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

The Crucifixion

Oil on canvas, 312 x 169 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Christ on the Cross, at the moment of expiration, with the Virgin and Saint John, and at the foot of the Cross, the Magdalene. Probably originally above the Annunciation, in the retable of the Colegio of Doña María. This painting and the Annunciation are the two widest of the series.

Already, in Santo Domingo el Antiguo, the artist had sensibly related together in composition the two central paintings of the high altar, the Assumption and Trinity. Again, there is this compositional relationship of the two paintings, but there is also something more in this bringing together of the two so diverse yet intimately related themes of the Virgin's reception of the Holy Ghost, and Christ's giving up of the Holy Ghost. One subject represents one of the Joys of the Virgin, and the other incorporates one of Her Griefs. Each painting is divided horizontally in three. The figure of Christ of the Expiration is a continuation upwards of the central zone of the Annunciation with the Flames and the Dove; the figure of the Archangel Gabriel has its counterpart in the figure of Saint John; and the Virgin of Joy appears above as the Virgin of Grief.

This painting of the Crucifixion is one of the great interpretations of the subject in painting and almost inevitably brings to mind two other great Crucifixions, Grünewald's of the Isenheim Altar and Giotto's of the Arena Chapel. El Greco has introduced more of those symbols embodying spiritual emotions: the clamouring angels with outstretched arms encircling the Body of Christ - strangely recalling Giotto's painting - and the remarkable figure of the angel at the foot of the Cross.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 22 minutes):
Heinrich Schütz: Die sieben Worte am Kreuz SWV 478