Assumption of the Virgin 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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El Greco produced Assumption of the Virgin in 1577–1579 and it is today one of the few original paintings from his career to reside within North America. It was originally intended to be displayed on the altarpiece of the Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo, Spain.

The artist arrived in Toledo in 1577 and Assumption of the Virgin would become the first artwork that he produced here. It was a part of a large commission for the Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo which totalled nine artworks. It marked the arrival of this respected artist in Spain, and for the rest of his life he would continue to work here, leading many to now consider him Spanish, even though he was born and brought up in Greece. El Greco would cover most major themes from the Bible within his lifetime, some of which he would complete several times. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary was not actually a part of the New Testament but has been accepted by Christians since around the 3rd century and soon became a popular choice for artists, particularly within the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

The content within the Assumption is perfectly suited to the style of El Greco, featuring drama, emotion, as well a figure rising physically in the air. This was suitable for his tall, narrow compositions, in which detail could be added to the heavens and earth below. Incredibly, this bold artwork would be more than four metres in total, and just over two metres in width. This stunning artwork can today be found at the Art Institute of Chicago within their permanent collection, having passed through several owners within Spain before heading overseas, upon the suggestion of American painter, Mary Cassatt. It remains one of the most prized items within this important gallery's collection and offers an alternative style to some of their other Renaissance artworks. It was loaned to a gallery in Paris relatively recently, but otherwise has remained within Chicago since being purchased in the early 20th century.

Titian was influential on El Greco's direction and many have compared this piece to Assumption of the Virgin by the Italian master. The Greek artist learnt much in his formative years whilst living in Italy before then moving on to Spain for the next phase of his development. A museum has been set up in his name in Toledo to mark the impact that he made here, with several artworks featuring the local landscape within this picturesque region. We are all aware of View of Toledo, for example, which remains perhaps his most famous painting of all. It is believed that the commission for the series, which included Assumption of the Virgin, was actually presented to the artist whilst he lived in Italy and that ultimately it was the key factor in persuading him to move abroad. He may not have imagined staying as long as he did, but would have known that this commission alone would have taken him many years to complete, even without the other work that followed on afterwards.

Assumption of the Virgin in Detail El Greco