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

Mary Magdalen in Penitence

Oil on canvas, 157 x 121 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

After a short period of study in Greece, El Greco, one of the most renowned figure in Spanish art, went to Venice in the middle of the sixteenth century, where he worked in Titian's workshop, and where he became familiar with the art of Paolo Veronese, Jacopo Bassano and Tintoretto, as well as works by representatives of the North Italian Mannerist school. Later, in Rome, he was strongly influenced by the work of Michelangelo. By the time he had settled in Toledo around 1576, his art was fully developed. Like most of the painters coming from Italy, he was anxious to enter the service of King Philip II, but the Greek painter's immediacy of passion, ecstatic style, disturbing colours and visionary conceptions did not please the king's academic Italian taste. He was, however, appreciated by the religious orders and the aristocratic patrons of Toledo.

The penitent Magdalen must have been painted at the beginning of his years in Toledo because the strong influence of paintings on the same theme by Titian can be observed. The ideal of beauty is still Titian's half-figure pictures of women, but the inner tension of the whole composition and the relation between man and nature already indicate the beginning of Mannerism. The arrangement of the fingers of the right hand is a characteristic feature of El Greco's painting. It is assumed by some critics that the sitter of the painting was Jerónima de las Cuevas, the mistress of the artist.

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