Jan 052008
 

That’s a pretty odd sounding name. Though, there is indeed something orgiastic in the happenings above the funeral, in the strict formal sense. The commotion taking place in the celestial scene (the painting is located in the Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo) appears like the exact opposite of the appropriately grave conduct below: disorderly, joyfully inspiring, fantastical and fanciful to the point of being bizarre. There is great sense to such distribution of imaginative chaos and order; after all, the artist may have well witnessed analogous processions, and could have had the privilege of depicting from memory, whereas the only guide for the metaphysical scene above the physical one might have been only his fantasy. And as long as he stayed within the catholic doctrinal framework, pure invention was probably encouraged.

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The Burial of Count Orgaz…
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Though I am only familiar with Spanish physiognomy from literary descriptions and television, I believe that El Greco tapped into the basic pattern of facial features of people inhabiting the peninsula. Inherently pale and dark-haired, the men depicted at the gathering look characteristically Spanish; it’s difficult to determine whether the melancholia is another intrinsic quality, or simply one emanating as the naturally resulting mood of the sombre event. The artist endows his actors with local physical peculiarities — this is a normally accepted strategy, perfected by Michelangelo, who used quarry workers as models for his sculptures and paintings. Viewers would recognize the type and connect more willingly with the image. In fact, the only obvious factor linking both scenes is the physical similarity: both saints and mortals possess resembling features.

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The Burial of Count Orgaz…
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The broadness and scope of the ethereal part of the painting reminds me of Hieronymus Bosch’s large scale portrayals of heaven and hell. El Greco’s rendering similarly contains numerous independent activities that cohere harmoniously into a unified devotional vision. Bosch’s wild imagination has led him to somatic inventions, but of a kind that differed stylistically from those of the south-European: where the former preferred to transplant inanimate mechanical objects, the latter elongated the flesh of his painted subjects, making their torsos and limbs exceptionally mannerist — and beyond. I think that eventually there are two paintings on this canvas (read this Wikipedia article about the piece), and the joining is optional. The overall size (460 × 360 cm) plays the crucial dividing role: it is simply impossible to visually encompass everything, and the viewer will tend to observe the piece in line with the preordained separation.

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Self Portrait, Detail fro…
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  2 Responses to “El Greco: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”

  1. Very interesting insights…. El Greco was always a bit of a maverick – perhaps he found the idea of a confused and disordered heaven somewhat amusing!

  2. beautifully written, thank you

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