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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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Within Apostle we see the elongation of form typical of El Greco, but in this example it is perhaps taken a little too far. This piece has since been attributed to the artist's workshop, with an approximate date of around 1608 - 1614.

In front of us we see the apostle looking directly towards the viewer, with a long bushy beard which hangs down towards his chest. He shows considerable signs of ageing, wrinkled and with hair loss. The same signs continue onto his hands, and notice how long and thin his fingers are. El Greco himself had been elongating the forms of his subjects for several years and it became more pronounced towards the end of his life. This assistant has clearly taken this style even further, with the apostle's nose being unrealistic in its scale. That said, it is still a stunning portrait in its own right and leaves plenty of talking points with regards the master's career. We also find a book on which the model rests his hand, bringing symbolism into the piece. Normally, books in portraits at this time would signify intelligence, education or perhaps one's occupation as a writer or poet. He wears a blue tunic with red robe over the top with a colour scheme which persisted throughout the life of El Greco's studio. This was influenced by Venetian artists.

We believe the apostle shown here to be Saint Matthew. The painting was discovered within the Royal Collection from around 1668, and over time much of these items would make their way over to the state's control. The Prado Museum itself is also now owned by the state, having initially been run and owned by the Spanish monarchy. The artist was regularly tasked with producing series of apostles for various institutions and so this piece may well have been one of many for a single patron. No documentary evidence can prove that, though, so it is more of a hunch, based on the artist's own career also the types of projects worked on by members of his workshop. There are also some records left over that title this piece as "Philosopher" instead of Apostle, which perhaps connects better to the inclusion of a book within the content. As is the case for most art from so many centuries ago, it would be near impossible to really find any more information on these artworks than what has already been discovered.

There are many paintings left over from the last decade or so of the artist's life which remain in doubt. Some have been loosely attributed to his hand, whilst others have been given to his studio, or followers further afield. El Greco left a huge legacy within Spanish art after living there for several decades and despite his roots from Greece, he is remembered by many as a Spanish artist himself. His style was unique, expressive, and many wanted to follow in his footsteps. His style would persist after his death in the work of others and over time some confusion would emerge over who produced certain paintings. Apostle, found here, certainly contains many elements from his style, but lacks evidence to be sure it was from his hand. Today we can see items from his career, as well as his followers and studio assistants at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.