What’s this picture about?
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz by El Greco, in the Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo, Spain (460 X 360 cm)
It illustrates a legend. The Count of Orgaz was a saintly nobleman who founded convents and churches in Toledo. A miracle happened at his funeral. Two saints appeared and placed the Count’s body in his sepulchre while a voice from heaven said: “Such a prize is awarded to one who serves God and his saints.”
Two hundred years later (c.1584) the parish priest of the church where the Count was buried asked El Greco to paint a picture of the miracle.
El Greco put everything he had into this picture. Heaven is all imagined and colorful—like the work of the great Italians he had known. Earth is realistic, sober, like Castile.
An angel in the middle of the picture is taking the Count’s soul, looking like a baby, up to heaven. Big, naked John the Baptist and the whole community of saints seem to be asking Jesus to accept it.
The two saints lifting the Count are Stephen on the left and Augustine on the right. A little painting on Stephen’s chasuble shows him being stoned—he was the first martyr:
The men in black are portraits of many of the most important townsmen of Toledo. Perhaps El Greco collected a fee from each of them.
In any case the parish priest paid him 1200 ducats for the painting, which was good money.
That’s him with the golden stole on the far right.
El Greco included a portrait of himself:
The boy at the bottom of the picture is his son Jorge Manuel:
He was born the year El Greco came to Toledo. By the time he was this big his dad was getting commissions left and right and had moved into a big house. They lived in style—Venetian style. Fine furnishings, an orchestra at dinner, important guests, learned conversation. No one knows whether the boy’s mother lived with them or if El Greco ever married her. Jorge Manuel became a painter like his dad and a good architect.