The Dream of Philip II 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 several very similar paintings in the late 1570s to early 1580s which were known under a variety of titles such as Adoration of the Holy Name of Jesus, The Dream of Philip II, La Gloria or Allegory of the Holy League

The item in front of us here derives from the Museum of El Escorial and is specifically from the period of 1579-1582. Philip II of Spain would commission this piece and it may well have been the first piece of business that he gave to El Greco, who had himself only recently arrived in Spain. The King was a great lover of the arts and regularly sought about the best artists in order to decorate his many properties. These included a number of self portraits, but also other subjects such as the one found here. The main difference between this and the earlier version, known as Adoration of the Holy Name of Jesus, is that this piece includes a greater use of colour. The actual detail is pretty much identical but the alterations to colour does add further interest in different parts of the composition. We do know that Leviathan is covered in the cove in the bottom right of this painting and that the way in which El Greco completed it would have been influenced by Hieronymus Bosch, who gave us classic paintings such as Hell.

Although the artist loved his time in Toledo, where he would live a large part of his life, he did not feel entirely welcomed here within artistic circles. He felt that some local Spanish artists would see him as an outsider, and treat him as such. El Greco would therefore be careful with who he trusted but he was still able to attract a great number of patrons who would not become embroiled in these episodes. Eventually he would promote his son to run his studio as more and more work requests came in, perhaps underlining his suspicion of others in his community. Contracts and documents have been uncovered that detail how the representatives of the artist would regularly be in dispute with church officials over the precise valuations of some of his paintings, even though prices would have been agreed prior to the work commencing. This may well have been normal for the period, and these problems would not put off patrons from continuing to deal with El Greco for their many projects.

Interestingly, Philip II appears within this painting, somewhere near the bottom of the work. It is likely that he would have specifically requested this and during the Renaissance and Baroque eras it was not uncommon for patrons to ask to be included within their commissioned pieces. The purpose of this was to lift their statuses to that of the divine, by being associated with the other figures within these religious paintings. Naturally, we know them to be mere mortals today, but for many years these artworks would have been the only way in which they were remembered from a visual sense, and so the impact of work by El Greco could be highly significant to their legacy. This complex piece also includes Pope Pius V, doge Sebastiano Venier and Don John of Austria, victor of the battle of Lepanto They join to worship Jesus, alongside a large number of angels who increase the religious tone of this piece.