Dormition 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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Dormition of the Virgin is a very early El Greco painting from around 1565–1566. Its style is noticeably different to what we would see later in his career, once other influences had fallen upon him.

El Greco's paintings focused on two main genres - portraiture and religious themes. He was also deeply religious himself and even in this early period we find him focussing on the well known topic of the Dormition of the Virgin. The piece itself is a relatively modest 61.4 cm × 45 cm in size, whilst his later religious works could be as large as four metres in height. We see here an artist who was learning his trade, and still fairly humble in what he was producing and at this point he would only have been in his early twenties. The piece was only attributed to El Greco as recently as the 1980s after a signature was discovered which connected the piece to his hand. Prior to that point, "Doménicos" was treated as an unknown painter, but its later connection to El Greco also allowed some other paintings to also now be considered as those of this artist. It still seems remarkable that new paintings can be "discovered" from the careers of these great masters, even some four centuries, or more, later. Scientific research can play a role in that, but there is still room for the traditional research techniques which can uncover missed attributions such as this.

Dormition of the Virgin was completed using tempera and gold on panel, where as later in his career he would tend to use oils instead. He was certainly more traditional in his artistic outlook at this point, demonstrating strong influences from the Byzantine which he would later fuse with more modern ideas as his style evolved. The painting resides today at the Holy Cathedral of the Dormition of the Virgin, Hermoupolis, whilst the majority of the rest of his career can be found in major public galleries across Europe, with most in Spain. The painting itself is not perhaps in the best condition today, as compared to many of his other works, and that might be explained by the absence of an attribution to him until very recently. We find a halo around the head of the main subject, whilst a large number of other figures gather around in order to offer their emotional support. Up above we find the divine represented with a series of figures who hover above several elements of architecture. This is an important piece which underlines the evolution of the artist from the 1560s to later on when he had experienced life in other countries.

The theme relates to the Death of the Mother of God, which often translates as the falling asleep of Mary. She wears blue within this composition and that is often how she would be identified within religious scenes of around this period. After the dormition, Mary would be assumed into the heavens, which created another iconic scene that would again inspire many artists. El Greco was very familiar with such topics and would have enjoyed putting his strong faith into action by producing such stunning pieces which celebrated events that were important to his personal beliefs. Aside from religious work, El Greco only really worked with portraiture, and found that the latter could bring in extra income from small commissions that could be completed in between some of his large-scale murals. At this point in his career, though, he was focused on developing his technical work and mainly was interested in depicting passages from the Bible.