Christ Healing the Blind | Art for Proper 25B

Mark 10:46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.

Christ Healing the Blind
Christ Healing the Blind, c. 1570’s,
El Greco, 1541-1614
Oil on canvas, 119 x 146 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New YorkClick image for more information and two earlier versions by El Greco.

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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, of Greek descent, was born on the island of Crete at a time when it was a Venetian colony. He began his career as an icon painter but while a young man he went to Venice to study painting with Titian, one of the great masters of the sixteenth century. He then moved to Rome, opened a workshop, and became familiar with the work of artists associated with the Renaissance and Mannerism. Next on his itinerary was Madrid where he hoped to work at the Spanish court. The king did not like his work, however, and after receiving a commission for a group of paintings at a church in Toledo, he decided to stay there and make it his home. In Spain, he became known simply as The Greek – “El Greco.”

While in Italy, El Greco painted three versions of Christ Healing the Blind; the one shown above was his last one. It has a few unfinished areas and was taken with him to Spain – perhaps to finish it there. At that time he was influenced by the artists of Venice and, inasmuch as this painting was not quite complete and not signed, historians first attributed it to two highly regarded Venetian painters. It was thought to be a Tintoretto and later, the work of Veronese. In 1958 it was determined to be the work of El Greco.

This painting is not from a specific biblical text but is a synthesis of several accounts of Christ healing the blind. The man pointing upward at the far left has had his sight restored and is telling about the experience to the people gathered. Another man is kneeling and his eyes are being touched by Christ. In El Greco’s first painting of this subject, he placed a dog in the central foreground sniffing the belongings of the man being healed. That space was left empty in the second version but in this, his third interpretation, the central foreground has been given over to a man and woman witnessing the miracle and gesturing in awe. Because of a likeness between the man in the foreground and the man being healed, it has been suggested the two figures in the foreground are the blind man’s parents. The men grouped together at the far right of the painting are believed to be Pharisees airing their criticism because the healing was carried out on the Sabbath.

El Greco’s greatest success and the development of his artistic style came during his years in Spain. Although he lived in Toledo until the time of his death, he remained emotionally close to his Greek heritage. When adding his signature to a painting, he always signed his given name in Greek and sometimes followed with, “from Crete.”

Note

El Greco’s life and work spans the time between Mannerism and the Baroque period. After the Venetian influence diminished, his style became so distinctive and personal that it defies categorization. His work is now regarded to be an early manifestation of “expressionism.”

Elongated figures are a characteristic of El Greco’s work in Spain. It has been suggested astigmatism was the cause. That is inaccurate. If average sized figures looked elongated to him, he would see the figures elongated in his paintings as well, yet to us, they would appear to be average in size.

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