On 7 December, El Greco’s exceptional early 17th-century painting Saint Francis and Brother Leo in Meditation leads the Old Masters Evening Sale at Christie’s in London.
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, known as El Greco, was born in 1541 on the Greek island of Crete. In Toledo, Spain, he forged a career painting Catholic altar commissions, devotional aides and portraits of the aristocracy, and found a captive market for his portraits of Saint Francis, patron saint of the city that boasted no fewer than seven Franciscan convents and three Franciscan friaries.
Prior to El Greco, artists tended to depict Saint Francis at the moment of his stigmatisation. But El Greco took a different approach. In Saint Francis and Brother Leo in Meditation, the artist showed the saint deep in contemplation at the entrance to a cave on Mount Alverna.
‘All Old Master painters executed religious scenes of one sort or another,’ explains art historian Jacky Klein, but El Greco was ‘absolutely obsessed with spirituality.’ Saint Francis and Brother Leo in Meditation is ‘classic El Greco in every way,’ Klein says. ‘It has all the elements you would expect: the strange otherworldly light; wonderful quivering, vibrating brushwork; and a very strange, elongated form in Saint Francis.’
Ahead of the auction, Saint Francis and Brother Leo in Meditation will be on view at Christie’s in London from 4-7 December, alongside Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn’s Portrait of Petronella Buys (1635); Sailing vessels in a stormy sea near a rocky coast, by Jacob van Ruisdael; The Wedding Procession (1626) by Pieter Brueghel II, and many more.