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“View of Toledo” by El Greco

View of Toledo MET DP349564

“View of Toledo” by El Greco

“View of Toledo” by El Greco is one of only two surviving landscapes by El Greco and is among the most famous depictions of the sky in Western art. El Greco’s expressive handling of colour and form was unique in the history of art and in this painting, he takes liberties with the actual layout of buildings which are re-arranged for effect. The Council of Trent (1545 to 1563) had banned landscape painting, so this work is one of the first Spanish landscape painting of its time.

The painting’s symbolism is related to the history and heritage of the city during the time this painting was created. Charles I’s royal court was in Toledo, and the town served as the imperial capital until 1561 after which the Spanish court was moved to Madrid. This painting was painted shortly after the royal capital, and the Spanish court left Toledo behind. This painting was also influenced by El Greco’s background in Byzantine art.

El Greco

Doménikos Theotokópoulos, widely known as El Greco, Spanish for “The Greek”, was a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. The artist normally 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 centre of Post-Byzantine art. He trained and became a master of Byzantine art before travelling 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.

Reflections

  • Why did El Greco paint so few landscapes?
  • Why is the sky in this painting so famous?

Explore European Paintings in the MET

View of Toledo

  • Title:                 View of Toledo
  • Artist:              El Greco
  • Year:                 1599
  • Medium:         Oil on panel
  • Dimensions: 47.7 × 42.7 in (121.2 × 108.5 cm)
  • Museum:        Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

El Greco

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“Painting is easy when you don’t know how,
but very difficult when you do.”

– Edgar Degas

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Photo Credit: [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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