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El Greco, The Entombment of Christ

Key facts
Full title The Entombment of Christ
Artist El Greco
Artist dates 1541 - 1614
Date made early 1570s
Medium and support Oil on panel
Dimensions 28 × 19.4 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit On loan from a private collection
Inventory number L1335
Location Room 10
Image copyright On loan from a private collection, © Private collection
Collection Main Collection
The Entombment of Christ
El Greco

The dead Christ, draped in white linen, is lowered into his tomb as mourners look on. Mary Magdalene and the Virgin, distraught, cradle his right arm and legs. The sculptural quality of Christ’s elongated, suspended body, based on Michelangelo’s Bandini Pietà (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence), and the brilliant jewel-like colours, which were uncovered by a conservation treatment in 2017, make this small panel one of El Greco’s most ambitious early works. Painted during the years he spent in Rome between 1570 and 1576, the painting attests El Greco’s rapid assimilation of the varied artistic inspiration he encountered in the Holy City. The pose of the man supporting Christ’s thighs may refer to a figure from the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, a tapestry designed by Raphael for the Sistine Chapel, and the bearded figure wearing a cap in the far background, silhouetted against the hill of Golgotha, is the painter Titian, with whom El Greco was said to have studied in Venice.

The reverse of this devotional painting seems to have been painted to imitate veined ebony or another rare and precious wood. Several other panels that El Greco made during the 1570s, including The Adoration of the Name of Jesus (National Gallery, London), were finished in a similar way, suggesting that they were portable aids to private prayer – exquisite objects intended to be handled and transported by their owners – rather than works that were framed and hung on a wall. Technical imaging has revealed that El Greco, before beginning to paint, laid out his composition with a brush drawing and then used washes of the same liquid medium to indicate volumes and light effects.

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