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

Altarpiece

1597-99
Oil on canvas, in gilded frame
Capilla de San José, Toledo

On 9 November 1597, El Greco signed a contract to execute a series of paintings for the newly built Capilla de San Jose (Chapel of Saint Joseph), Toledo. The contract specified that El Greco was to paint the altarpieces himself and design and gild the frames. The centrepiece of the decorative scheme was to be a painting of Saint Joseph and the Infant Christ with The Coronation of the Virgin above it. These two paintings, set in an altarpiece in a Palladian style designed by El Greco, though its surroundings were altered by Baroque additions around 1665, are still in situ; recent cleaning has revealed their masterly quality. In addition, El Greco was commissioned to paint two side altarpieces, Saint Martin and the Beggar hung on the left-hand side of the main altar, while The Virgin and Child with Saints Martina and Agnes was placed directly opposite, on the right-hand side of the altar, where they remained until they were sold in 1906 to the American collector Peter A. B. Widener, from his estate they entered the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1942.

The chapel was consecrated on 24 December 1594. At a later date, two sarcophagi were placed on either side of the main altar. Possibly designed by El Greco or his son Jorge Manuel, they are similar in design to the ark and the obelisk with a ball on top that appear in the background of El Greco's late Purification of the Temple from San Ginés. Martín Ramírez was buried to the left of the altar while Diego Ortíz and his wife were placed to the right, in each case with a plaque above stating that they were co-founders of the chapel. The two sculptures of David and Salomon, situated on either side of the main altar was possibly also designed by El Greco.




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