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Saint John the Evangelist
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) and workshop
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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) and workshop

Candia, Crete (Greece), 1541 - Toledo (Spain), 1614

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) See author's file

Saint John the Evangelist

Ca. 1605. Oil on canvas.
Room 008B

Series of paintings representing the twelve Apostles, sometimes known as apostolados, were a common sub-genre in the religious painting of the Spanish Siglo de Oro. Such images could be part of altarpieces, and were also often used to decorate the walls of monasteries, convents, and private homes. This painting shows St. John the Evangelist, the author of the last of the four Gospels and the book of Revelation. The portraits of the apostles painted by El Greco fall into two groups: The first includes a large number of relatively small canvases that follow visual formulas similar to the Prado´s St. John the Evangelist, while the second is comprised of other examples depicting the saints full-length and in twos. The half-figure paintings have clear precedents in the Venetian school, but El Greco’s unique personal style naturally comes to the foreground even when he follows traditional schemas. Lit by an otherworldly, silvery light, the saint stands gracefully poised against a background of stormy clouds that in some places seem to form a strange halo around him. The figure, artificially elongated to the point of almost complete implausibility, seems animated by the rhythmic pulsation of light and shadow. These typical features of El Greco’s style respond to his artistic ideal, which sought to reconcile Florentine disegno and Venetian colorito. While the style of the Florentine and Roman Mannerists prioritized drawing, line, and shape and often produced cold, artificial-looking, archly elegant pictures, their Venetian counterparts preferred a less intellectual, more sensual approach based on the use of rich, vibrant colors applied with a complex layered technique. El Greco’s firsthand knowledge of both schools of painting, gained during the years he spent in Italy -a defining moment in the development of his artistic persona- is evidenced in this painting.

In Christian iconography, saints were traditionally portrayed with objects associated with the saint’s life or legend, to ensure that the saint would be recognizable to the viewer; these objects were called the saint’s attributes. Here, El Greco presents Saint John with one such attribute: a cup, here taking the shape of an ornate golden chalice of a type that was usual during El Greco’s lifetime. The little winged serpent that writhes inside it alludes to an episode in Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda Aurea, a medieval compilation of saints’ lives, according to which John had to prove the truth of his preaching by drinking from a poisoned cup without dying. In this example, the saint directs his gaze at some point outside the painting while his slender left hand gesticulates as if inviting someone to look at the chalice he holds in his right; the fact that we do not see his interlocutor gives the painting an intriguing air. Another version of this painting exists in a private collection, although in its present state that painting does not show the saint’s right hand and the chalice and the saint is depicted against a plain, dark background. The existence of similar paintings and the recycled motifs bear witness to the workshop practice in El Greco’s atelier, with which the artist attempted to satisfy the demand for his works (Pérez d´Ors, P.: El Greco to Goya. Masterpieces from the Prado Museum, Museo de Arte de Ponce, 2012, p. 114).


Technical data

Inventory number
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) and workshop
Saint John the Evangelist
Ca. 1605
Height: 99.7 cm; Width: 78 cm
Bequest of Cesar Cabañas Caballero, 1921.

Bibliography +

Cossío, Manuel B., El Greco, Victoriano Suárez, Madrid, 1908, pp. 94.

Cossío, Manuel B., El Greco, Victoriano Suárez, Madrid, 1908, pp. nº 94.

Catálogo del Museo del Greco de Toledo, José Blass y Cía, Madrid, 1912, pp. 13.

Mayer, A. L., Domenico Theotocopuli, El Greco, Munich, 1926, pp. n.185.

Mayer, August L.1885-1944, La Pintura Española, Labor, Barcelona, 1926, pp. nº 185.

Legendre, M. Hartmann, A, Domenico Theotocopouli dit el Greco, Hyperion, Paris, 1937, pp. Lám. 323.

Hasselt, C.Von, Rembrandt et Ses Contemporains. Dessins Hollandais du Dix-Se, Institut Neerlandais, Paris, 1937, pp. lám.323.

Noul, M., Sotomayor, F., Muguruza, P., Les chefs-d'oeuvre du Musée du Prado, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Ginebra, 1939.

Noul, M., Sotomayor, F., Muguruza, P., Les chefs-d'oeuvre du Musée du Prado, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Ginebra, 1939, pp. n.48.

Camón Aznar, José1898-1979, Dominico Greco, I y II, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1950, pp. 981 n.343.

Camón Aznar, José1898-1979, Dominico Greco, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1950, pp. nº 343/ lám.774.

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 [n.172].

Wethey, Harold, El Greco and his school, Princenton University Press, Princenton, 1962, pp. nº253/ lám.245.

Eeckhout, P., El Greco 1541-1614. Exposition, Musee des BeauxArts, Gante, 1966.

Wethey, Harold, El Greco y su escuela, II, Guadarrama, Madrid, 1967, pp. 114-116,147-148 n.253.

Salas, Xavier de, La obra pictórica completa de el Greco, Noguer, Barcelona Madrid, 1970, pp. n.103.

Gudiol, José, El Greco 1541-1614: Doménikos Theotokópoulos, Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1971, pp. n.306.

Gudiol, José, El Greco 1541-1614: Doménikos Theotokópoulos, Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1971, pp. nº306/ lám.279.

La peinture espagnole du siècle d'or: de Greco a Velazquez, Association Française d'Action Artistique, París, 1976.

La peinture espagnole du siècle d'or: de Greco a Velazquez, Association Française d'Action Artistique, Paris, 1976, pp. n. 5.

The Golden Age of Spanish Painting, Royal Academy of Arts, Londres, 1976, pp. 30-31 n.7.

Pita Andrade, José Manuel, Tchedevi Ispanskoi Shivopisi XVI-XIX.Vekov 12 Muzei Prado V..., [s.n], Moscú, 1980.

Cossío, Manuel B., El Greco, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1981.

Pita Andrade, José Manuel, El Greco, Arnoldo Mondadori, Milán, 1981, pp. 105 n.208.

Pita Andrade, José Manuel, Ob el Grieka Ob Goje, Narodni Muzei, Belgrado, 1981, pp. 208.

Prinz Von Hohenzollern, J.G., Von Greco Bis Goya. Vier Jahrhunderte Spanische Malerei, Haus Der Kunst, Munich, 1982, pp. n.34.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 316-317.

Kanki,K. Mena,M. Marías,F., El Greco exhibition, The National Museum of Western art, Tokio, 1986, pp. n. 22.

Kanki, Keizo, El Greco Exhibition. Japan 1986/1987, National Museum of Western Art, Tokio, 1988.

Du Greco a Goya: chefs-d'oeuvre du Prado et de collections e, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Ginebra, 1989, pp. n.7.

Alcolea Gil, Santiago, El Greco, Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1990.

Valles-Bled, M., Proust et les Peintres, Musee de Chartres, Chartres, 1991, pp. 178.

Álvarez Lopera, José, El Greco: la obra esencial, Silex, Madrid, 1993, pp. 216 n.191.

Álvarez Lopera, José, El Greco: la obra esencial, Silex, Madrid, 1993, pp. 220.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, Madrid, 1996, pp. 163.

Réau, Louis1881-1961, Iconografía del arte cristiano, II Vol IV, Serbal, Barcelona, 1996, pp. 196-197.

Marías, Fernando, El Greco . Guía, Alianza Editorial - Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1998, pp. 31.

El Greco: últimas expresiones, Fundación Caja de Granada, Granada, 2001, pp. 164-166.

El Greco : apostolados /, Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza, A Coruña, 2002, pp. 72.

Schroth, Sarah, ''Retratando a los apóstoles: notas sobre el apostolado de El Greco en el Museo del Prado'' En: El Greco, Galaxia Gutenberg, Madrid, 2003, pp. 381-401.

Martínez-Burgos García, Palma, El Greco: el pintor humanista, obra completa, Libsa, Madrid, 2005, pp. 355.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, El Greco en el Museo Nacional del Prado: catálogo razonado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2007, pp. 144-147.

Del Greco a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado, Museo de Arte de Ponce. MNP. AC/E, 2012, pp. 34-35.

Garrido Pérez, Carmen, El Greco pintor: estudio técnico, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. 209-213,438 f.19 n.19.

Santos Bueso, Enrique, Oftalmología en el Museo del Prado, Gertograf, 2015, pp. 20.

Bronstein, Leo, El Greco. (Domenico Theotocopoulos), Harry N.Abrams Inc., Nueva York, pp. 79.

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 1487.
Autor = Domenico Theotocopuli, el Greco / 1487. Asunto = San Juan evangelista / Dimensiones.- alto 1. metro; ancho 0, 78 / Lienzo / Donativo del Dr. [César] Cabañas Caballero, aceptado por el Patronato en junta 2 de mayo de 1921

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1933. Núm. 2444.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 2444.

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in pen and blue ink. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

[Exposición sin confirmar] A History of Spain. Treasures of the Museo del Prado. From El Greco to Goya.
01.01.2023 - 01.01.2023

Obra Invitada en el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires
17.09.2012 - 02.12.2012

From El Greco to Goya: Masterpieces from the Museo del Prado
Ponce, Puerto Rico
25.03.2012 - 16.07.2012

XXV años de relaciones España-Israel
04.10.2011 - 15.01.2012

Genios y obras maestras - Budapest
12.12.2008 - 05.02.2009

El Greco in the Prado
04.12.2007 - 17.02.2008

Proust et les peintres
01.07.1991 - 18.11.1991

Obras maestras de la Pintura Española: del Siglo de Oro a Goya
14.06.1989 - 24.09.1989

El Greco Exhibition
11.03.1987 - 24.03.1987

El Greco Exhibition
06.01.1987 - 01.03.1987

El Greco Exhibition
18.10.1986 - 14.12.1986

Location +

Room 008B (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Update date: 18-01-2023 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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