The visual and technical grandeur of this painting (hanging in Toledo Cathedral, a Gothic monument — click here to see more explained photographs of Toledo Cathedral), described in numerous essays and books on El Greco (britannica full article) is overwhelming. The shocking red of the protagonist’s garment immediately forces the mood; color dominates the image unconditionally, with facial expressions following far behind, supplementing the psychological tension, and composition serving a secondary purpose, as to not to interfere with the red solo. It’s explosive power is disproportionate to that of composition, lending the palette an exotic and grotesque force.
But that is not to say that composition is somehow ineffective. On the contrary, it interweaves harmoniously with the main concept of color, as a sort of adornment, or mounting (the rest literally encircle Christ) — the inquisition jailed the artist for putting Christ in the center, instead of high above his tormentors. The effectiveness of the composition in this case equals a reduction of sorts. While color appeals to emotional and psychic perception, composition and arrangement per se address the logical brain. Perhaps, logic is irrelevant here: the powerful palette suggests that emotional response is more adequate than any mental processing. El Greco’s preference of unmixed hues also indicates his aiming at the most primal emotions.
Facial expressions, particularly that of Christ himself, complements the tragic atmosphere. His countenance is unusually serene in the midst of the clamor, the white complexion already radiating the divine light of sainthood — of inner and/or outer source. The haughty, mocking physiognomy of the guard wearing the green robe, transported here along with some other biblical contemporaries, in the painterly tradition of combining the historical with the modern, is a direct opposite. Shadow covers his face, implying on the darkness of the force that moves him. The foreshortened worker in the yellow, below, appears fully engrossed in his morbid task, while the two females (the two Marys?) in the lower left part observe in apprehension. Finally, the armored man to Christ’s right, gazing in melancholia at the viewer, and the two nearly mad offenders behind them anchor the emotional arch of the painting from one end to another.