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Property of a Lady

The Ascension

The Ascension
oil on panel
12 x 9 1⁄2 in. (30.5 x 24.2 cm.)
Private collection, Switzerland, by 1964.
Private collection, France, until 1990.
A. Morassi, 'Due primizie del Greco', Emporium, CV, no. 625, January 1947, pp. 11-17, as 'El Greco'.
R. Pallucchini, 'La vicenda italiana del Greco', Paragone, no. 45, September 1953, p. 31.
E. Arslan, 'Cronistoria del Greco "madonnaro"', Commentari, XV, July-December 1964, III-IV, pp. 393-4, fig. 5.
T. Pignatti in El Greco in Italy and Italian Art, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Greece, Athens, pp. 388-9 and 547, fig. 389, as 'El Greco'.
New York, Piero Corsini Gallery, Venetian Paintings. From Titian to El Greco, 10 October-8 November 1991, no. 22, as 'El Greco'.

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Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Senior Director, Head of Department

Lot Essay

Mikhail Damaskinos was unquestionably one of the most important painters of Cretan icons during the sixteenth century. Like most of his contemporaries, he mainly lived and worked on Crete, and although his date of birth is not known, he was established as an artist by 1574. He is known to have travelled widely in Italy, notably in Sicily and Venice, where he recorded as a member of the Scuola dei Greci from 1577 until 1582. Whilst in the city he undertook a significant part of the decoration of the church of San Giorgio dei Greci, but by 1584 had returned to Crete, to Candia (present day Heraklion) and it is probable that he died in the plague that devastated the city in 1592.
The chronology of his oeuvre is hard to establish with certainty given that only two known dated works exist: the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist in Corfu (1590) and the First Ecumenical Council (1591) in Heraklion. However, pictures such as the present panel must post-date his Italian trip, where he was influenced by contemporary Venetian artists such as Tintoretto and Veronese. He demonstrated that he was equally at ease painting icons as he was in absorbing these new influences and he succeeded in modernising the Byzantine style by incorporating a mannerist sensibility in the poses of figures and in the description of certain details, such as drapery, traits that are perfectly illustrated in this Ascension. In this regard, his career mirrored the path of his renowned compatriot El Greco, to whom this panel has in the past been attributed, who had likewise spent a formative period in Italy in the late 1560s and ‘70s. The quality and creativity of Damaskinos’s work, long recognised as exceptional in its execution, would influence successive generations of artists; certain new iconographic types that he introduced became extremely popular and would continue to be copied well into the eighteenth century.

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