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

The Holy Family

Oil on canvas, 107 x 69 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

El Greco painted the Holy Family with St Anne on a number of occasions. Whereas the version in the Hospital di San Juan Bautista in Toledo, probably executed some ten years earlier, employs a bright, almost cheerful palette, the present canvas is strikingly darker in colour, its effects of light suggestive of a storm. The inclusion of the young John the Baptist, pointing heavenwards with the index finger of his left hand, allows the painting to be seen as a vision of the future Passion.

The five figures in this painting are grouped closely together, however, the spatial relationships between them are of a complicated nature. St Anne, her daughter's arm lying around her shoulders, is bending down over the infant Jesus lying in his mother's lap a reminder of Pietà representations and thus again of the Passion of Christ. Joseph, complementary to St Anne, looks towards Christ from behind. By avoiding all direct eye contact between the figures, El Greco evokes a strangely unreal, dream-like atmosphere.

EI Greco renounces all detail in his description of objects. The robes are treated broadly, while contours and outlines are blurred something particularly apparent in the modelling of the two children. El Greco is already moving towards the style of his late work, in which he would increasingly turn away from the portrayal of idealized nature.