El Greco View of Toledo
El Greco's 1596 painting View of Toledo is a breathtaking work of invention and ingenuity, painted at a time when the idea of crafting a depiction of a landscape solely for its own purposes was a radical vision. What is even more remarkable is the manner in which El Greco rendered his view of the city of Toledo. It conjures immediate comparisons with Van Gogh's Starry Night painted almost three centuries later. The vortex-like sky of the simmering vista seems to radiate emotion. An incomparable figure of the Renaissance, such is the originality of El Greco's works that he is an utterly unique creative force in western painting. Blissfully impossible to classify other than as an early precursor of landscape painting, View of Toledo is even a departure from the artist's usual religious trajectory. Structured in a curious manner, El Greco placed the urban core of the town on the right of the frame, allowing the viewer to indulge in the verdant green of the valley surrounding the Tagus River. By situating the town off-centre, the artist seems to negate the possibility that his work is a celebrating of the town itself.
The deep green of the luscious vegetation contrasts vividly the brilliant blue of the sky, serving to heighten the almost ghostly image that Toledo gives. Indeed, the artist has taken a great deal of artistic licence in his depiction of the elongation of the church spires, and indeed with their positioning in the town plan. Some three decades previously, the Spanish King Felipe II decided to move the capital from Toledo to Madrid, where it remains today. El Greco's canvas could thus be seen as a lingering memory of the prestige of the former capital, a power which still seems to resonate through the glory of nature.
With the decline of political power in Toledo through the transfer of the court to Madrid, cultural life in the city flourished. An important university-city, painting and mysticism burgeoned in Toledo, and El Greco's curious pre-expressionist topography can be seen as a manifestation of this wild, over-grown energy that seems to permeate his view of the city. This unique vision in the history of art seems to lie beyond the ideas of the Renaissance or of Mannerism, finding instead in Toledo the prototype of a cultural utopia wherein the intrigues of power and politics have been removed.
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