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

The Visitation

Oil on canvas, 96 x 72,4 cm
Dumbarton Oaks, Washington

The Visitation was made for the Oballe Chapel in the Church of San Vicente in Toledo. It was intended to be framed and attached to the ceiling above The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception of the high altar. The intended location explains the dramatic sotto-in-su perspective of the scene, the curved rendering of the floor, and the absence of a horizon line. It does seem that the painting was originally within a circle, and that the canvas has been cut at the left and right.

The scene shows the meeting of Mary, on the right, pregnant with Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth, who was in her sixth month awaiting the child who would become St John the Baptist. The meeting took place at the entrance to the house of Zachariah, the husband of Elizabeth. El Greco shows a classicising doorway with a heavy cornice and consoles on the left.

Like other works for the Oballe Chapel, The Visitation is painted with great force and dynamism. The process of de materialisation is complete. There are only shapes, colour and light and the strange quality of the movement - of the 'meeting of two celestial bodies'. Comparison has often been made with The Opening of the Fifth Seal, with reference to the handling of the draperies, the jagged outline of Mary and the flashing white lights everywhere in the painting.