John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist 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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This painting features a strong contrast between two figures, John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. The painting is listed by the Prado Museum as currently out on loan elsewhere, but its precise location could not be determined.

The figure to the left holds a stunning piece of silverware in his left hand, whilst wearing brightly coloured robes which remind us of the Venetian influences that fell upon the artist earlier in his career. His companion by contrast is wearing a damaged outfit which hangs limply from his skinny, undernourished body. Behind the two we find the typical sky style used by El Greco, with expressive white clouds attempting to set a dramamtic mood for the piece. The elongated fingers on both gentlemen is an important point, because this immediately helps us to ascertain the date of this piece, as he worked in this manner in the very late part of his career. Therefore, the date given by the Prado museum of 1600-1610 is entirely consistent with our own estimations. Both John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist would appear many times within the artist's career and he specialised in two main genres, religious paintings and portraits of local figures. His time in Spain from 1577 marked the highest point in his career, where he was able to attract large amounts of commissions for local Spaniards and he became regarded as an important influence on Spanish art, despite being Greek himself.

Indeed, within this painting itself we can find perhaps a view of Toledo across the background, in the bottom half of the scene. He would incorporate elements of this attractive region, sometimes including a cityscape of Toledo itself, within many of his backgrounds and found that the tones of green perfectly complemented his blues across the sky. His Venetian teachings then encouraged the tones found on the clothing, with the figure to the left in a stunning purple robe which hangs over his left shoulder. The artist was also highly skilled in drapery, allowing these items of clothing to ripple realistically across the bodies of each figure within his moody and expressive worlds. This was something quite different to how other Renaissance painters had worked, bringing greater emotions and innovation that would inspire many later artists. You might also notice a bird to the bottom left corner which most likely is a symbolic addition to help us learn about the identities of these two figures.

This artwork is likely to have included the input of El Greco's studio. That would explain why it has not become more famous within his oeuvre. He relied on his assistants more and more in the latter part of his career, where age may have slowed him down, whilst the numbers of commissions actually continued to rise. His own son would help out in running the studio and understood how to ensure his father's legacy, although was not as creative on the canvas. Small churches and monasteries in the region would continually ask for copies of existing works, which was where the studio would be called in. El Greco continued to focus on new compositions, boosting his own reputation and then using help on the less creative tasks. Even all these centuries later there are still arguments over his level of involvement in many paintings linked to his studio and these are unlikely to ever be answered with any great certainty today.