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One of El Greco's great masterpieces, The Disrobing of Christ, enhances the Prado Museum's collection
El Greco, The Disrobing of Christ. Oil on canvas, 300 x 178 cm, 1577-1579, Cabildo S. I. Catedral Primada de Toledo.

MADRID.- From today and until it returns to the Sacristy of Toledo cathedral where it will feature in the events to mark the 400th anniversary of the painter’s death organised by Fundación El Greco for 2014, visitors to the Museo del Prado can see this major work by El Greco on temporary display in Room 9B. This is one of the three galleries devoted to the artist in the Prado that also display The Trinity, another great creation by the artist executed shortly after his arrival in Spain.

The Disrobing of Christ, which was painted for a room used to house religious relics in Toledo cathedral, depicts the moment when Christ has ascended to Calvary and is stripped of his clothes before being nailed to the cross. In this highly original composition, based on a range of both literary and visual sources, the traditional space has been compressed in order to convey Christ’s physical and mental suffering to the viewer. The intense expressiveness of the heads, intended to offer a complete repertoire of pictorial solutions, reveals the level of artistic mastery achieved by El Greco at this period.

The painting’s excellent state of preservation has meant that the work of the Prado’s restorer Rafael Alonso has essentially consisted of filling in and consolidating small areas of lifting and paint losses at the lower edge, in addition to cleaning the work. The result has been to recover the balance of lights and shades, improving the spatial and chromatic relations and consequently the overall visual reading of the work.

Shown alongside the painting are an infra-red reflectograph and an X-radiograph of it. Applied to El Greco’s work for the first time, these analytical techniques reveal that the artist did not make substantial changes to the initial composition, indicating that he conceived an overall idea that was carefully worked out beforehand.

The infra-red reflectograph shows how El Greco constructed the painting from the starting point of an overall sketch executed with the brush and very dilute pigments, which he then reworked with more specific and decisive touches of the brush. These touches model the head of Christ with delicate, hatched brushstrokes while the background figures are barely sketched in, deliberately blurred, or suggested through bold strokes of colour. The few superimposed strokes and corrections to be seen are characteristic of a large-scale painting.

The X-radiograph reveals that El Greco worked on a canvas with rhomboid-shaped threads of a type known as mantelillo in Spain, which was widely used in Venetian painting. It also shows just a few corrections around the figure of Christ and to the beam of wood on which the carpenter is working.

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