(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)

Vincenzo Anastagi

Oil on canvas, 188 x 127 cm
Frick Collection, New York

El Greco arrived in Rome in 1570 and he was recommended by Giulio Clovio to his patron Cardinal Alessandro Farnese as a portrait painter. His portraiture developed dramatically during his Roman sojourn, reaching a peak in his portrait of Vincenzo Anastagi. The sitter was a distinguished Knight of Malta, who had been appointed 'sergente maggiore' of Castel Sant'Angelo in 1575. The portrait was probably painted to commemorate the appointment. For El Greco it was an important challenge, for he seems never previously to have painted a full-length or military or official portrait.

The armour, sword, helmet, the green baldric and velvet breeches ornamented with gold thread, are the attributes of his station. Yet El Greco has not confined himself to replicating these particulars. He has sought to make manifest Anastagi's body politic as well - in particular the cardinal virtue of fortitude, comprising courage, endurance and physical strength.

In spite of the qualities of the portrait, the paucity of the extant and recorded portraits which El Greco painted in Rome suggests that commissions were not forthcoming, probably because his Titianesque technique was not appreciated.