Greek appetizer

Thyssen shows off El Greco works it is loaning to Toledo for 400th anniversary commemoration

'The Annunciation' by El Greco, part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza's collection.
'The Annunciation' by El Greco, part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza's collection.

This year has plenty of treats in store for fans of El Greco (1541-1614), as the art world marks the 400th anniversary of the painter's death. The Thyssen's permanent collection includes four works by the master, which it will be lending out to the first great exhibition to take place this year. Titled El griego de Toledo (The Greek of Toledo), the show will run from March 14 to June 14 at the Museo de Santa Cruz in Toledo, and will feature The Annunciation (1576); Christ Embracing the Cross (1587-1596); The Annunciation (1596-1600); and The Immaculate Conception (1608-1614).

As an artistic appetizer, the Thyssen has organized a small exhibition of the four works alongside a technical study undertaken on the two Annunciations in order to explore the transformation between his Italian and Spanish periods.

Two decades separate the Annunciations. The technical and conceptual development shown between the works is radical, so much so that is even evident in the infrared reflectography images that reveal the underlying layers beneath the paint, as well as the X-rays that show the changes El Greco made while creating the works. Chemical analyses show the composition and distribution of the materials in the different layers of paint.

So what does the technical study reveal? Ubaldo Sedano, the museum's head of restoration, explains that you can see how the 1576 Annunciation brings together all the influences of the Italian grand masters: the architectural composition of the work, the distribution of the figures and the painted measurements distributed around the now-visible underlying drawings.

Twenty years later, with the Crete-born painter now living in Toledo, the composition, figures and brushstrokes have changed dramatically. His style is unmistakable. The figures have lengthened and are blurred with impressionistic touches and the preliminary drawings have disappeared.

As well as loaning its works, Madrid's Thyssen museum will also be joining in the 400th anniversary celebrations by hosting an international symposium from May 21 to 23, in which a host of El Greco scholars are scheduled to participate.

El Greco. De Italia a Toledo. Estudio técnico de las obras de la Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza . Until March 2 at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Paseo del Prado 8, Madrid.


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