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El Grecos Toledo


     High
atop a hill of granite, surrounded by the gorge and river Tagus sits the ancient
and formidable gothic Cathedral and Moorish palace, Alcazar, of Toledo, Spain.

Toledo's skyline has changed little since El Greco immortalized Spain's
religious centre in 1597-9(Cardillac 28). El Greco's natural talents, his
"schooling," and the flare of his adopted Spain, combined to produce
an artistic genius. El Greco's ability to convey manneristic images that were so
original in conception and color that the detail gives a miraculous conception
of cohesion to the whole work(Wethey 61). When studying this canvas, however,
one must examine the passionate, moonlit sky; the artistic license El Greco took
in the placement of the city's salient landmarks; and what these liberties
connote within the context of his time(Brown 244). View of Toledo is one of the
earliest landscapes in Western Art; in addition, it is El Greco's only true
landscape and the first in Spanish Art (Legendre 13). It is a romantic, yet
stark dramatic view of his beloved city. Toledo was the centre of the secular
and ecclesiastical Spanish world. El Greco was a deeply pious man and formed an
instant affection for the city(joslyn.org). Of El Greco's two surviving
landscapes, View of Toledo is essentially as mystical in composition as his
religious canvases (Wethey 63). The painting seems to anticipate the
impressionist movement 250 years away. Historically, the striking use of such
rich tones of violet, azure, and emerald were dramatically different from the
realist conception of nature. In fact, one could argue that El Greco mimicked
the "almost psychedelic hues" from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel(Web

Museum). Today, these bold color schemes lose much of their impact; however,
historically, they were a watershed in painting(Acton 82). The idea behind this
landscape of Toledo was to announce the city's greatness. The painting was
intended to propagate the cities place among other great Spanish Cities. The
painting itself is not a true topographical representation of Toledo(Wethey 64).

El Greco took some liberty in his placement of the dominant structures. In
reality, the belfry of the cathedral would be far to the right and beyond the
paintings field of view. Furthermore, he has distorted the steepness of the
alcazar's hill and the river Tagus has moved to the right of it's actual
location(Brown 244). Past the ancient Roman bridge Alcantara, three mysterious
buildings rest in a patch of cloud like white. These three buildings baffle
contemporary critics and writers; however, recently it has been proposed that
the buildings were symbolic of St. Ildefonso's monastic retreats. Writers have
accepted this based on a description from the biography of the saint by Pedro

Salazar de Mendoza, who was a patron and friend of El Greco's. The saint's
monastery, according to Mendoza was situated in a field along side a hill on the
north part of the city. In its random reorganization of the historic monuments
both past and present: "El Greco's picture clearly falls more within the
tradition of the emblematic city view than within that represented by the
objective panorama of van der Wyngaerde"(Brown 244). In short, El Greco
transformed Toledo's landscape into an historic interpretation of the city.

Whereas this work is such a unique landscape, naturally, it is highly
expository. There have been numerous attempts at deciphering the work's
evocative moods: "Davies, who calls the picture a ‘hymn to the forces of
nature,' relates it to contemporary spiritual literature" (Brown 32).

Clearly, the same landscape is visible in so many of El Greco's other works,
works that propagated the Faith in Spain's counter reformation. Therefore, one
cannot justly state that this composition's mood is unique to this painting.

Rather, the composition's brooding quality is inherent in all of his works from
the era, for example, St. Joseph with Christ Child and Laconoon (MediaHistory).

The composition lives with a peculiar mysticism which comes as a nervous
exaltation from a dreamlike vision. That in and of itself is mysticism: a
direct, intense relationship to God. It was only because of the ‘mystic
fervour' of Spanish Catholicism that "mannerism lost much of its character
of an art for connoisseurs"(Gombrich 274). Naturally, while the mystiscm
was so obvious in his religious works, this view of Toledo takes on that same
quality as well. Hence, the misclassification of this painting as being
"Toledo in a Storm." Rather, it is an intensely passionate portrait of
his beloved home(Wethey 61). This landscape was very unusual for both El Greco
and Spanish art. Typically, they depicted religious scenes from the new and old
testaments. View of Toledo, would appear to be anything but. Symbolically,
however, the painting too is a religious work. The religious imagery is replaced
by the structures of the city. The Alcazar represents Christ. The beautiful
white light cuts across the building's facade illuminating it. El Greco used
this technique similarly in his Agony in the Garden. While this imagery is
powerful, one cannot help to wonder why the city is placed so far to the right
and off centre of the canvas. More than anything, however, El Greco learned from
his Venetian and Roman years the importance and enchantment of color. The rich
green turbidity of the earth reflects El Greco's attempt at achieving
reality(joslyn.org). Of course, though, this reality was achieved with a certain
degree of artistic interpretation. The Castellón plain which surrounds Toledo
is barren and clay red (Legendre 23). The above interpretation aside, it would
seem that the more powerful and truer meaning lays in the rolling hills and the
wonderfully swollen clouds. The viewer feels the wind whipping across the plain
of Castile hitting him squarely in the face as he looks across the river Tagus
at the mysterious city above. The clouds ominous and omnipresent dominant your
mood. There is a sense of fright as you watch the clouds(WebMuseum). Indeed, the
clouds and the natural world are only extensions of God's will. A theme which
dominates throughout El Greco's catalogue of The remarkably intimate mood of El

Greco's genre is the essential reason "for the inability of others to
follow him" (Wethey 49). Moreover, his art embodies the end of an age at
the time when a new era was emerging: Galileo studied the heavens with his
telescope, Jean Beguin became the first published Chemist, the Globe Theater
preformed A Winter's Tale(MediaHistory).