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Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco (1541-1614)
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Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco (1541-1614)

The Flight into Egypt

Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco (Crete c.1541-1614 Toledo)
The Flight into Egypt
oil on panel
6¼ x 8½ in. (15.9 x 21.6 cm.)
branded on the reverse with the collector's monogram 'DGH' beneath a coronet and with the number in a bunch '933', for Don Gaspar Méndez de Haro y Guzmán
(Probably) Luiz Méndez de Haro y Guzmán, 6th Marqués del Carpio (1598-1661), possibly recorded in the 1648 inventory drawn up after the death of his wife.
His nephew, Don Gaspar Méndez de Haro y Guzmán, 7th Marqués del Carpio y Eliche (1629-1687) the reverse with his brand and number corresponding with the inventory of 1682/3, as Jacopo Bassano
and by descent through his daughter
Doña Catalina Méndez de Haro y Guzmán (d. 1673), whose husband was to become the 5th Duque de Alba Antonio Gorostiza, 1904-1926
Mrs. Marce Sterner, New York, 1926.
with Thos. Agnew & Sons, London (according to a label on reverse).
Baron Robert von Hirsch (1883-1977), Basle, his no. 300, acquired in 1929; Sotheby's, London, 20 June 1978, lot 115.
(Possibly) Inventory drawn up after the death of Doña Catalina Fernández de Córdoba y Aragón, Condesa-Duquesa de Olivares, Marquesa del Carpio, Madrid, 1648, f. 417v, no. 48, as Anonymous, 'Mas un Pais Pequeño de la Uyda de nuestra señora de Media bara en quadro con su marco negro tasada la echura en tresçentios y treinta Rs que balen onçe mill dosçientos y treinta Rs que balen onçe mill dosçientos venite mrs 11220'.
Inventory of the Palazzo della Vigna presso Porta San Pancrazio, 1682-3, f. 131, no. 933, located 'Nella Terza Stanza seguente à mano dritta di detto Palazzetto della vigna', as Bassano, 'Un quadretto che rappresenta La fuga in Egitto di mano del Bassano, di misura di palmi 1. in circa con sua cornicia di pero con intagli tutti indorati stimato in 80'.
Posthumous inventory of the collection in Madrid of Don Gaspar Méndez de Haro y Guzmán, 7th Marqués del Carpio y Eliche, Duque de Montoro, Conde-Duque de Olivares, 1689, f. 1017v, no. 163, as Bassano, 'otro quadro de la huida a exiptto Con sn Joseph Con Una acha enzendida en la mano origl del Vazan de Vara de Caida y Vara menos media quartta de Ancho Con marco en trecienttos Ducados 3300'.
M.O. Cassio, El Greco, Madrid, 1908, 1, p. 555.
A.L. Meyer, Domenico Theotocopoli el Greco, Munich, 1926, no. 24, pl. 1.
E.K. Waterhouse, 'El Greco's Italian Period', Art Studies, 1930, no. 10.
R. Pallucchini, Il polittico del Greco della R. Galleria Estense e la formazione dell' artista, 1937, p. 18.
J. Camón Aznar, Domenico Greco, Madrid, 1950, II, pp. 1359-60, no. 68; second edn., Madrid, 1970, I, pp. 75-6, fig. 42, II, p. 1340, no. 68.
M.S. Soria, 'Greco's Italian Period', Arte Veneta, VIII, 1954, p. 220.
H.E. Wethey, El Greco and his school, 1962, I, p. 21, II, pp. 56-57, no. 83.
R. Longhi, 'Un monografia su El Greco e due suoi inediti', Paragone, 159, 1963, p. 52.
T. Frati, L'Opera completa del Greco, Milan, 1969, p. 93, no. 12.
J. Guidol, El Greco 1541-1614, Madrid, 1971, English edn., London, 1973, pp. 28-30, no. 12, fig. 18.
Bordeaux, Le Greco de la Crète à Tolède par Venise.
Venice, Palazzo Ducale, Da Tiziano a El Greco, Per la storia del Manierismo a Venezia, 1540-1590, September-December 1981, no. 105 (entry by R. Pallucchini), illustrated on the cover of the catalogue.
Special notice

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

Doménikos Theotokópoulos was born at Candia, on the island of Crete in 1541. His brother, Manusso, was in the service of Venice, which still held the island. As early as 1563, Theotokópoulos was recognised as one of the most notable painters at Candia, where he is last documented on 5 November 1566. He is first securely documented in Venice on 18 August 1568. It is likely that he was the 'molto valente giovane mio discepolo' referred to in a letter of the previous December from Titian to King Philip II of Spain. In Venice, the painter familiarised himself not only with the work of Titian, but also with that of his major contemporaries, Tintoretto, Veronese and Bassano, among others, and engraved sources (for the latter, see G. Dillon, 'El Greco e l'incisione veneta', in El Greco in Crete, 1990, pp. 229-49). In November 1570 'un giovane Candiotto discepolo di Titiano' is recorded as a recent arrival in Rome, and two years later he was registered at the Accademia di San Luca. Waterhouse was the first to recognise that after this formative sojourn in Rome, the painter must have returned to Venice: by June 1576 he was established at Toledo, the adopted city he was in posterity's eye to make so much of his own, and where he would die in 1614.

This exceptional panel was first linked, albeit cautiously, with El Greco by Cossio in 1908, when the artist had not yet been the subject of serious scrutiny. Subsequent critics have been unanimous in accepting the attribution to the Cretan. Mayer (1926) proposed a dating of 1572-3. Waterhouse (1930) suggested circa 1570, while Soria (1954) believed the picture to be marginally later, of circa 1572-6, and Guidol advanced an earlier dating ante 1570. Aznar's suggestion that the picture was painted in Crete can be discounted, and Wethey's dating, circa 1565-70, is also evidently too early. Pallucchini, in the 1981 exhibition catalogue, remarks that Mayer's chronology remains 'la più accettabile', regarding the picture as of the period of El Greco's return from Rome to Venice before his final departure for Spain in 1576, and agreed with Soria's suggestion that it was the first work of the painter's second Venetian sojourn.

Wethey described this as a 'small masterpiece', commenting on the individuality of the composition and on the distinction of its colours which 'combine to produce a jewel-like work of great sensitivity' (op. cit, I, p. 21), and implies that in this, as in the Zuloaga Stigmatisation of Saint Francis and the background of the Naples Giulio Clovio, El Greco's 'enthusiasm for landscape manifested itself early'. He observed (ibid., II, p. 57) that Tintoretto's is the predominant influence in the poetic mood of the landscape, in the palm and the figural types; and senses in the 'bulkiness of the animal' a 'slightly humorous touch'. Pallucchini (1981) wrote 'la tavoletta si charatterizza per una sua vibrante espressività pittorica, sia per l'apertura paesistica...' and comments that 'le figure sembrano liberate da ogni senso di gravità'.

The iconography of the picture is, indeed, strikingly original. Saint Joseph pauses on a footbridge, straining at the leading rein to encourage the recalcitrant donkey bearing the Madonna and Child to turn across the bridge. The subject was one that had exercised Bassano - to whom the panel was wrongly attributed when in the Carpio collection - and other artists: there is indeed an instructive contrast with the background of Bordon's Rest on the Flight, lot 83 of this sale, in which Saint Joseph seems to cajole his donkey to ford the stream. But El Greco's interpretation is wholly personal. Not the least extraordinary aspect of the picture is the way that the composition defies its small dimensions: the eye runs from the footbridge to the bare landscape, punctuated by the trees that frame the Virgin and the donkey on the right, and by the two saplings that flank the setting sun. The diagonals of the bridge and of the donkey's reign with the vertical of Saint Joseph's staff are the only straight lines in what is an extraordinarily fluid design, which nonetheless is given some architectonic stability by the way the cloud above seems to echo the form of Saint Joseph.

The 7th Marqués del Carpio, who was Viceroy of Naples in 1682-7, owned an exceptional collection of pictures and other works of art. Much of this was inherited from his father, the 6th Marqués del Carpio, nephew of the Conde-Duque de Olivares, who acquired works by Correggio, the great Venetians and other celebrated artists: but the 7th Marqués acquired such masterpieces as Velasquez' Rokeby Venus (London, National Gallery). The 1687 inventory includes other outstanding works, many of which, including the Raphael tondo now at Washington, were like this panel to pass to the Alba family.

Aznar published (1970, I, p. 76, fig. 43) a reversed replica on canvas in a Madrid private collection which he considered to be autograph, but which has not been accepted by subsequent scholars.


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