Xavier Bray: Demystifying El Greco: His Use of Wax, Clay, and Plaster Models

Xavier Bray: Demystifying El Greco: His Use of Wax, Clay, and Plaster Models


– Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am Xavier Salomon, the Peter
Jay Sharp Chief Curator here at The Frick Collection. As you know, 2014 marked the 400th anniversary of El Greco’s death. This extraordinary artist
who was born in Crete learned how to paint, as far as we know, in the European way in Italy, and then moved to Toledo in Spain, where he spent all of his career. Europe and the United
States have celebrated this occasion with a number
of wonderful exhibitions over the past year. In Toledo and Madrid in Spain, and more recently here in America. The exhibitions El Greco in New York and El Greco The Frick Collection, will be on view at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art and here at The Frick
Collection until February 1st, the end of the coming weekend. And another show
commemorating the anniversary is currently at the National
Gallery of Art in Washington, reuniting all the pictures
from the Washington area by El Greco until February 16th. Here at The Frick, we
have organized a symposium about the collecting
of El Greco in America, which took place last Monday. And we have had the
pleasure to host lectures on the artist by Jeongho
Park and by Andrew Casper over the last six months. It is therefore with great pleasure that I introduce this evening’s speaker, a colleague and longstanding
friend from London, Dr. Xavier Bray, who
will deliver the final El Greco lecture for
this anniversary series. Dr. Bray completed his
doctoral dissertation on the Royal Religious Commisions as Political Propaganda in Spain and the King Charles III at
Trinity College, Dublin in 1999. Between ’98 and 2000,
he was Assistant Curator at the National Gallery in London, where he co-curated significant
exhibitions, such as Orazio Gentileschi at the Court
of Charles I in 1998 to ’99, A Brush with Nature: The Gere Collection of Landscape Oil Sketches in ’99, and the The Image of Christ:
Seeing Salvation in 2000. He was also the curator of a memorable in focus exhibition on Goya’s exceptional Family of the Infante
Don Luis in 2001 and ’02, also at the National Gallery. Between 2000 and 2002, Dr. Bray was Chief Curator
at the Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao in Spain. And on his return to the
National Gallery in 2002 as Assistant Curator of
17th and 18th century European paintings, he was the co-curator of three wonderful
monographic exhibitions. First one in 2004 on El Greco, one in 2005 on Caravaggio, and one in 2006 on Velazquez. And he curated his first solo show, The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600–1700, in 2009. For all of us who were lucky
enough to see this exhibition, it will always remain
an intense experience and probably the most
memorable and groundbreaking exhibition the National
Gallery has mounted in the last 20 years. In January 2011, Dr. Bray was appointed Arturo and Holly Melosi Chief Curator of Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, an institution I’m
particularly attached to. There, he has overseen major
rehangs in the collection and has curated a spectacular exhibition focusing on the relationship
between the Spanish artist Murillo and his patron and
friend, Justino de Neve in 2013, an exhibition which also
traveled to Sevilla in Spain. Dr. Bray has been for many
years an invaluable colleague and one of the most exciting
and thought-provoking curators of my generation in Europe. It is always a pleasure
to hear him speak about great works of art with a
passion that is often unmatched. He is now working on a major
exhibition on Goya’s portraits for the National Gallery in London, due to open the autumn of this year, 2015. I have no doubt this will
be a fundamental moment in Goya’s studies, and a
very beautiful exhibition. Very few curators have
the skills of Dr. Bray when it comes to uniting
scholarly depth in exhibitions and very elegant and
carefully planned displays. Tonight Dr. Bray will return
to his work on El Greco with a lecture entitled
“Demystifying El Greco”, sorry, “His Use of Wax, Clay,
and Plaster Models”. I would also like to ask you please to turn your cellphones off and also remind you
that the lecture tonight will be streamed live on our Frick website and it will be available
online for future viewing. Finally, following tonight’s lecture, I invite you all to view the
El Greco The Frick Collection exhibition in the Oval Room, which will remain open until 7:30. Please join me in
welcoming Dr. Xavier Bray. (audience applause) – Thank you very much, Xavier. Very, very kind and generous introduction. What I’m gonna do
tonight is tell you about an aspect of El Greco. The many ways into El
Greco, and this is something I realized when I was
very fortunate to work with Keith Christiansen
from the Metropolitan, Gabriele Finaldi from the Prado, and the imminent El
Greco scholar in London, David Davies, who happened to be my tutor at University College London. And of course, with El Greco, you know, you can look at the Byzantine tradition and look at his art through this tradition of the post-Byzantine icon painting he did begin as such. Or you can look at his training in Italy and the way he reacted
to the Italian mannerists working in both Rome and Venice. Or you could go down the
route of the proto-modern or the man who suffered
from disease in the eyes and was quite crazy. There are many ways. But what I’m particularly
interested in is the studio. What happened when he was at work? What happened when he was thinking, conjuring imaginative
ideas for his pictures? And one of these ways for me are this use of wax, plaster, and clay models, which, as you’ll see,
did exist in his studio. And how did he use them? And this is what I’m gonna
try and convert you to. And hopefully, to
certain extent, demystify one of the great spiritual painters that artistry has ever produced. So when the Spanish
painter and art chronicler, Francisco Pacheco, visited
El Greco’s studio in 1611, this might be El Greco here in one of his paintings, the Pentecost. When he visited the
studio in 1611 in Toledo, he was shown, and I quote from Pacheco, “a cupboard of clay models by his hand, “which he used in his works”. There is almost no
doubt that some of these were the 20 plaster models
and 30 clay and wax models listed in the inventory
of El Greco’s studio made on his death in 1614. These were passed on to
his son, Jorge Manuel, but after his death in 1631, they have not since come to light. Now, in this lecture, I
would like to consider how these models may have
been used and attempt to determine the role they
played in the creation of El Greco’s quintessentially
otherworldly style. The possibility of El Greco
using wax and clay models as visual aids for paintings
for his figures is not new. It was first suggested by
the great American artist Elizabeth du Gue Trapier in 1943 when she noted that one of
the angels in particular could be seen from different angles in several of El Greco’s compositions. And most recently, Professor David Davies pointed out that El
Greco’s conscious rejection of live models strengthened
the possibility of him using wax models. No real in-depth analysis,
however, has ever been done on what these models
might have looked like. What function they may have played in El Greco’s working procedure, and most important of all, the effect they had on El
Greco’s final composition. Some artists prefer not to
reveal practical techniques that would undermine
their creative genius. For example, the great
20th century British artist Francis Bacon kept his
drawings and photographs out of public view, and it
was only after his death that these were discovered in his studio, and which has been
painstakingly reconstructed back in Dublin, which in
the end for art historians, shedded light on his working practice, and most fascinating of all, into his artistic imagination. Now, I do not want to
suggest that El Greco kept his clay and wax models a secret. Indeed, this may have been a technique he was quite open about using, which we today do not fully comprehend. But in this paper, I hope to
demonstrate how El Greco’s use of wax models was
absolutely fundamental to his painting and how
his use of sculpture provides a key into his approach in constructing his
visionary compositions. As a technique, there is little doubt that El Greco learnt to use models as visual aids during his time in Italy, where it was an established practice among many artists. And that’s something I would
discuss in a little later. For a painter trained
in the post-Byzantine two-dimensional icon tradition, the use of three-dimensional models marked an essential
change in the development of his work in the Italian manner. El Greco’s interest in
representing three-dimensional objects in paint is apparent early on in his career, however. This is his Dormition of the Virgin. A small icon about this
big that was rediscovered in the 1980s in the monastery on the island of Syros in Greece, and it shows Greco’s respect
for the post-Byzantine artistic tradition of icon painting. Figures are elongated, and
the drapery is stylized. The gold background gives the
scene a spiritual atmosphere. Yet, almost as an act of defiance, El Greco has inserted a golden candelabra in the foreground, providing the viewer with a realistic and tangible
object on which to focus. And incidentally, that
is exactly where he signs his picture in Greek, and
that’s how we were able to confirm the attribution to El Greco. Two feminine figures,
the third hidden behind, gracefully hold each other by the arm, while the other hold up the vessel on which the candle burns. While El Greco may have
indeed based his design on an engraving after a drawing by Raphael in which to publicize
that, in my view, however, he is making a conscious statement that he can paint a
three-dimensional object and make it look real. We know that El Greco did use drawings as a means of preparing his compositions, although very few have survived. But it seems logical that these were used in conjunction with sculpture models throughout his career. Drawings, such as the St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, executed in 1577, probably as part of a contract drawing for the altarpiece of Santo
Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo, show El Greco thinking in
a three-dimensional manner on paper. Using black and brown
washes, and white chalk, he suggests a space behind the figures into which the shadows are cast. They are almost like niches. Working in Grizai, El Greco
may have even been copying from sculptural models in order to better
understand the fall of light and the volume of the figures and to define the space
they were to occupy. What’s interesting is that
in the final pictures, he rejects his idea of
the niche-like effect and inserts clouds around the figures as a way of creating a sort
of heavenly atmosphere, particularly in connection with the other large pictures on that altarpiece. But nevertheless, it just
shows you his working process. The interplay between the
real and the spiritual worlds was one of El Greco’s principal
philosophical concerns. But like any artist of his time, he had to begin with a physical concept before creating a vision
of the otherworldly. Rather than using life models as a basis for his
depiction of the human body, I strongly believe that El Greco fashioned male and female figures,
androgynous figures, and angels out of clay, wax, and plaster. These he would then dress with drapery, setting them on an improvised stage, lighting them in different ways, and even hang them by a piece of string so that he could comprehend better the effects of foreshortening
and composition. Now whether El Greco
made these models himself with his own hands as Pacheco tells us is impossible to say. He could have purchased them. He could have purchased sculptural models made by others during his
time in Venice and Rome. And then having moved to Spain, taken them with him or perhaps started making them himself. No wax, clay, or plaster models
by El Greco survive today. The only possible exception is a wax model of a crucified Christ, which I’ve shown about eight years ago on the art market, and that has some claim
to be perhaps by El Greco, or at least used by him. Stylistically datable to the second half of the 16th century. I think, unfortunately, the
arms are probably later, but the main part of the body is likely to be late 16th century. And whether by El Greco or contemporary, it is surely inspired by Michelangelo’s celebrated drawing of the Crucifixion, which he gave to Vittoria Colonna, and which El Greco could have known from the many copies
and engravings after it. When this wax model is juxtaposed with El Greco’s
Crucifixion with Two Donors from the Musee du Louvre in Paris, there is a strong and significant
connection between it. And the painting much more so in fact than between El Greco’s painting and Michelangelo’s original composition, which is traditionally
pointed to be the main source. In the wax model, the
muscularity of Michelangelo’s crucified Christ is replaced
by a sinuous slenderness that is much closer to
the way in which El Greco renders Christ’s somewhat
elongated body in paint. Unlike Michelangelo’s Crucifixion, El Greco’s Christ is also arranged in exactly the same
manner as the wax model. With the hips and the head
thrust to the viewer’s left. El Greco’s distinctive technique
of using bright highlights to illuminate the
undulations of the human form resemble closely the appearance
of a piece of sculpture when lit at close range,
much more so than the gentle chiaroscuro that an artist
such as Michelangelo achieved in his drawings. The best surviving evidence
of El Greco’s interest in small scale sculptural figurines are a handful of finished sculptures which have been attributed to him with varying degree of certainty. The most securely attributed pieces are three polychromed wood
freestanding sculptures. A pair, identified as Epimetheus, Pandora, and the Risen Christ. In my opinion, it’s questionable whether any of these finished sculptures were actually carved and
painted by El Greco’s own hand. But what does seem likely
is that they were based on El Greco’s own plaster and wax models. And from these models,
a professional sculptor, a Spanish sculptor,
either within his workshop or contracted out, could make copies and may have them painted with color, which of course is a
technique common in Spain, that of polychroming sculpture. Now during the 2004 El Greco exhibition at the National Gallery, we were very fortunate to be able to install next to El Greco’s Laocoon from the National Gallery of
Washington that you see behind the two polychrome wooden figures of Epimetheus and Pandora
from the Museo del Prado. Female figures are less common than male in El Greco’s compositions. And of the two, it was
the figure of Pandora that seemed to bear the
closest visual comparison with the female figure that
appears on the far right of the Laocoon. A further interesting
connection between the two lies in the fact that following
the cleaning of the painting in the National Gallery
of Washington in 1955, there emerged a middle head which revealed that El Greco had originally
painted the female head in profile, turned to the right. That is exactly the same
direction as the head of Pandora in the sculpture. Ultimately, he changed his
mind and painted a second head facing the other direction. There is an even closer connection between the small polychrome
sculpture of the Risen Christ and El Greco’s painting
of the Resurrection. In 1595, El Greco was contracted to make a small sculpture, 45 centimeters high, of the Risen Christ, to be placed on top of a tabernacle, which he had also been asked
to design for the main altar of the church in Tavera
Hospital in Toledo. This was not the first time that El Greco had been asked to provide
sculptural adornment or design from one of his
religious commissions. However, what is fascinating
is that two years later, when commissioned to paint a Resurrection for the convent of the
Incarnacion in Madrid, El Greco decided to reuse
the plaster or wax model that he had used for the Risen
Christ in Tavera Hospital. For the painted figure of
Christ in the Resurrection is identical to the
Tavera Hospital Christ. This is not to suggest
that El Greco fashioned a figure of Christ after the
finished polychrome sculpture, but that perhaps he reused
his own preparatory model. Furthermore, the figure
of Christ in the painting, who seems to be made of soft white flesh, with smooth and polished contours, probably resembles the original appearance of El Greco’s clay model. The freestanding nature
of these sculptural models could have also helped El Greco achieve this floating nature of his figures, giving his work a
peculiarly mystical quality. This is the most definitive example that we have of El Greco using a sculpture as a model for his paintings, but it opens up the possibility that sculptural models were in fact an invaluable source for the artist throughout his career. The practice of using
sculptural models as visual aids was not at all uncommon
among earlier artists and is referred to in
treatises by Cennino Cennini in the 14th century and
Leon Battista Alberti a century later. And by the 16th century, they were part of
everyday studio practice. In his Lives of the Artist,
Vasari remarked how, and I quote, “many masters,
before drawing the histories “onto the cartoon, make
a clay model in a plane “and place on it “all the round figures to
see how the shadows fall, “using an appropriate
light for this purpose “and from this the
entire history is refined “and the shadows that strike one figure “or another are studied. “In this way, great
perfection, force, and relief “are achieved in the works, “because the composition
is adjusted in the cartoons “so that it comes to be well measured “and properly arranged.” An artist, though, is famous for using these wax models and setting up the stage is Poussin, the French
17th century artist. To the extent that he actually owned a theater stage that he called
himself Le Grande Machine, The Great Machine. And there is a fascinating
exhibition that unfortunately has just ended at the
Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge called The Silent Partner,
which is all about mannequins in art. And it begins with a wonderful section on wax and clay figures, and of course I was extremely excited to see this, but they’ve managed to commission a contemporary artist to reconstruct one of Poussin’s great
religious paintings, the Extreme Unction, one
of the seven sacraments. And this is what they came up with, this sort of little stage set with figurines inserted, clothed, and the lighting re-enacted as a way of studying, as way
of understanding the space. So it just shows that this interest in plaster and wax models is still very much
something that is emerging among art historians. Painter studios might have resembled Baccio Bandinelli’s Florentine academy, as portrayed here by Agostino Veneziano in his 1531 engraving. Students study and draw
after different figurines in an artificially lit room. In this way, they not
only capture the form but the light fall of these statuettes. And interestingly, the
statuettes cast these wonderful large shadows
onto the walls behind. El Greco may have used his
figurines in such a way, lighting them by candlelight
and then seeing their effect enlarged against the wall, or even possibly on his canvas. And I just couldn’t resist to show you one of the shadows taken
from the exhibition Xavier mentioned, a Sacred
Made Real in National Gallery. This is a sculpture of the Crucifix, a Crucifixion by a Spanish
17th century sculptor called Montanez. But the shadow was as powerful as the physical aspect of the sculpture, and hence, me photographing it on its own without the sculpture. But it just gives you
an idea of how potent such shadows could be within the workshop. In any case, when one
sees how these figurines made out of clay, wax, and
plaster look all together, as can be seen here in
the Cabinet at the V&A, that study no longer exists because this is pre the remodeling
of the Renaissance Galleries, but you can see that almost as a narrative can already be found and no doubt, must have been of great help to artists when thinking of new compositions. One of the most famous
artists to use the technique of making clay models was Michelangelo, who made wax, terra cotta, and clay models as a way of first visualizing his ideas, be it in sculpture or fresco. The painter and writer
Giovanni Battista Armenini noted that Michelangelo used wax models to prepare poses for the
attitudes of the figures in the Last Judgment. And the best surviving wax model by Michelangelo is this young slave, which he produced as part
of the proprietary process for Pope Julius II’s tomb. And it’s again, it’s tiny, it’s about 10 centimeters high, and seen from different angles, you can see how visually
exciting they would have been to not just look at but also to handle. And I was pointed out by
one of your colleagues that you have this beautiful Giambologna wax model in one of the
galleries of astrology, which is a sensational piece
from a prior collection which I wish I’d known before the lecture to contrast here with the Michelangelo. Next time. Now, one of the best records we have of an artist using such figurines is Jacopo Tintoretto, whom
El Greco is most likely to have met or at least
have access to his studio when he arrived in Venice between 1568 and 1570. According to Tintoretto’s
biographer, Carlo Ridolfi, Tintoretto made little
models of wax or clay, dressed them in cloth, studied the folds of cloth on the limbs,
and placed them in wooden and cardboard constructions
resembling miniature houses with small lamps alongside
to produce effects of light and shade. And then he hung these
models from a roof beam, so that the effects made
by these suspended figures when seen from below, could be studied and used to compose, I
quote, “bizarre effects”. And here’s one of the many
drawings by Tintoretto of these figures hanging a ceiling taken from below. Another one from another side. And Tintoretto actually we know spent considerable sums of money collecting plaster casts
of ancient marbles, and had actually even acquired
Michelangelo’s wax model of Samson and the Philistine,
which is unfortunately lost but known from copies, as well as small models
by Daniele da Volterra after Michelangelo’s Medici tombs figures in the New
Sacristy of San Lorenzo, Dawn, Dusk, Night and Day, of which he made a very special study, doing endless drawings
of them by lamplight, using the strong shadows
with such light cast to create powerful, a
powerful, and I quote, “emphatic style”. And actually, going
back to these drawings, you can see how much
he enjoyed drawing the plaster model or wax model by Michelangelo from all different angles. And of course, these would
have been extremely useful when he came to paint
his final composition, such as this wonderful painting of the Origin of the Milky Way
from the National Gallery. And you can see how these angels, taken from different perspectives, how the wax models in the original would have been incredibly useful to achieve such compositions. It seems highly plausible that El Greco used Tintoretto’s technique when working on compositions such as his many versions of the Purification of the Temple. I’m here showing you the earliest from National Gallery of Washington, and as you will know, he treated the same subject
throughout his career. His style changed, but the composition essentially remained the same. And once he had decided on the repertoire of the figures he would use, El Greco could have arranged them on a stage and begun
painting the composition as a whole, adding, subtracting, moving figures as he saw fit. It is well noted by scholars that figures, that Christ’s figure in
the center of the painting, that sweeping gesture, also used by Michelangelo
in his much copied drawing of the same subject was inspired by the
antique figure of Orestes shown in the act of killing his mother on a sarcophagus in
the Vatican collection. And you see this figure
here, that sweeping movement. However, what is fascinating
is that while he surely did take this antique sculpture
as his point of departure, it seems that El Greco
introduced an intermediate stage by constructing a clay model
of a figure in this pose. And I say this because I’m
pretty sure I’ve located it. And this is pretty much
why I started getting so excited by these clay models. In this very large painting
of the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, which measures about three meters high, which was borrowed by the
National Gallery back in 2004, if you look in the
lower right hand corner, so I’m gonna take you down
past the angel’s feet, past the roses and lilies, if you look down, there’s a
little small sculpted figurine arranged in a contrapposto pose on top of that fountain. With the right arm sweeping back over the left shoulder in exactly the same pose as that of Christ sweeping the money
changers out of the temple. In my opinion, this tiny,
tiny, little figurine is the plaster or clay model that El Greco used for
the figure of Christ in his paintings of the
Purification of the Temple, which is in fact far closer to the painted figure of Christ than the original Orestes source. If this is correct, and please tell me if you don’t think this is right, but this tiny detail would provide us with a rare glimpse of
what one of El Greco’s clay models looked like
and is probably the closest we are likely to get to
their original appearance. There are a number of other examples of El Greco adapting poses
from antique sculpture. Such as the famous Sleeping Ariadne in the Museo Pio Clementino in the Vatican which reappears as a female figure with one of her arms behind her head in the Purification, this figure here. A looser version of this
figure then reappears as one of the sleeping
apostles in El Greco’s Agony in the Garden. You could see again his arms. While El Greco may have
simply made drawings after such antique sculptures, it is tempting to think that he made or acquired a wax clay model after the antique Sleeping Ariadne, which he kept in his studio and could then make subtle adjustments before reinserting it
with small modifications into his paintings. For the quotations we see in his work are rarely slavish
copies after an original. The refinements and
simplifications he made very plausibly with the help
of his sculptural models seem to have allowed him to extract the essence of the original form. As well as making models
after the antique, it is in my opinion that El Greco also had a very good knowledge of Michelangelo’s wax and clay models, some of which he may have owned himself. Much has been made of El Greco’s awareness of Michelangelo’s drawings
and finished sculpture, but that he might have been
aware of his wax models has been little discussed. As well as those, he may seen during his time in Italy, perhaps in Tintoretto’s studio, he could have had access to the work of Michelangelo if indirectly, following his arrival
in Spain for the work of Michelangelo’s Spanish followers, principally little known as artist today, but celebrated in Spain, such as Alonso Berruguete and Nicolas de Vergara el Viejo. El Greco actually had access to the work of Alonso Berruguete, who is one of my absolute favorite sculptors
and I’ve always wanted to be able to juxtapose
these extraordinary of elongated form such
as this San Sebastian in the Museo de Valladolid the extraordinary museum of sculpture, of Spanish sculpture that
very few people visit, but is highly worth the fast train from Madrid to Valladolid. But Berruguete in a fascinating way trained with Michelangelo
between 1510 and 1520, even winning prizes for
his fantastic wax copies in clay after Laocoon. And he spent a large part of his career in Valladolid and then in Toledo, where he actually died in 1561. So before El Greco arrived. But some of his best works can still be found in
Toledo’s churches and convents as well as the cathedral. And they’re actually kept
away from public sight in the cathedral, and I’m afraid I got terrible 1950s photographs. There are two very interesting
polychrome wooden reliefs, showing the worship of the brazen serpent and the Last Judgment. And both contain twisting,
muscular figures, clearly influenced by
the work of Michelangelo. And possibly El Greco saw these reliefs and may even have had access to Berruguete’s studio contents, among which may have been a collection of clay and wax models. El Greco almost certainly
had access to the collection of models, and I quote from the inventory, plaster, tar, and wax, that
belong to the master sculptor of the cathedral of
Toledo, Nicolas de Vergara. Because after his death in 1574, his son wrote an account
of what he had inherited from his father, which
included wax and plaster models that his father had made and collected after antique sculptures,
such as Laocoon and Hercules, as well as more contemporary
pieces by Michelangelo. Among them a model for
the Resurrected Christ from the Church of Santa
Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, and Michelangelo’s Study of a Leg. Now there is a painting, El Greco’s Allegory of the Holy League, very complicated painting which is a lecture in itself. But from my point of view, part of it can be seen as a homage or perhaps ironic homage to Michelangelo’s sculpture models, because in
the lower right hand corner, in the mouth of Hell,
the gaping mouth of Hell, the male nude is exulted from all angles. So that you know we have here Philip II, King of Spain, the Pope Pius
V, and the Doge of Venice, all praying to the name of Jesus, and those who don’t succumb to the Lord will be thrown into Hell. And what is in the mouth of Hell is absolutely fascinating,
the more you look into it. Almost as a direct quotation
from Michelangelo, for example is the reclining figure
which you see slightly there, reclining figure, which
is based, most likely, on the figure of Day in the Medici Chapel. The musculature and
robustness of the figures is strongly reminiscent
of Michelangelo’s style, and even the brown coloring and surface texture of
the writhing figures look rather like the glistening wax, and I’m just giving you
lots of little models that if you start looking, you can find similar figures in El
Greco’s Mouth of Hell. This interestingly, is another
version of the same subject. now in the National Gallery,
so it’s slightly different figurines in the mouth of Hell. You probably all know that El Greco was quite critical of Michelangelo and particularly when in Rome he offered to repaint the Last Judgment, take it all down and
repaint it in his style. And of course, the local
artists were furious and it is said that El Greco
was kicked out from Rome. Perhaps this is his visual
revenge on Michelangelo, despite of course being a
major influence on El Greco. One of the clearest
indications that El Greco was using sculptural
models in his painting is the fact that we see the same figures appearing over and over again, having been simply turned back to front or turned to 90 or 180 degrees. And often these reappearances take place with a substantial
chronological gap between them. For example, the figure that appears here, which I’ll show you in a minute, in the middle background of the Martyrdom of Saint Maurice, which he painted in 1580
for Philip II of Spain, reappears, here’s a better
detail, this figure, reappears again much later, in on the right of the Laocoon, this figure here, in the
National Gallery of Washington. So he’s reusing it some 20 years later. Another clear example of reusing figures appears in El Greco’s last work, the Opening of the Fifth Seal. The figure of Saint John,
with his arms wide apart, to reveal to us his vision, adopts a posture that El
Greco had already used earlier in his Allegory
of the Holy League, where among the figures in the background, two figures are in the
attitude of exultation. In the middle background,
the resurrected figures receiving the blankets from God, I believe are all clay models, either taken from
different angles, such as, this probably is the same
figurine, one taken from the front and one taken from the back. Or repeated from previous compositions. The naked figure on the far right is exactly the same figure, as one of the soldiers in El Greco’s Resurrection here in the middle. And funny enough, when I was
researching for this lecture, I came across this very
interesting Hellenistic sculpture of Bacchus, now in The Uffizi in Florence. And whether El Greco saw this or another version, I do not know, but they are extraordinarily similar. And this idea of El Greco
working from a Bacchic figure to then turn it into a figure in ecstasy is absolutely fascinating. But the most interesting
one here is the naked figure in the middle of the
figures, with her right hand beneath her left arm, looking upwards. And this is the same woman that, although dressed this time, appears dressed in red and blue, appears as one that posed for the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, the painting that I showed you earlier. So it’s quite interesting to see El Greco’s Maja Desnuda and El Greco’s Maja Vestida in Goya’s style early on. I won’t flick too much, I
don’t wanna get you dizzy, but Jorge Manuel, his son, must have kept the clay model for this figure, because he reuses it in his own rather bad painting of the
Apotheosis of Mary Magdalene, which he painted later in 1620 for a small altarpiece in a place called Titulcia near Toledo. Very few people go there, I’m afraid, but this is the best
photograph I could get of the image. By this later stage of his career, I am of the opinion, as you will have guessed by now, that the use of models was fundamental to El Greco in helping him to conceive complicated subjects in paint, even when there was no antique or Michelangelo’s source to look back to. And in conclusion, for an artist who began his career as a painter of
two dimensional compositions, in which the representation of the body in a realistic way was not a priority, sculpture that represented
the beautiful proportions of the human body must have opened new avenues for El
Greco’s creative powers. Rather than seeking to
convey the same effect in paint by working from
live models, however, perhaps because of his lack
of training in this technique, I believe that El Greco found a solution more appropriate to his needs in working from clay and wax models. By using these pliable materials, El Greco found the freedom to develop his own interpretation of the human form, drawing on both the antique
and contemporary sculpture to produce forms that for him represented the essence of the human body. And these he then inserted
in his compositions to create his visionary and ecstatic
illustrations of the Bible. By purposely not representing
the body realistically, El Greco was able to communicate
a sense of the immaterial and of the need for
individuals to relinquish their physical ties with the world in order to participate more closely in the spiritual world. And what’s interesting is
that in the 15th century, this man here, Vicente Ferrer, painted by one of the great
preachers in Valencia, a Dominican, in his sermons, when he gave his sermons
in Valencia in the 1490s, often made the analogy
between the Old Testament story of God’s creation of man from clay and an artist who made clay or wax figures in preparation for his compositions. And what’s fascinating
is that Ferrer’s nephew was actually an artist, so he very likely saw his nephew at work,
making his little models, and that’s probably what got him going, to think about this
idea of God the creator making man from clay. But this Promethean act, of course, Prometheus is the great god who was able to fashion, who made man by breathing life into into wax and into clay models as well, this Promethean act was surely
not lost on El Greco himself, although it is ironic that the qualities of El Greco’s supernatural art that we find so mysterious today were in fact reached for
very practical means. And so I hope that in this lecture, that in some way, I’ve
demystified El Greco’s work. Thank you very much. (audience applause) – Thank you again. And just a reminder that the exhibition will be open until 7:30.

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