“Opening of the Fifth Seal” by El Greco
“Opening of the Fifth Seal” by El Greco depicts the story from the Book of Revelation (6:9–11), where the souls of persecuted martyrs cry out to God for justice upon Earth.
The ecstatic figure of St. John dominates the scene, while behind him, naked souls respond with supreme emotion as they receive white robes of salvation.
The upper portion of the canvas has been cut down, as it was destroyed in 1880. This lost upper portion is believed to have depicted divine love.
Also called the “The Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse” or “The Vision of Saint John,” this painting was created in the last years of El Greco’s life for a side-altar of the church of Saint John the Baptist outside the walls of Toledo.
After the 1880 fire, the work was in such poor condition that it was restored by trimming by at least 175 centimeters (68.9 in), leaving John the Evangelist pointing nowhere.
It was this strange revised composition that intrigued modern viewers the most and contributed to the painting’s fame in modernist circles.
It has been suggested that the Opening of the Fifth Seal served as an inspiration for the early Cubist works of Pablo Picasso, especially Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
When Picasso was working on Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, he studied this painting when it resided in Paris.
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, widely known as El Greco, Spanish for “The Greek,” was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance.
The artist typically signed his paintings with his full birth name in Greek letters, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), often adding the word Κρής (Krēs, “Cretan”).
He is best known for elongated figures and for marrying Byzantine traditions with those of Western painting.
El Greco was born in Crete, which at that time was part of the Republic of Venice and the center of Post-Byzantine art.
He trained and became a master Byzantine art before traveling to Venice to work; then he moved to Rome, where he opened a workshop and executed a series of works.
In 1577, he moved to Toledo, Spain, where he lived and worked until his death. In Toledo, El Greco received several major commissions and produced his best-known paintings.
El Greco’s style was met with puzzlement by his 16th-century contemporaries, but he found greater appreciation in modern times and is today regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism.
His works were a source of inspiration for poets and writers, and he is considered, as an artist, so individual that he belongs to no conventional school.
The Vision of Saint John or The Opening of the Fifth Seal
- Title: The Vision of Saint John or The Opening of the Fifth Seal
- Artist: El Greco
- Year: 1614
- Medium: Oil on canvas (top truncated)
- Dimensions: 87.5 × 76 in (222.2 × 193 cm)
- Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET and Met Breuer
- Name: El Greco – “The Greek”
- Greek: Doménikos Theotokópoulos
- Birth: 1541 – Heraklion, Crete
- Died: 1614 (aged 73) – Toledo, Spain
- Nationality: Greek
- Movement: Mannerism
- Notable works:
El Greco’s The Vision of Saint John
Demystifying El Greco: His Use of Wax, Clay, and Plaster Models
MET European Paintings Collection
- “Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Léon
- “Saint Jerome as Scholar” by El Greco
- “Portrait of Juan de Pareja” by Diego Velázquez
- “Camille Monet on a Garden Bench” by Claude Monet
- “View of Toledo” by El Greco
- “The Musicians” by Caravaggio
- “The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- “Young Woman Drawing” by Marie-Denise Villers
- “The Grand Canal, Venice” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog)” by Claude Monet
- “Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress” by Paul Cézanne
MET Modern and Contemporary Art Collection
- “Reclining Nude” by Amedeo Modigliani
- “Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II)” by Wassily Kandinsky
- “Jeanne Hébuterne” by Amedeo Modigliani
- “The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne
- “Bathers” by Paul Cézanne
MET Greek and Roman Art Collection
MET Egyptian Art Collection
MET Asian Art Collection
- Luohan – Yixian Glazed Ceramic Sculpture
- Pillow with Landscape Scenes – Zhang Family Workshop
- Jar with Dragon
MET Ancient Near Eastern Art Collection
- Sumerian Standing Male Worshiper
- Head of a Beardless Royal Attendant – Eunuch
- Human-Headed Winged Bull (Lamassu)
MET American Wing Collection
- “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze
- “Portrait of Madame X” by John Singer Sargent
- “Mother and Child” by Mary Cassatt
- “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri” by George Caleb Bingham
- “The Gulf Stream” by Winslow Homer
MET Islamic Art Collection
MET Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas Collection
- Benin Ivory Mask
- African Face Mask – Kpeliye’e
- Sican Funerary Mask – Peru
- Ceremonial Axe – Papua New Guinea
MET European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Collection
- “Hercules the Archer” by Antoine Bourdelle
- “Orpheus and Eurydice” by Auguste Rodin
- “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” by Antonio Canova
MET Medieval Art Collection
- “The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio
- Plaque with the Journey to Emmaus and Noli Me Tangere
- Doorway from the Church of San Nicolò, San Gemini
MET Drawings and Prints Collection
- Album of Tournaments and Parades in Nuremberg
- “Canvassing for Votes” by William Hogarth
- “Christ and the Woman of Samaria” by Rembrandt
MET Costume Institute Collection
MET Arms and Armor Collection
MET Photograph Collection
MET Musical Instrument Collection
Explore the MET
Explore the Met Breuer Collection
- “Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory” by Paul Cézanne
- “Salvator Mundi” by Albrecht Dürer
- “Two Girls with Parasols” by John Singer Sargent
- “Opening of the Fifth Seal” by El Greco
- “Baptism of Christ” by Jacopo Bassano
El Greco: Last Master of the Italian Renaissance
“I paint because the spirits whisper madly inside my head.”
– El Greco
Photo Credit: El Greco [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons