Tuesday, October 13, 2015

El Greco: Holy Family with Saint Mary Magdalen

Holy Family with Saint Mary Magdalen, a rarely loaned treasure of the Cleveland Museum of Art, was on display at the Portland Art Museum DEC 13, 2014 – APR 5, 2015.

Painted at the height of El Greco’s powers in the 1590s, The Holy Family shows the Virgin Mary holding the squirming Christ child on her lap as Joseph offers a bowl of fruit. They are joined by Mary Magdalen, whose sorrowful gaze alludes to the future suffering of the happy child. El Greco’s approach is based on Venetian depictions of the subject set in a landscape, but transformed so that the figures seem to exist out of space and time, floating before a turbulent sky. The visionary quality of the elongated forms, animated by flashing light and vivid color, is tempered by touches of realism, particularly seen in the faces of the virgin and child, in the bowl of fruit, and in the warm domesticity that characterizes the scene. This endows the image with unusual accessibility and appeal.

Born Domenikos Theotokopoulos on the island of Crete, the artist first worked as a painter of icons. Beginning about 1567, he spent a decade in Venice and Rome absorbing the aesthetic principles of the Mannerist style. He made his way to Spain in 1576 and settled in Toledo, where he was free to develop his distinctive art. Today El Greco is celebrated not only by artists, but by the public at large. Do not miss this opportunity to experience his unique genius in one of his greatest works.