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Portrait of a Young Gentleman is loosely dated at around 1600-1605. This places it towards the end of El Greco's career, with the artist finally passing away in 1614.
Everything about this piece is typical of his portraits in later life - the angle of the subject, the clothing and the lighting. Whilst he used his studio for many of these portraits, the present owners of this piece are sure that it came directly from the master's own hand. One can find it today at the Prado Museum, a highly respected museum in the Spanish city of Madrid which continues to be regarded as one of the world's greatest art galleries. The composition features a young gentleman staring directly at us with an entirely neural expression. His pointy beard sneaks over the top of a large white ruff. The subject's remaining clothes are black, or dark grey, with very little detail observable. One can predict the fashion of the times, such as the shape of this garment and some of the embroidery upon it, but the main focus is always intended to be on the lighter parts of the composition. The subject has a relatively angular face, partly added to by the beard which points out from below his chin. The man has a strong nose which reaches out from the painting and his hair is short and tidy. El Greco would always using balding details for older subjects, so we can assume this model to be relatively young in contrast.
El Greco was an artist from Greece originally who learnt many of his artistic techniques whilst living in Venice and Rome. Italian art was particularly strong at that time and Venetian styles were highly influential on his direction. By the time of the portrait found here he would have been living in Toledo for several decades and was now well established within Spain. He found great success within this country and was able to attract both private patrons for portraits such as this, but also religious institutions who desired large scenes for their monasteries and churches. The two different genres brought a large income to El Greco who could now afford a studio of his own, with a good number of skilled assistants who allowed him to increase his workload considerably. Those interested in his career will notice how some of the attributions to his work also include his studio in his latter years, marking its increased role in his oeuvre.
The painting was originally on display at the country home of the Duke of Arco at El Pardo. Over time a large number of privately owned paintings would come into the possession of the Prado Museum in Madrid who would put these items on display to the general public. The Duke himself owned several El Greco paintings and so was clearly very fond of this artist's unusual, expressive manner. The subject in this particular piece has never been formally identified and the belief that it might be poet Baltasar Eliseo de Medinilla has been widely rejected. One can find many similar portraits from this period within the same museum in Madrid, who hold one of the best collections of this artist's work to be found anywhere in the world. His connection to Spanish art is widely lauded, and institutions such as the Prado Museum help to remind us of how this Crete-born painter was able to leave a strong legacy within his adopted country.