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El Greco y la Capilla Oballe
Catalogue

El Greco y la Capilla Oballe

El Greco and the Oballe Chapel

Madrid 6/15/2004 - 9/19/2004

The decoration of the chapel founded by Isabel de Oballe in the Church of San Vicente Mártir in Toledo was the last major scheme realised entirely by El Greco (1541 - 1614). It was originally commissioned from the Genoese artist Alessandro Semini, who agreed to deliver an altarpiece with a painting of the Immaculate Conception and to paint various figures in fresco on the walls. After Semini is death, the City Council of Toledo commissioned El Greco in late 1607 to undertake the decoration. He changed the programme, proposing that all the paintings should be in oil and that on the ceiling there should be "a story of the visitation of Saint Elizabeth as this is the name of the foundress". The scheme thus comprised the altar painting of the Immaculate Virgin on the main wall, two paintings of Saint Peter and Saint Ildefonso on the side walls, and the Visitation on the ceiling.

El Greco painted all the works himself without workshop assistance, as he had agreed, but it seems that he only delivered the painting of the Immaculate Conception, in 1613, possibly due to financial disagreements. The paintings of Saint Peter and Saint Ildefonso that were actually installed in the chapel were copies made by his workshop. The originals, which remained in the possession of El Greco's son, found their way, possibly throught Velázquez, into the Royal Palace in Madrid and from there to the Escorial. The Visitation, now in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection in Washington DC, and the only work not included in this exhibition, was reduced in size and passed to the convent of Santa Clara in Daimiel at an unknown date.

Access

Room 24. Edificio Villanueva

Opening time

Tuesdays to Sundays and public holidays: 9am to 7pm(Entry to the exhibition permitted until 6.30pm)

Exhibition

The Exhibition

The Exhibition
Saint Peter
Taller del Greco
1608-13
Oil on canvas, 235 x 115 cm.
Toledo, Museo de Santa Cruz.

Shown together as a temporary exhibition, the three works are: The Immaculate Conception (the Oballe Conception), one of El Greco's masterpieces and one of his most beautiful and lyrical representations of the Virgin, loaned by the parish church of San Nicolás de Bari in Toledo; Saint Peter; and Saint Ildefonso, two important paintings from the end of the artist's career, now the property of Patrimonio Nacional. The painting of the Virgin, executed by El Greco between 1607 and 1613, was executed for the Oballe Chapel in the church of San Vicente in Toledo, founded by Doña Isabel Oballe, hence its name and the popular title of the painting. The painting is shown for the first time in Spain following its restoration at the Museo del Prado. The paintings of Saint Peter and San Ildefonso come from the monastery of El Escorial and were believed to have been commissioned from the artist along with the Immaculate Conception and another painting of The Visitation (now in the United States and unlikely ever to be reunited with the others) as part of the chapel's decorative scheme.

Despite a lack of documentary evidence, experts agree that both saints formed part of this commission, as it is known that in the 17th century copies of the two works were displayed in the chapel. In addition, and aside from their enormous artistic merit, the three works share the same type of handling, typical of El Greco's very late Toledo style.

The Restoration

The Restoration
Detail of Toledo before and after the restoration.

The Oballe Conception remained in San Vicente, set into the altarpiece designed by El Greco to house the painting, until 1961 when it was placed on deposit at the Museo de Santa Cruz. In the spring of 2003 it was the subject of a thorough conservation study in the Museo del Prado prior to restoration work being undertaken. Other than some small losses at the edges, the painting has few significant losses. However, some problems with the stability of the paint surface and the inevitable oxidisation of the varnishes resulted in the painting being carefully cleaned and restored. This was carried out by the Museum's restorer Rafael Alonso who has consolidated the paint layer and minutely and delicately cleaned the painting, with the result that the work has recovered its original balance of light and colour and the magnificent glazes, textures and pictorial qualities so typical of El Greco's art. In return, the painting is being lent to the Museum for an agreed period.

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