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Masterworks | Portland: El Greco

Dec 13, 2014 - Apr 5, 2015
1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR
General accessibility


The fifth installment of the Museum’s ongoing series Masterworks | Portland commemorates the fourth centenary of the death of El Greco (1541-1614), the brilliant, multicultural genius whose highly personal, conceptual style gave form to the intense spirituality of Spain’s Golden Age. Coinciding with the celebrations of Christmas and Easter, this special installation features the artist’s greatest devotional painting, the magisterial Holy Family with Saint Mary Magdalen, a rarely loaned treasure of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Painted at the height of El Greco’s powers in the 1590s, The Holy Family shows the Virgin Mary holding the squirming Christ child on her lap as Joseph offers a bowl of fruit. They are joined by Mary Magdalen, whose sorrowful gaze alludes to the future suffering of the happy child. El Greco’s approach is based on Venetian depictions of the subject set in a landscape, but transformed so that the figures seem to exist out of space and time, floating before a turbulent sky. The visionary quality of the elongated forms, animated by flashing light and vivid color, is tempered by touches of realism, particularly seen in the faces of the virgin and child, in the bowl of fruit, and in the warm domesticity that characterizes the scene. This endows the image with unusual accessibility and appeal.

Born Domenikos Theotokopoulos on the island of Crete, the artist first worked as a painter of icons. Beginning about 1567, he spent a decade in Venice and Rome absorbing the aesthetic principles of the Mannerist style. He made his way to Spain in 1576 and settled in Toledo, where he was free to develop his distinctive art. Today El Greco is celebrated not only by artists, but by the public at large. Do not miss this opportunity to experience his unique genius in one of his greatest works.

Organized by the Portland Art Museum and curated by Dawson W. Carr, Ph.D., The Janet and Richard Geary Curator of European Art.


The Portland Art Museum has developed audio guide content to complement the El Greco installation, interviewing three speakers who explore different interpretations of selected portions of the painting. You can hear all the sections on the STQRY app through your personal mobile device (iPhoneAndroidWindows Phone) or online.


This special installation in the Masterworks | Portland series is made possible by the generous support of Nani S. Warren, Mary and Spencer Dick, Dr. Alton and Celia Wiebe, Linda and Donald Van Wart, the European and American Art Council of the Portland Art Museum, West Coast Drape & Blush Furniture, and Exhibition Series Sponsors.