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Masterpieces

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The Annunciation

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos)

Candia, Creta, 1541-Toledo, 1614

The Annunciation

Oil on canvas, 113.8 x 65.4 cm

c. 1596-1600

Contributed by the Provincial Council of Bizkaia in 1920

The Annunciation, another theme very dear to El Greco, is a reduced version of the great canvas kept in the Prado Museum that he painted for the altarpiece of the Incarnation Church in the María de Aragón College in Madrid, commissioned in 1596. The work obeys El Greco’s custom of repeating in small canvases his most successful or favourite works, as confirmed by Pacheco: "He showed me, in 1611 (...) the originals of everything he had painted in his lifetime, (...) in smaller canvases (...)." The painting, another smaller version of which is kept in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, presents an innovative iconography in which the Virgin Mary, surprised by the arrival of the archangel, stands up and turns towards him while a beautiful group of musician angels fills the upper area and a crowd of cherubs make way for the Holy Ghost, symbolised by the rays of light and the dove, indi-cating the moment of the Incarnation. Painted in an extraordinarily free-flowing manner and with a splendid colour range, this is a highly representative late work by El Greco. Domenikos Theotokópoulos was born in Candia, the capital of Crete, where he began training as a painter of icons. After working in Venice he moved to Rome, where he enjoyed the protection of cardinal Alexander Farnesio and was considered to be an "excellent painter". Attracted by the great decorative ensembles of El Escorial, El Greco travelled to Spain in 1577 and settled permanently in Toledo, a cultured and refined city that inspired his best works. [A.S.L.]

Masterpieces