Overview

Commissioned for the Chapel of San José in Toledo by Martín Ramírez, a namesake of the saint and donor of the chapel, Saint Martin and the Beggar was part of one of the artist's most successful ensembles.

The saint, who lived during the reign of Constantine the Great, was a member of the imperial cavalry stationed near Amiens, in Gaul. Coming upon a shivering beggar near the city gates on a cold winter day, the young soldier divided his cloak with his sword and shared it with him. Tradition has it that Christ later appeared to Martin in a dream, saying, "What thou hast done for that poor man, thou hast done for me."

El Greco portrayed the fourth-century saint as a young nobleman, clad in elegant gold-damascened armor, astride a white Arabian horse. Seen from a low vantage point, the figures seem monumental, looming over the landscape with its distant view of Toledo and the river Tagus. The saint's relatively naturalistic proportions contrast with the attenuated form of the nearly nude beggar. The obvious distortion of the beggar's form suggests that he is not of this world and hints at the later revelation of his true identity in Martin's dream.

Inscription

lower right in cursive Greek: doménikos theotokópoulos e'poíei (Domenicos Theotocopoulis made this)

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Commissioned 9 November 1597 by the Capilla de San José [Chapel of Saint Joseph], Toledo. Sold 1906 by the directors of the chapel, in Paris to (Boussod Valadon, Paris); sold in same year to Peter A. B. Widener [1834-1915], Elkins Park, PA;[1] inheritance from Estate of Peter A. B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener [1860-1943], Elkins Park, PA.[2]

Exhibition History

1915
Loan Exhibition of Paintings by El Greco and Goya, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York, 1915, 38, no. 37.
1982
El Greco of Toledo, The Toledo [Ohio] Museum of Art; Prado, Madrid; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 1982-1983, 168, 241, no. 30, pl. 17.
2003
El Greco: The Illumination and Quickening of the Spirit, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The National Gallery, London, 2003-2004, no. 38, repro.
2008
El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, 2008, no. 1, repro.
2008
Picasso et les Maîtres, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; National Gallery, London, 2008-2009, unnumbered catalogue, repro. (shown only in Paris).

Bibliography

1845
Amador de los Rios, José. Toledo pintoresco o descripción de sus más célebres monumentos. Madrid, 1845: 186.
1857
Parro, Sisto Ramón. Toledo en la mano o descripción histórico-artística de la magnífica catedral y de los demás célebres monumentos. 2 vols. Toledo, 1857: 2:320.
1890
Palazuelos, El Vizconde de. Toledo: guía artísticopráctica. Toledo, 1890: 958.
1906
Lafond, Paul. "La Chapelle San José de Tolède et ses peintrures du Greco." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 36 (1906): 388, repro. 387.
1907
Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker, eds. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907-1950: 33(1939):6.
1908
Cossío, Manuel B. El Greco. Madrid, 1908: 304-308, 340, 588, no. 242, pl. 46 (also 1972 rev. ed., ed. Natalia Cossío Jímenez. Barcelona, 1972: 174-175, 385-386, no. 282, fig. 53).
1909
Calvert, Albert F., and C. Gasquoine Hartley. El Greco. London, 1909: 122-123, pl. 94.
1911
Mayer, August L. El Greco. Munich, 1911: 40, 81.
1916
Berenson, Bernard, and William Roberts. Pictures in the Collection of P.A.B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early Italian and Spanish Schools. Philadelphia, 1916: unpaginated, repro.
1923
Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
1926
Mayer, August L. Dominico Theotocopuli, El Greco. Munich, 1926: 48, no. 297.
1930
Rutter, Frank. El Greco. New York, 1930: 51, 62, 97, no. 77.
1931
Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 30, repro.
1931
Mayer, August L. El Greco. Berlin, 99, 103-104.
1935
Tietze, Hans. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935: 6, repro. (English ed., Masterpieces of European Painting in America. New York, 1939: 6, repro.).
1937
Legendre, Maurice, and Alfred Hartmann. Domenikos Theotokopoulos Called El Greco. Paris, 1937: 459, repro.
1938
Goldscheider, Ludwig. El Greco. London, 1938: pl. 116.
1940
Widener, Peter A.B. Without Drums. New York, 1940: 59-60.
1941
Gudiol y Ricart, José. Spanish Painting. Exh. cat., Toledo [Ohio] Museum of Art. Toledo, 1941: 66, fig. 42.
1942
Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 5.
1945
Cook 1945, 66-70, fig. 2.
1948
Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 30, no. 621, repro.
1948
Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 30, repro.
1950
Camón Aznar, José. Dominico Greco. 2 vols. Madrid, 2:698-703, 1382, no. 522, figs. 533, 538 (also 1970 rev. ed., 2:708-720, 1367, no. 523, figs. 587-589).
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 78, color repro.
1956
Guinard, Paul. El Greco. Translated by James Emmons. Cleveland, 1956: 26.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 36, 138
1957
Soehner, Halldor. "Ein Hauptwerk Grecos: die Kapelle San José in Toledo." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 9 (1957): 212-215, figs. 19, 22-23.
1958
Gaya Nuño, Juan Anotonio. La pintura española fuera de España; historia y catàlogo. Madrid, 1958: 199, no. 1337, fig 108.
1958
Soehner, Halldor. "Greco in Spanien" Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst 8 (1957); 162-164, 167, fig. 39; Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst 9/10 (1958/1959): 190, under nos. 56-57.
1961
Soehner, Halldor. Una obra maestra de El Greco: la Capilla de San José de Toledo. Translated by M. a de los Angeles Vázquez de Parga. Madrid, 1961: 29-30, pl. 15-16.
1962
Wethey, Harold E. El Greco and His School. 2 vols. Princeton, 1962: 1:47, figs. 116-118; 2:13, no. 18 (also Spanish ed. Madrid, 1967: 1:63, pls. 100-102; 2:28, no. 18).
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 62
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:200, color repro.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 54, repro.
1969
Manzini, Gianna, and Tiziana Frati. L'opera completa del Greco. Milan, 1969: no. 105-C, color pl. 16.
1973
Gudiol y Ricart, José. Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco. Translated by Kenneth Lyons. New York, 1973: 176, 349, no. 135, color fig. 162 (also 1983 ed.: 176, 349, no. 135, color fig. 162).
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 162, repro.
1975
Lafuente Ferrari, Enrique, and José Manuel Pita Andrade. El Greco: The Expressionism of His Final Years. Translated by Robert E. Wolf. New York, 1975: 158, no. 58, fig. 75.
1976
Davies, David. El Greco. London, 1976: 14, no. 22, color pl. 22.
1978
King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 38, pl. 17.
1979
Watson, Ross. National Gallery of Art. London, 1979: 60, pl. 43, color repro.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 237, no. 301, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 187, repro.
1990
Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 47-51, repro. 49.
1990
El Greco of Crete: Exhibition on the Occasion of the 450th Anniversary of his Birth. Exh. cat. Iraklion, 1990: 238, fig. 1, 371.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 80, repro.
1993
Griswold, Susanna P. "Two Paintings by El Greco: Saint Martin and the Beggar." Studies in the History of Art 41 (1993): 133, 140-148, repro. no. 1.
1997
Tomlinson, Janis. From El Greco to Goya: Painting in Spain, 1561-1828, New York, 1997, no. 27, repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 113, no. 86, color repro.
2013
Harris, Neil. Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Chicago, 2013: 381.

Conservation Notes

In structure and condition the painting is almost identical to its companion piece, Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes (1942.9.26). The support is a single piece of linen with an unusual diamond-weave pattern. The tacking edges have been removed, but the original format was retained. The wooden strip attached to the bottom is a later addition. The gypsum ground and the two layers of reddish-brown imprimatura above it do not hide the weave texture. El Greco left the imprimatura exposed in several places: notably, to outline the head and shoulders of the beggar and the upraised leg of the horse.

Analysis of several cross sections by the NGA science and conservation departments reveals a complex layering of colors above the gesso and imprimatura. The artist utilized a variety of techniques, from wet-on-wet to scumbling. Impasto was used for Martin's collar and cuffs. X-radiographs reveal that the raised index finger of the saint's left hand originally was painted lower and that the neckstrap of the horse was placed higher. There are no major losses, except in the area of a one and one-half inch wide tear, located six inches from the bottom edge and twenty inches from the left edge. The painting was taken off a panel stretcher in 1942 and relined.[1]


[1] The technical notes are based on Susanna Pauli, "Two Paintings by El Greco: Saint Martin and the Beggar. Analysis and Comparison" (forthcoming publication, conservation department papers, National Gallery of Art). I am grateful to her for allowing me to discuss some of her findings here.

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