Studio of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco (Crete 1541-1614 Toledo)
Studio of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco (Crete 1541-1614 Toledo)

The Agony in the Garden

Studio of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco (Crete 1541-1614 Toledo)
The Agony in the Garden
with signature 'doménikos theotokópoli' (lower right)
oil on canvas
29½ x 17¾ in. (75 x 45.1 cm.)
Dr. Gómez, Madrid.
with Knoedler, New York, 1915.
with Kunsthandels, Lucerne.
Contini Bonacossi, Florence.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 26 January 2005, lot 311, as 'Studio of El Greco' ($262,400).
A.L. Mayer, Dominico Theotocopuli El Greco, Munich, 1926, p. 11, no. 58, fig. 58, as 'El Greco'.
A.L. Mayer, 'Unbekannte Werke des Greco', Pantheon, April 1930, p. 184, as 'El Greco'.
M. Legendre and A. Hartmann, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco, Paris, 1937, no. 173, as 'El Greco'.
J. Camón Aznar, Domenico Greco, Madrid, 1950, pp. 810, 1362, fig. 625, as 'El Greco'.
H.E. Wethey, El Greco and his School, Princeton, 1962, II, pp. 168-169, no. x-15, as 'School of El Greco'.
G. Manzini, L'opera completa del Greco, Milan, 1969, p. 120, no. 153e, as 'accepted by El Greco by the majority of scholars but by Wethey as a poor workshop copy'.
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Gli antichi pittori spagnoli della collezione Contini-Bonacossi, May-July 1930, no. 38, as 'El Greco'.
Paris, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Domenico Theotocopuli, El Greco, 1937, no. 47, as 'El Greco'.

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Lot Essay

The present work is a superb workshop copy made in El Greco's studio, based on a prime autograph prototype of the composition in the Church of Santa Maria in Andújar, Jaén (oil on canvas, 69½ x 44 1/8 in.). (There are three other autograph versions in Cuenca, Budapest and Buenos Aires.) El Greco was extremely productive in Toledo where he had an active workshop. Toledo was at that time the ecclesiastical capital of Spain and the see of the primate of Spain, and it exemplified the spirit of theological renewal and reform that characterized the Counter-Reformation; accordingly, El Greco received many local commissions for altarpieces and religious paintings.

The Agony in the Garden depicts the episode after the Last Supper and immediately before his arrest when Christ retired to the Mount of Olives to pray. 'Agony' (from the Greek agon, a contest) here signifies the spiritual struggle between the two sides of Christ's nature, the human side that feared imminent suffering and would have avoided it, and the divinity which imbued him with the strength he needed to endure his ordeal. El Greco deftly conveys this concept by using a fence of recently cut wood to separate the fallibly human, sleeping Apostles - and by extension the human viewer - from the holy person of Jesus. It was this gap between the human and the divine that the Counter-Reformation Church sought to bridge.

In Christ's vision, an angel appears on a cloud and brings the chalice and wafer. Shrouded in supernatural light, a kneeling Jesus watches the arrival of the angel in awe. Below him are three disciples: Peter, grey-haired with a curly beard; James who has dark hair and a beard and John, the youngest, with long hair. The elongated forms of their bodies is characteristic of the artist's elegantly exaggerated mannerism which, nevertheless, exhibits a powerful understanding of human anatomy - note how James's wrist supports the weight of his head, and John's yellow mantle emphasizes the solidity of his legs. In the distance, illuminated by the moon, are the city of Jerusalem and a group of approaching soldiers led by Judas Iscariot.

Huxley wrote about how El Greco used natural objects as the raw material out of which, by a process of calculated distortion, he might create his own world of pictorial forms, and how within this private universe the artist situated his religious subject matter using it as a vehicle for expressing what he wanted to say about life. Few of El Greco's compositions better exemplify this artistic and spiritual vision.

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