Overview

Ildefonso, whose name is more familiar in its Castilian form, Alfonso, was appointed archbishop of Toledo in 657 and later became that city's patron saint. He was especially famed for his book defending the purity of the Virgin, which he was said to have written at her dictation.

El Greco represented the saint in a richly decorated room, seated at a writing table furnished with costly silver desk ornaments consistent with the style of the artist's own time. The contemporary setting notwithstanding, an otherworldly aura pervades the room as the saint pauses in his writing and, as though awaiting the next word, gazes attentively at the source of his inspiration, a statuette of the Madonna. The combination of strangely compacted space, the chalky highlights that play over the saint's sleeves and the velvet tablecover, and, not least, Ildefonso's fervent expression, remove the scene to a spiritual realm.

El Greco's image of the Virgin resembles an actual wooden figure that Ildefonso is said to have kept in his oratory until it was given by him to the church of the Hospital of Charity in the small Spanish town of Illescas, near Toledo. The statuette is preserved there today together with El Greco's larger version of Saint Ildefonso.

Inscription

lower left: (traces of a signature in cursive Greek)

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

In the artist's possession at his death in 1614;[1] his son, Jorge Manuel Theotocópuli, Toledo, by 1621.[2] Presented 1698 to Carlos II [1661-1700] by Don Juan Varela Colima, the King's secretary and tax collector for the city and province of Toledo.[3] Condesa de Quinto, Paris; (sale, Paris, 1862, no. 64, as "Un saint Évêque écrivant, les regards tournés vers l'image de la Sainte Vierge");[4] Alphonse Oudry; (his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 16-17 April 1869, no. 139, as "Prélat écrivant l'histoire de la Vierge", for 500 francs);[5] Jean-François Millet [1814-1875], Paris; his widow, Catherine Lemaîre Millet; (her estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 24-25 April 1894, no. 261, as "L'Évêque", for 2000 francs);[6] Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas [1834-1917], Paris; (his atelier sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 26-28 March 1918, no. 3, as "Saint-Dominique"); (M. Knoedler & Co., London and New York);[7] sold 7 February 1922 to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.;[8] deeded December 1934 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1925
Paintings by Old Masters from Pittsburgh Collections, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, 1925, no. 21.
1928
Spanish Paintings from El Greco to Goya, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1928, no. 31.
1933
A Century of Progress Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1933, no. 175.
1937
Paintings and Sculpture Owned in Washington, Phillips Gallery, Washington, 1937, no. 13.
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, no. 43, pl. 56.
1997
The Private Collection of Edgar Degas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1997-1998, no. 599, repro.

Bibliography

1875
Tillot, Charles S. Catalogue de la vente qui aura lieu par suite de décès de Jean-François Millet, peintre. Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 10-11 May, 1875: ix.
1906
Lafond, Paul. "Domenikos Theotokopuli dit Le Greco." Les arts 58 (1906): 25-26.
1908
Cossío, Manuel B. El Greco. Madrid, 1908: 334, 598-599, no. 299 (also rev. ed., ed. Natalia Cossío Jímenez. Barcelona, 1972: 194, 383, no. 255).
1911
Mayer, August L. El Greco. Munich, 1911: 83.
1918
Frappart, A. "Chronique des ventes." Les arts 168 (1918): 26.
1920
Field, Hamilton Easter. Editorial. The Arts 1 (1920): 6, repro. 7.
1926
Mayer, August L. Domenico Theotocopuli, El Greco. Munich, 1926: 46, no. 287, pl. 63.
1928
Burroughs, Bryson. "Spanish Paintings from El Greco to Goya." Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art 23 (1928): 39, repro. 40.
1930
Rutter, Frank. El Greco. New York, 1930: 96, no. 67.
1936
Holmes, Sir Charles J. Self & Partners (Mostly Self). London, 1936: 340.
1937
Cortissoz, Royal. An Introduction to the Mellon Collection. Boston, 1937: 42-43.
1937
Legendre, Maurice and Alfred Hartmann. Domenikos Theotokopoulos Called El Greco. Paris, 1937: 433, repro.
1938
Goldscheider, Ludwig. El Greco. London, 1938: pl. 181 (also 1954 rev. ed.: pl. 187).
1941
Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 92, no. 83.
1942
Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 240, repro. 215.
1945
Cook 1945, 73-74, fig. 5.
1949
Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): xii, repro.
1958
Gaya Nuño, Juan Anotonio. La pintura española fuera de España; historia y catàlogo. Madrid, 1958: 206, no. 1397.
1960
Evans, Grose. Spanish Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Ten in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 18, color repro.
1960
The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 20.
1962
Wethey, Harold E. El Greco and His School. 2 vols. Princeton, 1962: 1:fig. 113; 2:19 (under no. 23), 239, no. X-361. (also Spanish ed. 2 vols., Madrid, 1967: 1:pl. 117; 2:34 [under no. 23], 254-255, no. X-361).
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 309, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 62
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. 125e.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 162, repro.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 237, no 302, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 186, 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: 43-47, color repro. 45.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 67, color repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 81, repro.
1993
Griswold, Susanna P. "Two Paintings by El Greco: Saint Martin and the Beggar." Studies in the History of Art 41 (1993): 133, 142, 148, repro. no. 3.

Conservation Notes

The original support is a coarse, plain-weave fabric. Before 1937 the tacking edges were flattened, and the picture was lined to a larger, medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. The white ground layer and the dark red imprimatura do not conceal the weave texture. X-radiographs reveal that the ground layer is applied roughly; striations indicate that the artist may have used a palette knife or small trowel. The imprimatura was left exposed in several places, notably along the edges of the saint's left arm and hands. The paint was applied in a moderately thick, textured paste with translucent layers in the table covering and the Madonna's robe.[1] The original right and left tacking margins are covered by daubs of paint; those on the right were left exposed after the recent treatment. Small areas of loss are scattered throughout, but significant losses of paint are confined to the edges of the original picture surface. The painting was cleaned and treated in 1988.


\r[1] Pigment analysis in September 1987 detected lead white, iron oxide, and possibly red lead in the red table covering. X-ray fluorescence cannot detect the crimson lake dyes assumed to have been used in the glaze. Red lake pigment, which gives a purplish hue, was mixed with lead white and azurite in the blue robe of the saint, which may also contain blue verditer and ultramarine. The yellow highlights of the hem of the Madonna's robe are probably lead-tin yellow, mixed with yellow ochre and possibly massicot. On El Greco's blue pigments, see Susanna Pauli, "Two Paintings by El Greco: Saint Martin and the Beggar. Analysis and Comparison" (forthcoming publication, conservation department papers, National Gallery of Art).

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