle and gesturing with the right hand. Saint Benedict appears middle-aged, with a thin face and very specific features: a prominent nose, large almond-shaped eyes and a weary expression. He looks directly at the viewer. Wearing the habit of the order, he holds in his right hand a sumptuous crosier made of gilt silver, the definitive symbol of a bishop. With his right hand, Benedict extends his fingers, probably as a way of drawing the viewer´s attention to the tabernacle, the receptacle situated on the altar where the bread and wine -symbolising the flesh and blood of Christ- are reserved.The vivid humanity expressed on Saint Benedict´s face invites us to imagine we are in the presence of a real man, not an idealised one. This is consonant with El Greco´s way of revitalising sanctity and bringing it closer to his contemporaries, as he does repeatedly in other paintings. This type of composition approaches the painter´s treatment of the apostles in a number of paintings made in the final years of his career. For that series, El Greco created a portrait of each apostle based on concrete, individual facial expressions and depicted them making elegant gestures with their hands.As is typical of El Greco´s early works, the figure is solidly modelled, executed with heavily impastoed colours similar to those used in portraits from the period. The saint´s hands are particularly noteworthy for both their beauty and their convincing construction. The background is boldly executed: the chestnut-grey base is nuanced with blue-green brushstrokes, a shade that serves to envelop the saint´s head, evoking a kind of nimbus or halo (Ruiz, L.: Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado, Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 132).


Technical data

Related artworks

The Holy Trinity
Oil on canvas, 1577 - 1579
Inventory number
El Greco
Saint Benedict
1577 - 1579
High/Height: 116 cm.; Width: 81 cm.
Retablo mayor de Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo
Toledo, Iglesia de Santo Domingo el Antiguo, hasta 1830; Madrid, colección infante Sebastián Gabriel de Borbón, 1830-1838; Museo de la Trinidad, 1838-1872.

Bibliography +

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Other inventories +

Inv. Museo de la Trinidad, Pintura. Núm. 446.
446 / Sn Basilio obispo de mas de medio / cuerpo tamº nat.l con un baculo en la mano / izqda / Autor Greco (sin firmar) / Rectifdo Alto 1,16 ancho 0,79 1/2 [Nota en margen derecho] Forrado Restaurado y sin marco y Colgado en / el archivo [Nota en margen izquierdo] Nº 27 / S.S.

Catálogo Museo de la Trinidad, 1865. Núm. 446.
ESCUELA TOLEDANA. / DOMINICO THEOTOCOPULI. (El Greco.) [...] 446. S. Basilio, obispo. / Lienzo. - Al. 1,16.- An. 0,805. - Fig. t. n. m. c. / S. Basilio con el báculo en la mano izquierda.

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

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 817.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 817.

Exhibitions +

El Greco. Arte y Oficio
08.09.2014 - 09.12.2014

El Griego de Toledo
14.03.2014 - 14.06.2014

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
16.12.2012 - 31.03.2013

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
Houston TX
15.12.2012 - 31.03.2013

Retratos de España. Obras maestras del Prado. Brisbane / Houston
Houston TX
12.12.2012 - 01.04.2013

PORTRAIT OF SPAIN. Masterpieces from the Prado
22.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

Retratos de España. Obras maestras del Prado. Brisbane / Houston
21.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
Brisbane, Australia,
21.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

04.12.2007 - 10.02.2008

El Greco in the Prado
04.12.2007 - 17.02.2008

El Greco
02.05.2001 - 02.09.2001

El Greco. 450 Aniversario de su nacimiento
01.09.1990 - 10.10.1990

Location +

Room 010B (On Display)

Update date: 12-02-2016 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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