The Fable 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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The Fable dates from 1580 and delivers a moral message within this multi-portrait painting. El Greco would only have moved to Spain a few years before completing this artwork in 1580.

The composition features a darkly lit scene in which a boy stands centrally, with a monkey and a rogue found either side of him. They are believed to represent vice and folly, whilst the fire that the boy is starting refers to the emotions around sexual attraction and desire. The moral is therefore more of a warning about what lies in store for those who submit to this emotion, therefore promoting the importance of discipline and self-control. This genre was not seen regularly within El Greco's career, with most of his paintings being standard portraits or scenes from the Bible. The Fable offers us something different from El Greco's large body of work, something a little more intimate and personal. The majority of his portraits were relatively traditional in how they were composed, with models straight on and with relatively serious expressions. It would be his religious pieces in which the artist would allow his real flair to show, with large canvases full of drama and exquisite detail.

The contrast of lighting is similar in The Fable to the likes of Adoration of the Shepherds, Laocoon and Immaculate Conception, but in this portrait we focus very tightly on the facial expressions of just a few figures. Some have pointed to Jacopo Bassano as a strong influence on this particular painting and there maybe some merit in that claim. El Greco had only been in Spain for a short period by this point, and so the influence of Italian art on him would still have been particularly strong at this point. La Fábula, to use its original Spanish title, has certain colours which persist throughout this Greek artist's career - greens and reds would regularly be used for draped material on clothing. The alternative nature of this composition, where we see very close detail of the subject's faces, also reveals some of the technical skills of El Greco which were not used as often. He brilliantly captures the impact of this bright light upon the boy's round face, whilst leaving the background very dark in contrast.

The artist would produce another version of The Fable which can be found at the Scottish National Gallery and its dated at around the same time. The version in front of us here resides in the Prado Museum in Madrid, alongside a whole host of other artworks from his career. El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) is well covered and sits alongside related artists such as Diego Velazquez within a permanent collection that can rival anything in the world. Other highlights from his career to be found here include the likes of The Annunciation, The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest and The Holy Trinity. El Greco has two museums in his name, one in Toledo, and another in the country of his birth, Greece. His biggest impact was probably made once he had arrived in Spain, and that explains why so many of his paintings can still be found in that country in the present day, with many treating him as Spanish. Whatever his nationality or roots, the artist produced an important body of work which brought about a greater use of emotion within 16th century art and encouraged new ideas in the art movements which followed on afterwards.

The Fable in Detail El Greco