Masterpiece of El Greco


The Prado in Madrid houses 47 El Grecos. But to see his finest work you have to go to Toledo…

The Imperial City on the hilltop, tightly embraced by the meandering Tagus, is only 70 kms. from Madrid and the road is good. The Alcazar dominates the skyline and old houses with red roofs slope down the hill and suddenly stop at the edge, peering at the surging waters of the river below. As we cross it, the Alcantara bridge is to the right. The car is left near the city wall and we take the series of escalators to a small square at the top of the hill with twisting narrow streets lined with ancient houses.  Suddenly we are in medieval Toledo.

DSC_0960El Greco’s local parish church, The Church of Santo Tomé, originally a 12th century mosque with a Mudejar tower, is on Plaza del Conde. The small chapel of the Virgin with its entrance on Paseo del Conde houses what is widely considered to be El Greco’s finest work – The Burial of Count Orgaz. It is a large, bright painting with a terrestrial and a celestial scene depicting the burial of Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, the Count of Orgaz who died in the city in 1312 and is buried in the chapel. He was a donor of considerable sums of money to the church

Santo Tomé

Santo Tomé

and after his death, Andrez Nunez, the Parish Priest of Santo Tomé, commissioned the painting and El Greco completed it between 1586 – 1588. It is said that Saints Estaban and Agustin in recognition of the counts pious nature, descended from heaven to assist the burial. The town dignitaries, including Andrez Nunez with the open book and El Greco himself, look on.

(The chapel is small and crowded. Photography is not permitted.)
One needs a full day to see the many fascinating things in Toledo – the Alcazar, the Gothic cathedral which is the Cathedral Primate of Spain with it’s magnificent museum housing works of Raphael, Rubens, Vélazques, Goya, Titian and many by El Greco including the magnificent Disrobing of Christ, the Synagogues with Mudejar ceilings and Moorish arches, El Greco’s house-museum and many interesting little shops.
Toledo is an ancient centre of steel making. Traditionally, matadors had their estoques – the fine flat and heavy swords with the curving tip used to kill the bull in the tercio de muerte of the bullfight, made in Toledo. There are may shops selling various types of swords but surprisingly, I could not find a single bullfighter’s sword!
Before driving back to Madrid, I had lunch in a restaurant near the little car park. It served stewed partridge and marzipan cake, two of the signature dishes of the city. They even had a decent Verdejo from Rueda.
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