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

St Louis, King of France, with a Page

Oil on canvas, 120 x 96 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The painting obviously represents a king, since all the royal attributes are present - crown, sceptre with fleur-de-lys, and 'main de justice'; he wears modern armour, except for the fact that the forearms are bare. The column, no doubt, symbolizes the might of the warrior. The night landscape under moonlit clouds in the background, recently revealed during cleaning in 2000, is reminiscent of El Greco's representations of Toledo in the late 1590s.

Various identifications of the principal figure have been made: Ferdinand V, the Catholic, King of Castile and Aragon, conqueror of Granada, who drove the Moors from Spain; St Louis, King of France; Ferdinand III, the saintly King of Castile and León, famous for his victories over the Moors. Others regard it as a secular portrait representing a victorious king of Spain - a Visigothic king, one of the sovereigns already mentioned, or Alfonso VI of Castile and León, the conqueror of Toledo in 1085. Presently it is accepted that the painting represents St Louis, King of France.

There is an inferior replica, without the page, in Madrid, it is attributed to El Greco's son.

An X-ray photograph made in the Louvre laboratories shows that the head of the page was at first painted more realistically, and subsequently idealized; the eyes were originally shown wide open, then El Greco lowered the eyelids to make the boy more subsidiary to the main figure.

The predominantly glaucous tone of the picture and the curiously melancholic expression of the warrior king contribute to the quality of strangeness in this work.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.