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

The Adoration of the Shepherds

c. 1610
Oil on canvas, 144,5 x 101,3 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This painting served as a sort of prelude to the great Adoration of the Shepherds (Museo del Prado, Madrid) El Greco planned for his own tomb. The idea of a nocturnal Nativity certainly originated with El Greco's recollection of Correggio celebrated altarpiece known as 'La Notte' (now in Dresden) and of certain paintings by the Bassano, both Jacopo and Francesco.

El Greco's great paintings, like this Adoration, are ecstatic visions, in an unearthly light, with dreamlike distortions of forms, released from earthly perceptions. Mystics have spoken of luminous apparitions, poets have continually sought to reproduce dream faces in words: El Greco caught the visions of those in ecstasy and the magic imagery of the dreamers in line and colour, in exact recollection of the experience and without assimilation to the visible world. From the moment of the 'overcoming of sensual perception' El Greco's paintings are filled with an optical content which cannot be further explained, which defies all the laws of composition and colour and can no longer be tested by the proportions and optics of the tangible and visible world.

Although the picture cannot bear comparison to the sublime Adoration for El Greco's tomb, it is superior to the reduced replicas that was made in his studio. (It should be, nonetheless, noted that this picture almost certainly involved the workshop, too.)