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In the Wake of Jesus, El Greco's Saint John, Geniuses and Masterpieces on View in Budapest
Two men talk in front of the painting Saint John the Evangelist made by El Greco which can be seen in the exhibition In the Wake of Jesus at the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. Photo: EFE / Peter Kollanyi.
BUDAPEST.- A dossier exhibition entitled In The Wake of Jesus opened at the Museum of Fine Arts on the Cretan-born El Greco, one of the most important figures of Spanish painting, presenting the roots of the master’s art and the Italian influences that served as an inspiration for his works. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the Saint John the Evangelist panel borrowed from the Prado in Madrid, which can be seen by visitors along with over 40 works of art selected from the Museum of Fine Arts’ own collection. The exhibition fits in well with the Geniuses and Masterpieces series of dossier exhibitions: the paintings, sculptures and engravings help to create an overall picture of the background of the master's art.

The Museum of Fine Arts launched the special dossier exhibition series in 2006, the centennial year of its establishment, within the framework of which masterpieces selected from collections of the greatest and most prominent museums of the world and previously unseen by the public in Hungary are displayed. The objective of the Geniuses and Masterpieces series is to use an alternative approach to acquaint the public with well-known painters and present some highlighted themes. The exhibition entitled In the Wake of Jesus is a continuation of the major success of this series.

One of the earliest important figures of Spanish painting was Domenikos Theotokopoulos of Greek origin, who was dubbed "the Greek" (Il Greco) as early as his sojourn in Italy, and this was later supplemented by the Spanish definite article to El Greco by his contemporaries.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos was born in 1541 in Candia on the island of Crete. At the beginning of his career as an artist he painted in the style of Byzantine icon paintings. Although only a few of his early works are known, the influence of Cretan-Byzantine icon painting was present in El Greco's painting until the end of his life and he remained faithful to his roots in his choice of subjects in some of his works and in the creation of compositional forms in some others.

In 1566 the master moved to Venice, where he learnt painting in the workshop of Titian for several years. It was here that he began to create works in the large figure painting style typical of Venice as opposed to the small figure compositions painted on small panels he had been accustomed to.

Of his Venetian contemporaries it was the Venetian Cinquecento masters – in addition to Titian – who had the greatest influence on the young Cretan who in the autumn of 1570 settled in Rome, where he became captivated especially by the art of Michelangelo. It is likely that El Greco left Rome for a short period and returned to Venice, after which documentary evidence shows that he lived in Spain from 1577 until his death in the spring of 1614.

In Spain El Greco painted his works on commission from the Church rather than from the royal court and this explains why the overwhelming majority of his works had a religious theme, especially stories from the New Testament with Jesus and his disciples being the most often depicted figures.

In order to present El Greco's apostle depictions the Museum of Fine Arts has supplemented the painting on loan from the Prado, entitled Saint John the Evangelist, which is at the focal point of the exhibition, with pictures from its own collection: the depictions of Saint Andrew and Saint James the Less. Complemented by the other two paintings, the iconography of the borrowed panel evokes the apostle series that the master painted in his middle and late periods. In addition to El Greco's art the dossier exhibition also displays works by some great Italian masters, such as Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and Jacopo Bossano, whose art had a significant influence on the Cretan-born painter, especially in regard to his work depicting Christ and his disciples, as well as the saints. El Greco’s The Penitent Mary Magdalene on display at the exhibition also bears the hallmarks of the experience the artist gained at Titian’s workshop during his period in Venice.

At the beginning of the exhibition some 15-16th-century Cretan-Byzantine works from Hungarian collections show the influences on the master during his early period, while the inspiration played by Michelangelo is rendered by a displayed reproduction of a painting and a marble relief. The apostle series of etchings by the celebrated Marcantonio Raimondi that can be seen at the exhibition were based on drawings by Raphael and may be regarded as the precedents for El Greco’s apostle series. A number of works from the El Greco oeuvre are used as part of the exhibition installation, thus helping visitors to gain a comprehensive understanding of the influences exerted on the artist.




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December 14, 2008

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