Work Saint Louis, King of France, and a Page
Department of Paintings: Spanish painting
Saint Louis, King of France, and a Page
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
Saint Louis, king of France, is holding and wearing the attributes of royal power, but his holiness is suggested by his wistful expression and the orange drapery that brightens up the austere figure. He looks like El Greco's Spanish contemporaries. This is one of the Toledo painter's most veristic works. A landscape of his adopted city was discovered during a recent restoration.
A portrait or the likeness of a saint?
Saint Louis (1214-1270), the king of France, wears a fleur-de-lis crown and damascene armor that evokes his role in the Crusades. He holds other attributes of royal power in his hands: the hand of justice and a fleur-de-lis scepter. El Greco gave him an elongated silhouette, long hands, and an emaciated face. He has no halo and is not lost in contemplation, but intensely gazes at the viewer with a grave, melancoly expression on his face. Without that expression and the orange drapery, this work would look more like a portrait than the depiction of a saint. The charming page next to him holds his helmet, and a column set on a high pedestal fills the right-hand side of the background. On the left, a recent restoration has revealed a stormy sky and a half-erased landscape: certainly a view of Toledo, with the Alcazar and the cathedral spire. The French sovereign, a grandson of the king of Castille, Alphonso VIII, was well-known in Spain: Luis Tristán painted Saint Louis, King of France, Distributing Alms (Louvre) in Toledo circa 1620. There was no Spanish depiction of the saint-king until the seventeenth century.
The worship of saints
Painted in Toledo between 1590 and 1597, this work seems to have been commissioned by Luis de Castilla, El Greco's future executor, who apparently wanted a depiction of his patron saint. After the Counter-Reformation began emphasizing the Catholic worship of saints, El Greco received many commissions to paint such figures, especially the apostles and Saint Francis of Assisi. Born in Crete (hence his nickname), he spent approximately ten years in Italy learning his art, frequenting Titian's studio in Venice and the Mannerist circles in Rome. Attracted by the building of the royal palace, El Escorial, in 1577 El Greco left for Spain and settled in Toledo, where he lived until his death in 1614.
Verist and visionary
This painting bears all the stylistic hallmarks of El Greco's late sixteenth-century work. The composition is similar to that found in Venetian portraiture, with a half-length figure standing in front of a background filled with landscape and architecture. The austerity is relieved by the strange forms of the drapery swathed diagonally across the saint's torso and by the clouds, which are characteristic of El Greco's visionary, Mannerist style. The artist gave King Louis the physical appearance of the Castilian gentlemen he portrayed in 1587 in The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (Toledo, Santo Tomé). The painter's son, Jorge Manuel, is said to have posed as the page. The saint's armor is treated with great verism, which contrasts with the blurry drapery and sky. The black and gold armor, as well as the page's white costume, form a refined color scheme. The orange drapery adds a touch of warmth to the whole, perhaps in reminiscence of El Greco's time in Venice.
BibliographyGerard-Powell Véronique, in Écoles espagnole et portugaise, catalogue du département des peintures du musée du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, pp. 118-123.
Domenikos THEOTOKOPOULOS, known as EL GRECO (Candia (Crete), 1541 - Toledo, 1614)
Saint Louis, King of France, and a Page
H. 1.20 m; W. 0.96 m
Acquired in 1903 , 1903
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