(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest1583-85
Oil on canvas, 81 x 66 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
In formal portraiture of the period, it is characteristic that the individuality of the sitter is subservient to the manifestation of virtue. El Greco's portrait of an unknown knight with his hand on his breast is an example. He is shown solemnly committing his whole being to a higher principle, for the gesture of placing the right hand on the heart signalled not only pious respect but also a declaration of intent that would be upheld as a matter of honour. Since the knight directly faces and presents himself to the viewer, exactly as if he were making a vow, the viewer becomes a witness to his solemn act.
Formerly the painting was supposed to be a portrait of Juan da Silva, Marques de Montmayor, 'Notario Mayor' of Toledo. The hand has been completely painted over.