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

The Nativity

Oil on canvas, diameter: 128 cm
Hospital de la Caridad, Illescas

On 18 June 1603 El Greco signed a contract to make and decorate an altarpiece for a miraculous image of the Virgin of Charity belonging to the Hospital de la Caridad in the small town of Illescas halfway between Toledo and Madrid. According to the contract the main altarpiece and the decoration of the vault were to contain four canvases: The Madonna of Charity, The Coronation of the Virgin, The Annunciation and The Nativity. This project was executed in collaboration with the artist's son, Jorge Manual Theotokopoulos. Under a separate contract a further painting, St Ildefonso was made.

Although El Greco treated the subject of the nativity several times, this is his only version depicting the Holy Family without other human participants. In the shadows to the left, an ass contemplates the scene. In the foreground the foreshortened head of an ox, his horn echoing the curve of the circular format, looks up from below.

Presently the painting is in the vestry of the church.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 16 minutes):
Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto grosso in g minor op. 6 No. 8 (Christmas Concerto)