The Ministry of Culture and Sports has acquired for 1.5 million euros from the auction house Sotheby’s, on behalf of its owner Gina Levett, the painting Crucifixion (1575-1577), by El Greco. The work will be part of the collection of the Museo del Greco in Toledo, a center included in the network of State Museums and which continues without direction since last June. So, the general director of Fine Arts, Dolores Jiménez-Blanco, dismissed Juan Antonio García Castro from his position without objective reasons to dismiss him, as this newspaper advanced. It is the first time that a work by the Greek painter has been acquired for the museum that was founded in 1910.
The Ministry of Culture and Sports has reported that it exercised its right of first refusal “when the purchase opportunity arose.” The piece was acquired at the beginning of the 20th century by the Basque collector Félix Fernández Valdés (who died in 1977) and in 2011 it came into the hands of its current owner.
The painting is recognized as one of the first masterpieces executed by the artist during the period immediately following his arrival in Spain. There is no doubt that the work will become the new icon of the Toledo museum, which is undergoing a complete reform of its mission and its spaces. The Crucifixion it is the culmination of a group of four small-scale approaches related to the subject, painted by El Greco between 1573 and 1578. One such version was sold in 1997 at Christie’s New York for $ 3.6 million.
Is a Crucifixion radically different from the one preserved and exhibited in the Prado Museum, made twenty years later. The figure of Christ on the cross stands alone in the middle of a vast landscape, with a great presence of heaven above it. The feeling of isolation is even greater thanks to this resource of such a wide environment. However, a dramatic cloud that twists behind the figure of the crucified, as a theatrical curtain, seems to steal the spotlight. The dark contrast of the cloud – and the predominant use of lilac – over his illuminated figure emphasizes that robust body of Christ, absolutely slumped and lifeless on the cross.
As published by Sotheby’s in its sales file, for the treatment of the body of Christ the Greek artist was inspired by the direct study of sculpture and for the landscape in the work of Titian, in whose studio he must have worked at the beginning of the decade of 1570. The historian Roberto Longhi was the first to point out similarities of the powerful treatment with Michelangelo’s drawings, in 1540. Although it could also be related to a small sculpture by Juan de Bolonia, from 1573.
A few days ago, Christie’s in London put up for sale one of El Greco’s first masterpieces, one of the first surviving portraits of the artist and one of the few pieces in private hands. The Portrait of a gentleman, dated 1570, it will go up for auction on December 7 with an estimated price of between 800,000 and 1.2 million pounds. In 2013, the oil Santo Domingo praying it became the most expensive antique Spanish painting, selling for € 10.7 million at Sotheby’s London. That same year The burial of Christ (1570) reached the figure of 666,022 euros at an auction at Sotheby’s New York, although a price was expected to exceed one million euros. A year later, at the same auction house, The annunciation it did shoot its price above the estimate of 1.1 million euros and reached the sum of 4.3 million euros.