PICTURING THE PASSION: ‘Christ Carrying the Cross’ by El Greco (1577 – 1587)

The best understood symbol of Christianity is undoubtedly the Cross; a dead tree on which was hung the Saviour who brought life to the world. With life, the cross also provided an identity to Christians and a hope to faith. El Greco, through his painting ‘Christ carrying the cross’ magnifies the essence of this identity and hope. He rejects all theatrical skills in order to evoke an attentive soul to the profound beauty found in Christ and His Cross.

Born in Crete in 1541, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, nicknamed ‘El Greco’ (the Greek), was a man with a vision of embodying a higher realm of spirit within the mortal realm of the soul.  Although initially trained as an icon painter, he soon transformed himself from the flat symbolic world to master the dynamic elements of the Renaissance.

His approach was also influenced by the characteristics of his time. Europe, during El Greco’s age, was in a state of religious upheaval. The Reformation, in full swing, had triggered a series of events, including the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563). Inorder to cleanse the Church of its evils, the Council devised decrees that had an impact on all the facets of life.

The execution of this rectified religion and faith required instruction and education.  The best way to communicate to the illiterate was undoubtedly through art. Paintings served as mediums of not only information but also visual contemplation that aimed to stimulate imagination and spirituality. In keeping with the tenets of the Counter Reformation, El Greco’s art achieves precisely that.

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