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

Fray Hortensio Félix Paravicino

c. 1609
Oil on canvas, 112 x 86 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Hortensio Félix Paravicino y Arteaga (1580-1633) was a Trinitarian friar who came to know El Greco during the painter's last years. His family was of Italian origin but he was born in Madrid. Already Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Salamanca at the age of twenty-one, he was a figure of great intellectual brilliance and authority in the Spain of Philip III and Philip IV. He was a prolific poet and renowned orator. Paravicino dedicated four sonnets to El Greco's memory in a volume of poems published in 1641. This included the oft-quoted lines: 'Crete gave him life, Toledo his brushes and a better homeland...' Another of the sonnets, celebrating the portrait, tells us that it was painted when poet was twenty-nine years of age.

The complete frontality of the pose, the enormous simplicity, and the absence of any setting contribute to the feeling of spiritual presence, comparatively absent from the splendid portrait of Cardinal Guevara. The inspired rhythm and handling is no less a living thing than the man himself. It is one of the greatest masterpieces of portraiture and painting of all time.