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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » September 29, 2014
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El Greco Masterpiece on Show
September 29, 2014   
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The Royal Castle in Warsaw is displaying a 16th-century masterpiece by El Greco that was discovered in 1964 in the lodgings of a humble Polish parish priest.

The painting, entitled “The Ecstasy of St. Francis of Assisi,” is one of the most valuable works of European early modern art in a Polish museum collection.

The work, on display until Oct. 31, has been dated to around 1575-1580. Other than that, the painting is shrouded in mystery. Its history immediately after it was painted is not known, neither are the names of its former owners. Experts do not know when and under what circumstances the work was brought to Poland. The painting was discovered in 1964 when an inventory was being compiled for the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences. While examining objects of art in the parish of Kosów Lacki, eastern Poland, experts noticed a painting depicting St. Francis in the local parish priest’s apartment. It looked different than it does now—the canvas was darkened by dirt, and there was no visible signature. However, the painting aroused interest and in the following years it was subjected to in-depth research. During conservation work, a beautiful composition emerged from beneath the darkened layers of paint, as did the partially preserved signature of the artist: Domenikos Theotokopoulos, written in the Greek alphabet.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, who later became known as El Greco, was one of the most original European artists of the 16th century. He was born in 1541 in Crete and died in 1614 in Toledo, Spain. He took up painting in his youth, training under Greek Orthodox monks.

In 1567, El Greco traveled to Venice. During his stay in the city he became acquainted with all the major works by Venetian artists such as Titian, Paolo Veronese and Jacopo Tintoretto, and with painters from the Bassano family, whose paintings were later an important source of inspiration for his own compositions. In 1570, El Greco moved to Rome, where he had the opportunity to study the paintings of Michelangelo and others, which also had considerable influence on his own work.

In 1576 El Greco settled in Toledo—a city that played an important role in the life of the Catholic Church in Spain. He remained in Toledo until the end of his life. He produced religious paintings, mainly large-format works for local churches. He also secured several commissions from King Philip II of Spain.

El Greco was a talented portraitist as well as producing charming views of Toledo. In one of the most famous of these, we see the town—situated on a hill with the River Tagus flowing at its foot—lit up by the hot rays of the sun, just before a storm. It was one of the views El Greco could admire from the windows of his home.

As far as El Greco’s style is concerned, his early compositions, which were painted in Italy, already contained some of the features that later became characteristic of his work: bright and intense colors, crowded compositions filled with figures with strangely elongated forms.
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