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

Laoco÷n (detail)

1610
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington

The main figures on the right of the painting who stand by as the horrid spectacle unfolds have been variously identified as Paris and Helen, Adam and Eve, Poseidon and Cassandra, Apollo and Artemis. Contributing to the difficulty of interpretation is the ambivalent physical state of the figure group. The main figures are usually said to be male and female but there can be no absolute certainty, owing to its condition, that the figure looking out of the painting to the right is female. When the picture was cleaned in 1955-56, there emerged the middle head and the fifth leg that appears between the two figures. El Greco may never have wanted this mysterious figure to be visible, perhaps intending that it should be replaced by the figure looking out of the painting. The execution of the painting may have been interrupted, perhaps by the artist's death, before he was able to cover up the leg and head, thus leaving the picture in its current, not quite finished state.




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