Saint Augustine 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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Saint Augustine is an El Greco painting found at the Museum of Santa Cruz in Toledo, Spain. The single figure portrait was produced in 1597 – 1603.

This long, narrow composition may well have been one of a series, and the artist was regularly asked to create series of saint depictions which could then be arranged around the same building. This brought a consistency for the patron, rather than having lots of paintings from different artists. Word also got around in Toledo about El Greco's work, with many seeing his paintings in person and then asking for something similar for themselves. He would also allow local people to model for portraits as well, so long as they could afford his fees. Over time the artist would build up a strong workshop with well trained assistants who were able to help out on various projects. By the end of the 16th century he was a man very much in-demand and simply could not keep up with the commissions on his own. Saint Augustine was a well crafted piece though is not one of his more famous paintings, most likely because of its present location in a smaller museum rather than one of the major national galleries, such as the Prado in Madrid.

Saint Augustine is pictured here in all his religious clothing that one would expect to see. His long robe reaches down to the very bottom of the painting, whilst his staff reaches close to the top. A small building can be seen to the right hand side and this is likely to refer to Toledo, perhaps even the building in which this piece was intended to be hung, once complete. Further back we then see the expressive skies that continue throughout the artist's career and became one of his trademark touches. Of particular note in this painting is the incredible detail which El Greco incorporates into the saint's clothing, with intricate patterns continuing vertically down to the bottom of the piece. Additionally, his headwear is also stunningly done, and these two elements take our attention first of all. The saint is pictured with a long white beard, suggesting age and wisdom. We can also just make out his right hand which holds the staff in place.

This composition allows the saint to dominate, with his image covering almost the entire stretch of the painting. By this stage of his career, El Greco had mastered a good range of genres and was able to merge them together. Although landscape art was not a major thing at that time, he would use it to decorate his backgrounds and clearly had an ability to paint landscape scenes. His knowledge of religious themes, combined with talents as a portrait painter, brought him many different options when planning new paintings, with his own limiting factor being the whims of his patrons. Today he is rightly regarded as the most famous Greek artist of all time, and also respected for the legacy which he built both in Italy but also Spain.