TOLEDO, Spain – A museum dedicated to the painter El Greco inaugurated a temporary exhibition on Tuesday featuring a little-known religious painting by the great Spanish master that had almost been forgotten for three centuries until it was rediscovered in 1914.
“Agony in the Garden” by Domenico Theotocopoulos, more commonly known as El Greco, which was originally commissioned to be displayed at the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor in the southern Spanish town of Andujar, will be exhibited at El Greco Museum in the western city of Toledo until March 3.
The artwork, described as a “significant” example of El Greco’s work, was introduced by the museum’s director, Juan Antonio Garcia Castro, as a “very interesting” and “magnificent” piece when it was presented on Tuesday morning.
Crete-born El Greco painted a number of artworks inspired by the Gethsemane garden in Jerusalem, with examples in France, Florence, Buenos Aires, Ohio and Budapest, but none in Toledo, where the artist lived for many years and died.
The museum in Toledo boasts many El Greco portraits but hardly any scenic paintings as in the case of the Andujar artwork where three groups appear clearly outlined: Jesus kneeling before an angel; the apostles Peter, James and John asleep and some soldiers led by Judas Iscariot.
“The iconography is not new, El Greco knew how to adapt it to his style, introducing elements of his Byzantine formative years and other stylistic elements, probably loaned from other painters he knew,” like Andrea Mantegna, Titian or Tintoretto, the museum’s director said.
The painting was restored at Madrid’s Prado Museum in 1936 and completed only two months before the Spanish Civil War broke out. This saved the painting, as the retable it originally belonged to in the church in Andujar was destroyed during the conflict.
“It is alive by a miracle,” Garcia Castro said, referring to the sole surviving artwork of the lost retable which was exhibited at the Prado Museum back in 2014 within the “Greco and Modern Painting” exhibition commemorating the 400 anniversary of El Greco’s death.
The painting includes an original signature by Domenicos Theotocopoulos in Greek and another in Latin capital letters reading: “The Greek from Toledo.”
According to El Greco Museum’s director, the artwork’s presence in Toledo has been possible thanks to Pedro Montesinos, the priest of the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor and the diocese of Jaen.