National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Saint Martin and the Beggar El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)
El Greco (painter)
Greek, 1541 - 1614
Saint Martin and the Beggar, 1597/1599
oil on canvas
overall: 193.5 x 103 cm (76 3/16 x 40 9/16 in.) framed: 215.3 x 135.9 x 12.7 cm (84 3/4 x 53 1/2 x 5 in.)
Widener Collection
Not on View
From the Tour: El Greco
Object 3 of 8

The Chapel of Saint Joseph in Toledo, where this painting hung above the north altar, was established by Martín Ramírez, whose patron saint, Martin of Tours, is the subject here. As a soldier in Roman France, Martin cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar he encountered. Christ later appeared to Martin in a dream wearing the makeshift cape and saying, "What thou hast done for the poor man, thou hast done for me." Martin was then baptized, and dedicated his life to Christianity. Venerated for his charity, he was zealous in making converts to the church.

The figures positioned in the extreme foreground loom as if perched on a high ledge, while the background recedes quickly to a distant vista—not of Amiens where the story took place, but Toledo. Time is likewise transformed as the fourth-century saint wears contemporary armor. These deliberate shifts of time and place hint at Toledo's role in the Counter-Reformation, suggesting that all Toledans should emulate the saint's charitable behavior.

A small replica of this subject, one of five known, may have been painted by El Greco's son, Jorge Manuel Theotokopoulos. It provides an instructive comparison with El Greco's own works. Here the brushstrokes are shorter and more hesitant; the elongated figures of the original are further distorted; and the saint's serene expression is transformed by the twisting curl of his lip.

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