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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 portrait is dated to around 1608-1614, which places right at the end of El Greco's lifetime. We see some examples of his evolution within Saint Paul, and the original artwork can be found alongside other El Greco paintings at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

The apostles would feature regularly within the Spanish Renaissance and El Greco became a part of that movement himself, despite originally being from Crete in Greece. The artist completed a series of these figures for the Church of Almadrones, Guadalajara, some of which are now together in the Madrid museum alongside this piece. As was the case with many of his artworks after the turn of the century, El Greco would call upon the assistance of his colleagues for these artworks, as has been proven by several studies into these pieces. As his health and age started to impact his productivity, so he would rely more on those around him and eventually his own son would lead the studio. They were kept busy with local monasteries and other religious groups who would send commissions there way in an almost endless stream of work. Many had considerable wealth and influence and wanted to ensure that their places of worship were as impressive and enticing as possible.

The overall piece is just under a metre in height, when including the frame. Saint Paul is shown here holding a sword and a small piece of paper with some writing upon it. He wears simple attire, with a reddish cloth over his shoulder which brings some brighter tones into the piece. His hair is balding, and his long, greying beard suggests a man of considerable age and therefore wisdom. His face is fairly gaunt, though El Greco regularly gave his subjects a fairly long and narrow facial structure, including within his own self portraits. Behind St Paul there is a pure black background which avoids any detail whatsoever. This has the impact of leaving the foreground entirely dominant, whilst also making the whiter tones of his clothing particularly bright. Research would reveal the meaning of the sword found here - it was the tool related to his own martyrdom. The lettering has also been studied on the piece of paper and is believed to read, "To Titus, ordained first bishop of the church of the Cretans" in Greek.

El Greco completed an earlier version of this piece in 1604 which is now believed to reside at the City Art Museum, St Louis. He would regularly be asked to deliver copies or similar versions of existing paintings and would call upon his studio to put many of these together so that he could concentrate on being innovative. Other artworks related to this piece from his career included the likes of Saint Martin and the Beggar, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, St Peter in Penitence and Saint John the Evangelist. He would therefore become influenced by Spanish art during his time living there, both in the types of content that other artists were covering, such as the apostles, but also in stylistic choices which added an extra stage to his evolution as an artist.

Saint Paul in Detail El Greco