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

Pietà (The Lamentation of Christ)

1571-76
Tempera on panel, 29 x 20 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

A translation in paint of Michelangelo's late sculptured group of the Pietà in Florence Cathedral, at the time in Rome. The pattern and the feeling are the same. The figures of the Dead Christ, His Mother, Saint Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea make one compact group. Michelangelo achieved this by his new treatment of form; El Greco by paint, by employing broader, more continuous passages of colour. The more vivid colours of Rome combine with the richer palette of Venice to convey the intensity of expression demanded by the subject. The horizontal composition of Venice, more suited to a narrative type of subject than to the single image, is given up and is only very rarely found appropriate in Spain.

Michelangelo's Pietà group was not the only source on which El Greco drew: the arrangement of Christ's legs and his outspread arms, no less than the idea of viewing one of the two bearers of his body from the side and the other from behind, derive from Michelangelo's drawing for Vittoria Colonna, in which, as in El Greco's painting, the Virgin is placed behind and above Christ.

In the collection of the Hispanic Society of America is a larger version of the subject, unsigned, in oil on canvas, for which this may be a study. The subject is not repeated in Spain.