Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Legion's 'Saint John' by El Greco --- Day 2/284

Walk:  Fillmore Street, T. Joe's 
Distance: 3 miles
Domenikos Theotokopoulos (called El Greco), Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1600, o/c


Every time I go to the Legion, this painting is a must see, and every time I see it I'm stunned anew and a part of my brain goes "Modern art! Modern art!"  That this was painted in 1600 is simply astounding to me.

The simplified artistic vocabulary: bare feel on rocky soil, tattered sheepskin, elongated physique and eyes.  You don't have to know who this man is to see immediately he is some sort of deeply sorrowful itinerant, vulnerable to the harsh elements at his feet and in the agitated sky.  The 
rough hewn cross indicates an austere, aesthetic, religious nature.  

And look at that sky! It is absolutely electric and alive with agitation.  Up close you see flickering colors, broken brushstrokes, passages of intense bright white.  Not only does it convey the intensity of John's fervor and nervous, spiritual energy, it is painted in a way that simply did not exist in 1600.  The brush is all over the place, the paint is broken, canvas shows through.  It's immediate and raw.

And supposedly it was the Impressionists (in the later 1900's) who ushered in this painted understanding of the physical and emotional power of light!  

All of this - at least two centuries (and beyond) ahead of its time - is genius.  In his time El Greco was called 'arrogant.'  Well, he certainly had good reason to be!!


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