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

The Annunciation

Oil on canvas, 315 x 174 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The "expressionist" stylistic traits, characteristic of El Greco's paintings at the end of the 1590s, are also found in the paintings of a retable El Greco created for the Augustinian college of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion in Madrid between 1596 and 1600. The patroness of the college, the lady-in-waiting Doña María de Córdoba y Aragón, had died back in 1593, implying that the commission likely came from her executor. The retable, like many other works in possession of the Church, was disassembled into its component parts during the French occupation of Spain. All we know from the surviving written sources is that El Greco supplied a total of seven paintings. This Annunciation in the Prado is one of these paintings, and it is an especially good example of the daring palette that characterizes the entire series.

At the bottom of the canvas, the terrestrial world is barely indicated by the steps, sewing basket and rose-bush in flame. The flames are rendered so naturalistically that they probably have appeared to mirror the real candle flames burning on the altar during the celebration of the Mass. But above and beyond El Greco has distorted light, colour and form. Indeed,all the form are in a state of flux. the grand rhythm of the wings of Gabriel and the Holy Spirit quicken the drama. Garments of crystalline blue, crimson and yellow-green vibrate against the blue-grey void. Incandescent light is reflected off the figures with such intensity that each seems to be its own source of light.