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

The Resurrection

Oil on canvas, 275 x 127 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Probably painted for the Colegio de Doña Maria, Madrid. It is of the same size and shape as the Pentecost, to which it was almost certainly a pair. The place of these two paintings in the chapel is more difficult to decide. The Resurrection was almost certainly on the left and the Pentecost on the right, because of their relationship in meaning with the Nativity and the Baptism, respectively. If they were placed above these two paintings, the narrower format would correspond with the upper range of paintings. This and the Pentecost would have been the last of the paintings executed for the Colegio.

Only one other painting of the subject by El Greco is known, that for Santo Domingo el Antiguo. This painting and the Adoration of the Shepherds are higher in proportion to their width than the corresponding paintings in Santo Domingo el Antiguo.

Christ is shown in a blaze of glory, striding through the air and holding the white banner of victory over death. The soldiers who had been placed at the tomb to guard it scatter convulsively. Two of them cover their eyes, shielding themselves from the radiance, and two others raise one hand in a gesture of acknowledgement of the supernatural importance of the event. Another wearing a helmet decorated with brilliantly coloured plumes, rests his cheek on his hand - the traditional pose of melancholy - still unaware of Christ's resurrection. El Greco's skill in creating dramatically foreshortened figures is clamorously apparent in the soldier wearing a yellow cuirass sprawled in the foreground and in the adjacent soldier in green. By excluding any visual reference to the tomb or to landscape, El Greco removed the scene from the realm of history, he articulated its universal significance through the dynamism of nine figures that make up the composition and the intensity of the light and colours.

Again El Greco has created one of the greatest interpretations of the subject in art. It can, perhaps, only be compared with the great masterpiece by Piero della Francesca. Light is the important element in this image of the Risen Christ, as it was in the Adoration of the Shepherds, but of a different quality. The movement has an incomparably greater force than in the Santo Domingo painting and has nothing of the sharp explosive quality of the earlier work. The movement is not dissipated, but is contained and concentrated. The figures now are vehicles of movement and light. It is interesting to compare the treatment of the classical 'draperies' of the soldier at the base of the composition with those of the saintly warriors of the Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and his Legions.