Portrait of a Gentleman 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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Portrait of a Gentleman is one of many El Greco paintings to be found within the permanent collection of the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. It was completed in circa 1586, when the artist would have been in his mid-forties.

El Greco produced many portraits within his lifetime, and appreciated how these small projects could be fitted in around larger commissions. Many wealthy locals would call upon his services in order to be remembered and celebrated in the best manner possible, particularly at a time before photography and other digital formats. To even be mentioned alongside this great painter was a something to aspire to in itself and so El Greco was never short of requests for portraits of this nature. Having learnt his trade in Crete and Italy before moving to Spain, the artist had taken on a great number of different influences by the time of this work in the 1580s. He would have been living in Spain for around a decade by this point, having originally been drawn to the country by a large series of commissions which persuaded him to move. El Greco started to use assistants as his workload increased but he likely would have completed Portrait of a Gentleman entirely on his own because of it being a relatively small piece.

In terms of the composition itself, the format is fairly traditional, and lacks some of the flair found elsewhere in this artist's career. The subject looks directly at us with a relatively neutral expression. His ruff dominates our attention, with its white tones contrasting against the rest of the work which is particularly dark. His well groomed beard points out over his ruff, with his hair simple but tidy in style. The composition goes down to his waist area, and the dark nature of his clothing means detail is hard to pick out, other than around his face. The background is a dull tone of brown and several words are written upon it, which no doubt relate to the subject of the painting. Some historians have suggested that his image represents perhaps a cassock of sorts, but without any real certainty. Sadly, very little information has been uncovered on this painting, and the subject remains unknown, which is the case for a good number of his portraits.

El Greco was a gifted portrait artist who called call upon these skills for small commissions which allowed him to acquire a greater number of patrons. Individuals, for example, would not have the interest in his large scale religious murals, but smaller pieces such as this would lure them in. His focus on these two different genres allowed him to cover two different types of patrons and these provided him with plenty of work throughout his career. He was particularly successful in Spain, where there are probably more works from his studio waiting to be discovered. His most popular Christian themes would appear several times over, with different institutions competing for his services. Today he is rightly regarded as one of the most gifted artists from that period, and his major works continue to be researched in considerable detail.

Portrait of a Gentleman in Detail El Greco