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The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek, Iráklion (Candia) 1540/41–1614 Toledo)

Date:
ca. 1570
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
47 x 57 1/2 in. (119.4 x 146.1 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1978
Accession Number:
1978.416
  • Gallery Label

    El Greco painted this masterpiece of dramatic storytelling either in Venice or in Rome, where he worked after leaving Crete in 1567 and before moving to Spain in 1576. It illustrates the Gospel account of Christ healing a blind man by anointing his eyes. The two figures in the foreground may be the blind man’s parents. The upper left portion of the composition is unfinished. El Greco painted two other versions of the subject, and seems to have taken this one with him to Spain.

  • Catalogue Entry

    First recorded in 1888 as the work of Tintoretto and later ascribed to Veronese, this painting was only recognized as the work of El Greco in 1958: of his three versions of this subject—the others are in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden and the Galleria Nazionale, Parma—it is the only one not signed. It is the largest of the three, being more than twice the size of the painting in Parma and about the same size as his composition of The Purification of the Temple in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, with which it must be more or less contemporary. It is also the most sketchy in execution and is, indeed, unfinished, in particular the circular temple and the back row of heads at the left, two of which are no more than blocked in. The two seated figures in the middle ground are so thinly painted that the pavement is visible through them. (While El Greco painted the pavement around the two principal figure groups, the secondary figures, including the two bust-length figures in the foreground, as well as parts of the architecture were painted over it.)

    El Greco's interpretation of the miracle represents a synthesis of the three Gospel accounts in which Christ heals two blind men: Matthew 9:27–31 and 20:29–34; John 9:1–14. In setting the scene outside the Temple it is closest to John's account. As Christ leaves the circular Temple, he encounters two blind men and restores their sight by touching their eyes. One is shown from the back, gesturing upwards in excitement, while the other kneels before Christ, who anoints his eye. To the right are the neighbors and Pharisees who, according to John, objected to Christ healing "a man blind from his birth" on the Sabbath; the two bust-length figures in the foreground may be the parents of the blind man, summoned to confirm that their son had, indeed, been born blind. In effect, the picture transforms the biblical narrative into an exegesis of Christ's divine powers. As early as the sixth century Isidore of Seville had interpreted the miracle as signifying that "We are called from darkness into light" (see Christiansen 2003, p. 80), and Casper (2014) has related El Greco’s treatment to Angelico Buonriccio’s "Le pie, et christiane parafrasi sopra l’Evangelio di San Matteo, et di San Giovanni," published in Venice in 1568 and 1569. In Buonriccio’s paraphrasing of the gospel story the miracle is, significantly, interpreted as an emblem of spiritual illumination, and this places El Greco’s treatment squarely in the context of Counter Reformation ideas articulated in the last session of the Council of Trent in 1563. In that session the function of art to instruct the faithful was emphasized:

    "And the bishops shall carefully teach this, that, by means of the histories of the mysteries of our Redemption, portrayed by paintings or other representations, the people is instructed, and confirmed in remembering, and continually revolving in mind the articles of faith; as also that great profit is derived from all sacred images, not only because the people are thereby admonished of the benefits and gifts bestowed upon them by Christ, but also because the miracles which God has performed by means of the saints, and their salutary examples, are set before the eyes of the faithful; that so they may give God thanks for those things; may order their own lives and manners in imitation of the saints; and may be excited to adore and love God, and to cultivate piety."

    As already noted, contemporaneously El Greco treated the subject of Christ cleansing the Temple of moneychangers (The Purification of the Temple)—the theme of purification being complementary to that revelation or illumination. Indeed, Joannides (1995) considered the Minneapolis painting of The Purification, which is close in size (116.8 x 149.9 cm.), to be the pendant to the MMA picture. It is worth noting that whereas the canvases treating the Purification are staged in an interior setting, those depicting Christ healing the Blind are shown in a vast urban square with a deep perspective. In both cases, El Greco was following the example of other Venetian painters, most obviously Tintoretto. In constructing the setting of his canvas of Christ Washing the Apostles’ Feet (Museo del Prado, Madrid), Tintoretto adapted Sebastiano Serlio’s design for a tragic theatre set, and this same source was also known to El Greco, who had a copy of the 1545 treatise (Secondo libro di perspecttiva) in his library in Toledo.

    By comparison to El Greco's treatment of the subject in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, the groups of figures in the MMA canvas are better articulated and the diminution of the figures in space more gradated. The figure of the back-viewed gesturing blind man has been added, his pose evidently taken from an engraving by Giulio Bonasone after a design by Perino del Vaga for Saints John and Peter Healing at the Golden Gate. A circular temple has also been introduced: it may derive from Taddeo Zuccaro's fresco of Saint Paul Healing the Cripple in San Marcello al Corso, Rome,or perhaps from Paolo Veronese’s depiction of a miracle of Saint Barnabas painted for the church of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona, during the time El Greco was in Venice. The two bust-length figures in the foreground, who occupy a lower space, have been thought to reflect Francesco Salviati's fresco of 1538 in the Oratory of San Giovanni Decollato in Venice, though analogies for their poses have also been found in an engraving of The Birth of the Virgin from the school of Marcantonio Raimondi and in a print of The Nativity by Parmigianino, all of which underscores the difficulty of dating El Greco's picture with any certainty.

    Until recently there was a consensus of opinion that the MMA canvas was the latest of the three treatments of the subject and possibly dated from El Greco's first years in Spain. The picture was certainly known there, as two Spanish copies of it exist. Moreover, the brilliant palette recalls that of The Assumption of the Virgin (Art Institute of Chicago), commissioned in 1577 for the high altar of Santo Domingo in Toledo. However, in 1991 Vechnyak made a compelling case for dating the MMA canvas between the Dresden and Parma pictures, and her arguments have been taken up by a number of scholars, notably Held and Schütz. Certainly, the Parma picture, which contains many more references to Roman pictorial and architectural traditions and also adopts a more subdued palette, must be later. The technique of the MMA canvas is looser and more painterly than the other versions, where the modeling is more gradated, in keeping with Roman taste. The MMA canvas may represent El Greco's initial response to Rome—a response that was then superseded by a more intimate knowledge of Roman practice. This might explain why the picture was never brought to conclusion, the unfinished canvas having been kept by the artist and taken to Spain, where the two surviving copies were surely made. But another possibility, championed by Ruppi, is that the absence in the MMA painting of some of the most Roman features found in the Parma version denote a reaffirmation by El Greco of his sympathies for Venetian art and may reflect a return trip to Venice following an unsuccessful bid for patronage in Rome. Such a second Venetian trip, first proposed by Zottmann in 1906–7, has been repeatedly argued by Puppi. However, the contacts for his first major commissions in Toledo seem to have originated in the circle of Fulvio Orsini in Rome—not in Venice—and suggest El Greco's continued presence in the papal city. The MMA painting and those works related to it are of crucial importance in charting El Greco's mastery of the norms attached to history painting in Venice and Rome—norms he completely transformed once he moved to Spain.

    [2014]

  • Provenance

    [Martin Colnaghi (Guardi Gallery), London, from 1876]; William Rennie, London (by 1877–88; his estate sale, Christie's, London, April 23, 1888, no. 88, as by Tintoretto, for 17 gns. to "Eyles"); Horace James Smith-Bosanquet (in or shortly after 1888–d. 1907); his son, George Richard Smith-Bosanquet (1907–d. 1939); his son, George Andrew James Smith-Bosanquet, Hengrave, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk (1939–58; sale, Christie's, London, May 9, 1958, no. 14, as by Veronese, for £37,800 to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1958–60; sold to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1960–78)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 6–September 4, 1960, not in catalogue.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Paintings from Private Collections: Summer Loan Exhibition," July 1–August 20, 1961 (not included in the exhibtion catalogue).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Summer Loan Exhibition: Paintings from Private Collections," Summer 1967 (not included in exhibition catalogue).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "El Greco," October 7, 2003–January 11, 2004, no. 4.

  • References

    A.G. Xydis. "Letter to the editor." Times (May 17, 1958), p. 7, col. 5, discusses this painting and El Greco's other versions of the subject in the Parma Pinacoteca and Dresden Gemäldegalerie, calling the Dresden work his earliest known version, dating from his Venetian period (about 1569–70), and placing the Wrightsman picture in his earliest Spanish years (about 1576–77).

    Alfred Frankfurter. "El Greco: An Autobiography in Paint." Art News 59 (Summer 1960), pp. 36–37, 73–74, ill. (color, overall and detail), calls it "Christ Healing the Blind Man" and comments on the "singularly moving" ex-voto quality of this painting, with the half-length "blind man at bottom center being interceded for, in a form of 'aside' to the sacred figures above, by the guardian figure to the right"; notes that neither of these figures appears in the Dresden or Parma versions, and suggests that this blind figure represents the commissioner and that the picture was "intended either to commemorate a miraculous cure or here to implore one" from Christ and the other scriptural blind men kneeling before him; observes, on the basis of pentimenti around the man's head and reworkings of this area revealed by x-ray, that "it is self-evident that El Greco began this painting in Venice and then worked on it again after an interval of at least ten years".

    Fritz Neugass. "Sommerlicher Ausklang in New York." Weltkunst 30 (August 15, 1960), p. 6, ill., as the latest of the three versions; finds the head of the man in the middle foreground portrait-like and suggests [following Ref. Frankfurter 1960] that he may represent someone who had been blind once himself and commissioned the painting to commemorate his regained sight.

    Stuart Preston. "Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: New York." Burlington Magazine 102 (July 1960), pp. 334–35, ill., suggests that El Greco brought the picture from Italy and worked on it intermittently in Spain; mentions a fourth version of the subject [a copy] in a Spanish private collection.

    "Aportaciones recientes a la historia del arte español." Archivo español de arte 34 (April–June 1961), p. 187, publish an abstract of Neugass's 1960 article.

    Pál Kelemen. El Greco Revisited: Candia, Venice, Toledo. New York, 1961, pp. 125–26, calls it "The Healing of the Blind Man"; based on their similar compositions, suggests that the three versions of this subject "do not fall far from one another in time"; describes the figure of Christ as a "stock figure" in the Byzantine tradition and mentions related prototypes
    .

    Harold E. Wethey. El Greco and His School. Princeton, 1962, vol. 1, p. 38, fig. 12; vol. 2, pp. 42–44, no. 63, 175, dates this picture 1577–78 (the artist's first years at Toledo), calling it obviously unfinished and observing that two copies of it still exist in Spain (collections José Eduardo Valle, Madrid, and Estanislao Herrán Rucabado, Madrid); believes the subject is taken from Matthew 9:27–34, in which Christ heals two blind men and a deaf mute; identifies the man in the immediate foreground as the deaf mute, refuting Frankfurter's theory [Ref. 1960] that this man and the female figure beside him were an afterthought; suggests that these two half-length figures could have been inspired by Francesco Salviati's Visitation (San Giovanni Decollato, Rome) which El Greco "undoubtedly knew"; observes that during the Counter-Reformation the subject of Christ Healing the Blind was "symbolic of the Church as revealer of the true faith".

    Roberto Longhi. "Una monografia su El Greco e due suoi inediti." Paragone 14 (March 1963), p. 53, as painted after El Greco's arrival in Rome in 1570.

    Earl Rosenthal. "Harold Wethey, 'El Greco and His School,' 1962." Art Bulletin 45 (December 1963), pp. 385–87, cites this picture, especially the two half-length figures in the middle foreground, as an example of El Greco having repainted or finished a "pre-Titian" scene in a "post-Titian" manner; comments that Wethey does not mention Frankfurter's dependence on x-rays for his conclusions about the later addition of these figures; notes that the empirical perspective used in all three versions of Christ Healing the Blind is "comparable to that used by mid-century Cassoni painters like the youthful Tintoretto".

    A. Xydis. "New Light on the Sources and Compositional Methods of El Greco." Kretika Chronika 17 (1963), pp. 27–36, pl. 1, dates this painting close to the end of 1576, during the artist's early years in Spain, and associates it with the "Ascension of the Virgin" (Art Institute of Chicago); believes that several miracles are depicted: the healing of two blind men (on left), the raising of Jairus's daughter from the dead (far right), and suggests that the standing figure in pure profile at left is the deaf man cured by Christ (Matthew 9:32–33); on the basis of the copy now in the Herrán Rucabado collection, Madrid, states that our painting was cut on all sides; sugggests that the two half-length figures in the foreground are donors since "their faces show individual features and do not appear again in any other painting by Theotocopoulos"; asserts that the various pentimenti "betray a certain hastiness in the completion of this work, rather than a study and reworking [over] several years".

    A. G. Xydis. "El Greco's 'Healing of the Blind,' Sources and Stylistic Connections." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 64 (November 1964), pp. 301, 303, 305 n. 2, ill., suggests that certain figures in El Greco's paintings of Christ Healing the Blind were inspired by Titian's "Gloria" ([or "Trinity"], Prado, Madrid) which he may have known in Italy through a drawing of it in Titian's studio, or Cornelis Cort's 1565 etching after it.

    Geoffrey Agnew. Agnew's, 1817–1967. London, 1967, p. 60, ill.

    Philip Troutman. El Greco. rev. ed. London, 1967, pp. 25–26, considers it the latest version of this subject by El Greco and places it in his Roman period, after 1570; incorrectly suggests that this painting might be the copy in the del Valle collection, Madrid.

    Tiziana Frati. L'opera completa del Greco. Milan, 1969, p. 94, no. 21a, ill., dates it 1577–78, in Spain, noting that there are two copies in Spanish collections and none has appeared in Italy; dates the Herrán Rucabado copy to the middle of the 17th century and attributes the copy formerly in the del Valle collection to a follower.

    Enrique Lafuente Ferrari. El Greco: The Expressionism of His Final Years. New York, 1969, p. 93.

    Denys Sutton. "Pleasure for the Aesthete." Apollo 90 (September 1969), pp. 230–31, colorpl. 20, notes that most authors place it in the mid-1570s, while El Greco was still in Italy, but "the presence in Spain of copies of the picture might indicate that it was done there immediately after El Greco settled in Toledo around 1577".

    Manuel B. Cossío. El Greco. definitive ed. Barcelona, 1972, p. 359, no. 43.

    Everett Fahy in "Paintings, Drawings." The Wrightsman Collection. 5, [New York], 1973, pp. 94–104, no. 11, ill. p. 95 (color), figs. 1–2, 6–7 (details), catalogues this picture in depth; considers it probable that El Greco's source was Matthew (9:27–31), where Christ heals two blind men, so that we see "one who is being anointed by Christ, and one who has already been cured and exclaims to the crowd behind him"; observes that there is no convincing internal evidence for identifying any of the figures except Christ and the blind men; claims that the del Valle painting was a copy from after the 17th century and that the Rucabado picture was "copied from the Wrightsman painting, probably during the eighteenth or even early nineteenth century".

    José Gudiol. El Greco, 1541–1614. New York, 1973, pp. 33–34, 340, no. 17, fig. 23, dates it 1570–75 and notes that the artist must have brought this picture or a copy of it with him to Toledo as two copies of the composition survive in Spanish collections.

    Colin Eisler. "European Schools Excluding Italian." Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. 4, London, 1977, p. 193, believes that the Dresden version was probably executed first.

    Terisio Pignatti in collaboration with Kenneth Donahue in The Golden Century of Venetian Painting. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 1979, pp. 150, 152, refers to it as one of El Greco's Italian works, painted either in Rome or Venice, but observes that Wethey (1962) believes it was painted in Spain.

    Mary Sprinson in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1975–1979. New York, 1979, p. 49, ill. (color).

    Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 284–85, fig. 514 (color).

    Katharine Baetjer. "El Greco." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 39 (Summer 1981), pp. 12–23, 28–29, 48, inside front cover, front and back covers, ill. (color, overall and details), considers it the artist's third version of the subject, painted in Italy, but brought with him to Spain; notes that the figure directly behind the blind man derives from Michelangelo's Pauline Chapel fresco and that the figures on the steps in our picture and the version in Parma derive from Raphael's frescoes in the Vatican.

    Fernando Marías and Agustín Bustamante García. Las ideas artísticas de El Greco. Madrid, 1981, pp. 20, 214, date our painting 1577–78, the Dresden picture about 1565, and the Parma picture about 1570.

    Rodolfo Pallucchini in Da Tiziano a El Greco: per la storia del manierismo a Venezia. Exh. cat., Palazzo Ducale, Venice. Milan, 1981, p. 265, mentions our picture as the third version of the subject from the end of El Greco's second Venetian period, unless it was executed just after his arrival in Spain, as the color is similar to that in his "Assumption of the Virgin" (Art Institute of Chicago).

    Jonathan Brown in El Greco of Toledo. Exh. cat., Toledo Museum of Art. Toledo, 1982, pp. 88, 90, ill., dates it 1577–78; calls it "thoroughly Romanized" except for the color which is Venetian.

    Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. rev., enl. ed. New York, 1989, p. 390.

    Irina Barskova Vechnyak. "El Greco's Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind: Chronology Reconsidered." Metropolitan Museum Journal 26 (1991), pp. 177–82, ill., dates the Dresden picture 1566–68 (presumably executed in Venice), places our picture in Venice between 1569 and 1570– although it may have been completed in Rome– and dates the Parma picture about 1570, soon after El Greco reached Rome; calls the figures rushing into an arcade "a direct quotation from Tintoretto's 'The Removal of the Body of Saint Mark' (Academia, Venice); sees aspects of the architectural setting, including the play with the pavement in all three variants, and the gate-like structure in the background, as inspired by the stage sets of Sebastiano Serlio.

    José Álvarez Lopera in El Greco in Italy and Italian Art. Exh. cat., National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. Athens, 1995, pp. 310, 510, 514, ill. (color, detail).

    Enriqueta Harris-Frankfort. "El Greco's 'Fortuna Critica' in Britain." El Greco of Crete: Proceedings of the International Symposium Held on the Occasion of the 450th Anniversary of the Artist's Birth. Iráklion, Crete, 1995, pp. 490–91, ill., date it about 1577–80.

    Paul Joannides. "El Greco and Michelangelo." El Greco of Crete: Proceedings of the International Symposium Held on the Occasion of the 450th Anniversary of the Artist's Birth. Iráklion, Crete, 1995, pp. 202, 207, believes our painting is a pendant to the "Purification of the Temple" (Minneapolis Institute of Arts).

    Lionello Puppi. "Ancora sul soggiorno italiano del Greco." El Greco of Crete: Proceedings of the International Symposium Held on the Occasion of the 450th Anniversary of the Artist's Birth. Iráklion, Crete, 1995, p. 253 [English translation, p. 395].

    Lionello Puppi. "El Greco's Two Sojourns in Venice." El Greco in Italy and Italian Art. Exh. cat., National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. Athens, 1995, p. 395 [English translation].

    Fernando Marías in The Dictionary of Art. 13, New York, 1996, p. 340.

    Janis Tomlinson. From El Greco to Goya: Painting in Spain 1561–1828. New York, 1997, pp. 35–37, 43–44, 47, ill. (color), dates it about 1577; considers it the latest version of the subject, executed in Rome and brought to Spain; notes that "the arm of the blind man recalls that of Christ in Michelangelo's Vatican Pietà".

    Nicoletta Moretti in "Catalogo delle opere del Cinquecento e iconografia farnesiana." Galleria Nazionale di Parma. 2, Milan, 1998, pp. 120, 122.

    José Álvarez Lopera. "De historiografía. La recuperación del período italiano del Greco." El Greco in Italy and Italian Art: Proceedings of the International Symposium. Rethymno, Crete, 1999, pp. 25–26.

    Jutta Held. "El Greco, 'Die Blindenheilung'." El Greco in Italy and Italian Art: Proceedings of the International Symposium. Rethymno, Crete, 1999, pp. 125–37, fig. 3 (color), places it chronologically between the Dresden and Parma versions, noting that El Greco may have returned to it at a later date, either in Italy or Spain.

    Fernando Marías. "El Greco y los artistas de Italia: Venecia (1567–1570)." El Greco in Italy and Italian Art: Proceedings of the International Symposium. Rethymno, Crete, 1999, pp. 61, 63–64, ill. (details), notes that the hand gesture of the figure at the far left is based on Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving after Baccio Bandinelli's "Birth of the Virgin".

    Maurizio Marini in El Greco, identità e trasformazione: Creta, Italia, Spagna. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Milan, 1999, pp. 141, 143 [Italian ed., 1999], notes that both this painting and El Greco's painting of Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (Minneapolis Institute of Arts) were executed on diagonally woven hemp, 'alla veneziana'.

    Almudena Pérez de Tudela in Felipe II, un monarca y su época: un príncipe del renacimiento. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid, 1999, p. 604.

    Lionello Puppi in El Greco: Identity and Transformation; Crete, Italy, Spain. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Milan, 1999, pp. 98, 104.

    Karl Schütz in El Greco. Exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Milan, 2001, p. 134 [English translation, p. 70].

    José Álvarez Lopera et al. in El Greco / colaboraciones . . . Barcelona, 2003, p. 153 n. 48.

    Keith Christiansen et al. in El Greco. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. London, 2003, pp. 46, 80–84, no. 4, ill. (color), calls it unfinished and "certainly painted in Italy"; suggests it represents El Greco's "initial response to Rome" and that he brought it with him to Spain where it was copied.

    Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Pictures. New York, 2005, pp. 22–26, no. 6, ill. (color).

    Niki Loizidi. "The Construction of Space in El Greco's Paintings after the Italian Experience." El Greco: The First Twenty Years in Spain (Proceedings of the International Symposium, Rethymno, Crete, 22–24 October, 1999). Rethymno, Crete, 2005, pp. 248–49, ill., calls it "the third version, painted early in Spain if not still in Italy".

    Matthias Weniger in Greco, Velázquez, Goya: Spanische Malerei aus deutschen Sammlungen. Exh. cat., Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg. Munich, 2005, p. 64.

    Panayotis K. Ioannou in The Origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete. Exh. cat., Onassis Cultural Center. New York, 2009, p. 112, under no. 43.



  • Notes

    A replica of the MMA painting is in the José Eduardo del Valle collection, Madrid, and another less precise copy in the Estanislao Herrán Rucabado collection, Madrid.

  • See also
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