El Greco, View Of Toledo,

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City



 El Greco's (1541-1614) "View of Toledo," (c. 1600) is resonant, pregnant with meaning and poetic force like a landscape and sky darkened at the advent of storm.  Related to Van Gogh's "Starry Night" in its transcendence, it is unlike it in that the essential dynamic fulfillment of Van Gogh's painting is here superseded by threat and mystery.  Both, however, can be termed Romantic, Expressionist paintings with charged emotional atmospheres and sinuous compositions.


 Lines of river, city walls and rooftops in El Greco, twist and loop back upon themselves like the advances and reverses of life itself, working from the bottom center of the picture two-thirds of the way to the top, where a spire and bluntly rectangular building (spiritual versus earthly power?) vie for connection with the sky (it seems a city of bones, silver, faintly luminescent, more like tombs and headstones in a distant cemetery than a place where humans dwell; perhaps it is an artist's comment on the center of the Inquisition in Spain).  


 This sky, nearly as famous as Van Gogh's, is dark with the ominousness of God, electric, shot with light emerging from the darkness, whereas the Dutchman's is more positive, a whirling, yin-yang abstraction of the majesty and power of God.  Irregular clouds angularly spark the sky, two major shapes left and right flanking central darkness, vying like the two buildings for dominance of the storm, the night.


 El Greco's painting in its entirety seems a statement of the poetry, divinity – and travail – of life, a metaphor of the spirituality and mystery of life on earth, the immense earth.  The tiny human beings that inhabit it are like the nearly invisible human specks in the Spanish painter's river, dwarfed by the fathomless immensity of the universe itself, partaking of the waters of life, the essential mystery, caught in its flow, caught in time, moving swiftly and inevitably toward an unknown destiny.


 "View of Toledo" may be seen by clicking on the thumbnail picture at the following web address:



Copyright by Don Gray


Don Gray Art  •  Art Essays & Art Criticisms