Allegory of the Camaldolese Order El Greco Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Allegory of the Camaldolese Order is an unusual piece by Greek painter, El Greco, and his workshop. Two near-identical versions were produced between the years 1597-1600 and they exist today at the Instituto Valencia of Don Juan, Madrid and the Museo del Partriarca, Valencia.

Alegoría de la Orden de los Camaldulenses, as it was known locally, is another example of how El Greco became bolder and more ambitious in the later part of his career. His portraits would become more and more elongated as his expressive nature became more pronounced, and he also started to experiment with different types of compositions. Typically, he had relied on personal portraits and large scale religious scenes to generate wealth but his reputation was now entirely established. Allegory of the Camaldolese Order features plans for a monastery, with the intention of the patron that these designs would eventually be implemented. Somehow, the artist is able to bring to life potentially stale content by adding his flair of expression and colour. We see the monastery laid out carefully amongst a grassy environment, with small buildings carefully dotted about the scene. Surrounding them is a row of trees which provide seclusion, whilst further back we find mountains and a dark sky overhead. There are then elements related to the project in the foreground, which requires closer examination to be understood.

Evidence has suggested that the two different versions were actually commissioned by different parties. They are near identical, though the canvas sizes vary slightly. In terms of the two figures at the bottom of the painting, we can see Saint Benedict on the left and Saint Romuald on the right. Their presence refers directly to the foundation of the Camaldolese Order of Hermits. Saint Romuald holds an object in his right hand which is believed to be the same circular model which we see above. The structure found between the two figures is known as a tabernacle and it displays a poem which explains the life lived by hermits. Allegory of the Camaldolese Order is clearly amongst the artist's most thought-out designs, containing many religious references and even planning out the ideal design for a new monastery. El Greco himself was highly religious but still would have needed guidance on this particular project, which most likely came from the original patron. Although this is a lesser known piece within his overall career, it feels particularly important because of how it offers something quite different to the rest of his oeuvre. Perhaps the closest comparison could be made to View and Plan of Toledo.

This artwork was delivered with incredible precision and an abundance of detail. The artist's colour choices helped to lift the aesthetic side of this piece, and we also get to understand about how El Greco was being asked to consult on a variety of projects, including architecture. Clearly, he was held in high regard and his success as an artist would open up other opportunities for his creativity. His deep commitment to God would also have helped him to keep on side with patrons such as this, who would believe in his good intentions. The two paintings remain on display today and offer something different which followers of the artist may be surprised, and excited to see for the first time. The two institutions which hold these pieces also help more of the public to see his original works in person.