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

The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and St John

c. 1585
Oil on canvas, 237 x 118 cm
Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo

The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception is related to Saint John's Vision of the Apocalypse: 'And there appeared a great wonder in Heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: and she being with child cried, . . . And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne . . .' (Revelation, xii).

The roses, iris, olive, palm, portal and throne all belong to the iconography of the Immaculate Conception. The twelve stars have been omitted. This subject, related in composition to that of the Assumption of the Virgin, with which it is sometimes confused, was more suited to El Greco's genius, more in sympathy with the expression of the purely supernatural image. In Spain, he avoids anything that can be related to mundane actions or events, which would detract from the expression of the supernatural. The rather angular and schematic quality of the design is appropriate to the image, and captures something of the grand effect of Byzantine designs. The mandorla shape, belonging to this image - the clothing with the sun - is again introduced effectively in the Burial of the Count of Orgaz. The general pattern is retained in the splendid late painting in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. The subject inspired the great masterpiece of his last years.