The subject, Jerónimo, has a strong connection to the El Greco family. He was good friends with the artist's son, who himself would lead his father's studio and help out on a number of paintings. El Greco snr would struggle to keep up with the regular requests of work which came in during the latter part of his career and so began to rely on his assistants more and more. He would complete the key sections of each painting and oversee the remaining elements, whilst continuing to liase with clients and organise new commissions. Jerónimo was a highly intellectual man who also produced several books but for some reason El Greco chose not to include any symbolic items within this painting which would have connected his subject to his normal occupation. In other portraits he would do so by including sculptures, easels, books or anything else relevant to the subject, but here we just find Jerónimo de Cevallos standing by himself without any props.
He wears dark clothing, with very little detail. A jacket is slightly lighter in tone, revealing some lapels. He is relatively broad chested, though the darkened background against makes it hard to make out much. By contrast, the white ruff gleams with vividity, whilst the subject's head is morphed by its size. He has a serious expression as he looks towards the viewer. The ruff is actually far wider than his own head, with his beard hanging over the top. Although this piece resides within the Prado Museum, it is not particularly well known, despite the lengths that this impressive gallery normally goes to in understanding their collection as well as possible. We do know that it is only 65cm in height and 55cm in width, making it one of the smallest paintings by the artist. Some have actually given a wider date to this piece of circa 1609-1613.
We do know that this painting was originally displayed at the Quinta del Duque del Arco in the Royal Palace of El Pardo, and perhaps that was the intended location before it was moved to its present location. Much of the Spanish art owned by the monarchy would be taken from palaces in Spain and slowly added to public collections in accessible parts of the country. The Prado has benefited from this, and today is considered one of the finest art galleries in the world. Despite being from Crete originally, El Greco is regarded as Spanish artist by many because of the success that he had in the country over a good number of years. This piece came right at the end of his career, with El Greco dying in 1614. He produced portraits similar to this throughout his entire lifetime.