(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
The Adoration of the Name of Jesus1578-79
Oil on canvas, 140 x 110 cm
Chapter House, Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial
The earliest reference to the painting appears in Francisco de los Santos, Descripción . . . del Escorial, published in 1657, when it was in the sacristy of the Pantheon: ' . . . commonly called the "Glory of El Greco" on account of the Glory above, but there is also represented, below, Purgatory and Hell, and on the other side, the Church Militant, with an immense number of the Faithful in adoration, raising their hands and eyes to Heaven, and among them Philip II; in the middle of the Glory is the Name of Jesus adored by Angels . . . signifying the words of Saint Paul In Nomine Jesu omne genu, flectatur Caelestium, Terrestrium, & Infernorum' (Saint Paul, Epistle to the Philippians, II, 10).
The subject, then, is the Adoration of the Name of Jesus, a Jesuit counterpart of the Adoration of the Lamb, and incorporates the 'Church Militant', represented by the Holy League. The Name of Jesus is represented by the trigram IHS with a cross above that appears in a burst of glory at the top of the composition. The painting has also been called An Allegory of the Holy League because of the presence of the main participants of the Holy League. The popular title, the 'Dream of Philip II', is more recent.
The painting must certainly have been made for Philip II, but no documents refer to it and it is strangely not mentioned by Sigüenza in his description of the Escorial, published in 1608. The occasion of the commission may well have been the death of Juan of Austria in 1577, and the translation of his body to the Pantheon in 1578. The painting was in the Pantheon when los Santos described it. Juan of Austria was the general in charge of the forces of the Holy League at the victory of Lepanto in 1571.
The three members of the Holy League, Spain, Venice and the Papal States are represented by the three kneeling figures of Philip II, Doge Mocenigo and Pope Pius V, and the one prominent figure of the foreground group, kneeling in heroic pose, and holding a sword, can represent no other than the general in charge at Lepanto. It is an ideal representation, while the King, Pope and Doge are actual portraits. Sir Anthony Blunt first suggested that this Adoration of the Name of Jesus was an allegory of the Holy League (the 'Church Militant'), and was possibly commissioned for the tomb of the Spanish General in the Pantheon. That is, it was more in the nature of a private commission for the King, and not part of the scheme of decoration of the Escorial. This could explain the absence of documents.
The spirit of universal adoration is brilliantly conveyed. For the general arrangement of the painting, El Greco seems, appropriately, to have referred to his Allegory of a Christian Knight, of the Modena Triptych. The figures of the King, Pope, Doge and Juan of Austria take the place of the three Theological Virtues. The Jaws of Hell and the representation of Purgatory are very similar. The figure of Don Juan of Austria is inspired by Michelangelo. So special a commission could hardly have been the subject of a test-piece for the Escorial as has generally been suggested. The Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and His Legions was a specific commission (and the only commission) for the Escorial.
There is a reduced autograph version of the painting in the National Gallery, London.