J.M. Theotokópoulos
(Toledo, 1578-1631, Toledo)
The Birth of the Virgin, ca. 1608/20
Oil on canvas, 62 x 36 cm
Wethey X-33
The event of the Birth of the Virgin, usually a welcome occasion for a detailed depiction of profane interiors, is here reinterpreted into a vision of mystic excitement. The schematic figures of the attendants about the Child and Mother resemble upward-licking flames, their ecstatic movements being taken up by the wildly streaming clouds in the stormy sky. God the Father appears, bestowing his blessing, his red mantle fluttering about and cherubs gambolling around. Only St. Anne in her bed with hands uplifted in prayer occupies a quiet zone of the picture, this being emphasized by the baldachin opening above her head, the deep red of which in combination with the green of the bedspread constitute chromatic points of rest in the midst of the ecstatically agitated tumult. At the same time the high narrow shape of the picture, characteristic of El Greco in his later works, stresses the general tendency to draw all actions upwards into more spiritual realms by means of lines, colours and light effects, this procedure disembowelling, as it were, the corporeal substance of the human figures and expressing their immediate participation in a supernatural event.
H.E. Wethey has suggested in 1962 that the painting might be a copy by Jorge Manuel, the artist’s son, done from a lost work of El Greco’s dating from around 1590-1595, which is mentioned in both inventories of the artist’s estate - an attribution which is still accepted by the most recent research on El Greco and his workshop.