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

Baptism of Christ

Oil on canvas, 111 x 47 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

The two paintings in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica in Rome (Adoration of the Shepherds, Baptism of Christ) were considered workshop pieces or autograph replicas of two of the three pictures that El Greco executed for the Colegio de Doña María de Aragón in Madrid (now dispersed and housed in the Muzeul de Arta, Bucharest and the Museo del Prado, Madrid). However, a recent radiographic analysis (1997) has proven that they are original oil sketches by the hand of El Greco himself. The presence of pentimenti, compositional emendations beneath the paint surface, reveals the creative process of the artist and leads to the conclusion that these are not copies but preparatory bozzetti for the Madrid cycle. The important commission, probably designed as a triptych to decorate the high altar of the chapel, was given to El Greco in 1596: work continued until the Holy Year of 1600. The third oil sketch, depicting the Annunciation, is preserved at the museum in Bilbao.

The silvery light, the coloristic range based on cold tones, the quick, almost impressionistic brushwork and the use of strong contrasts of light and shadow in this picture are all typical characteristics of El Greco's Spanish manner (1576-1614).