Comparing El Grecos St Francis Venerating the Crucifix to El Grecos St John the Baptist
Length: 1653 words (4.7 double-spaced pages)
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The compared works of art, St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix and St. John the
Baptist, were both written by the same artist. The actual name of this artist is Dominikos Theotokopoulos, but some people prefer to call him El Greco, which in translation simply means “The Greek.” Both paintings were written by El Greco towards the end of his life, and both are of important religious figures in Christian religion-one of St. Francis and the other of St. John. Both are similar in style and composition, and both were written in practically the same time period, approximately only five years apart. St. Francis was written at about 1595 and St. John at about 1600.
In the painting St. Francis Venerating the crucifix St. Francis is shown with his
right profile to the viewer. He is shown in the rocky, cave-like surroundings kneeling on
one knee, with his arms crossed at his chest, in front of a rock upon which rests the
crucifix. Crucifix is shown also leaning against an old-looking skull, and there is an
old-looking book to the side of it. St. Francis himself is shown wearing a very simple
robe, which covers him all the way down to his feet, and a cape with a large,
heavy-looking hood. In St. John the Baptist El Greco chose to picture St. John in full
frontal view, facing the viewer. He is shown standing in an open, somewhat rocky field.
Behind that there is some green grassy land with a couple of trees, and behind the grass
land there is a mountain and a city at its foot. St. John is shown wearing animal furs,
which cover his waist and some of his torso. He is holding a very tall, slender cross in his left hand, while looking with a diffused look to the right. Also, to the left of him (to the right from the viewer’s perspective) there is a sheep lying upon a rock.
Religious symbolism, although less obvious in some forms than in others, is
present in both paintings. El Greco presented both St. John and St. Francis with a very
loving and kind expressions on their faces, which could very well be symbolic of a
number of things: the adoration and love that both Saints experienced towards
Christ/God, the love and kindness, or the good, that the Christian religion conveys, or the inner happiness and the peace of mind, or the reward, that the person would inevetably achieve by following the word of Christ.
Both Saints are also portrayed in a very simple, almost “material-free” surroundings. St. Francis is being shown in what seems to me like a cave, wearing nothing but a robe and a cape, with the crucifix, the skull, and the book being the only things present, and St. John is shown in a field, wearing animal furs, and holding only a cross in his hand. That carries a very powerful message the meaning of which is that not only it is possible for one to go about his daily life without indulging in the “wordly” matters, but that in order to truly reach and follow the word of God one should abstain from those matters completely, and concentrate only on the developement of the spiritual growth and happiness. The portrayal of the right profile of St. Francis is symbolic of the “right,” or true way of the Christianity, same meaning that St. John’s look to the right conveys. The cross that St. John holds in his hand might be symbolic of Christianity, and the sheep lying at St. John’s feet might be symbolic of him as a “good shepherd” who is taking good care and showing the right way, (just like Jesus in a lot of cases being showed surrounded by sheeps.)
In both of his works of art, El Greco is working within a same format, a vertical
rectangle. The scaling of the works, however, is different. St. Francis venerating the
crucifix is about four by eight feet in size, whereas St. John the Baptist is only about two and a half by four feet in size. The medium used in both works is the same, oil on canvas.
The composition of both works is also very similar, probably because, besides
being done by the same artist, the were done in the same period of time. In both of the
paintings El Greco prefers the triangular and rectangular shapes to any other ones (the
only round forms that he uses are the shapes of the Saints’ faces), and the triangular
forms are dominant over the rectangular ones. In Saint Francis Venerating the Crucifix
the big slab of rock in the background forms a triangle in an upper right corner (from the viewer’s percpective,) The kneling position of St. Francis and his cape form a right
triangle, so does the crucifix leaning against the skull. The Christ’s body on the crucifix forms a number of triangles-first is formed by his legs being bent at the knees, second is formed by his body and a right arm, and yet another one is formed by his body and his left arm. The sides of the rock in front of which St. Francis is kneeling form rectangles, and the top of it, which is being used as a table, forms, again, a triangle. Two triangles are also being formed by St. Francis’s hands being crossed on his chest. In St. John the Baptist, on the other hand, the overall shape of St. John’s body is a vertical rectangle, whereas his hands each create a triangle with his body on each side. The top rock to the left of St. John (viewer’s percpective) also forms a triangle, and the rock directly below it forms a rectangle. The triangles are also formed by an overall arangement of the clouds at the both sides of St. John. The sides of the rock upon which the sheep is laying, to the right of St. John, form rectangles, and so does the top part. The overall shape of the sheep itself forms another two triangles.
Both paintings are asymmetrical, that is the forms of the details on the right and
the left sides of each picture do not match each other. However, even though they are
asymmetrical, both pictures are perfectly well balanced. The big right triangle that is
formed by St. Francis’s body that takes up more than half of the format space is balanced
on the other side of the picture by a rock that is smaller in size, so that the St. Francis’s head emerges on top, as the center of the picture. In the same way the two smaller rocks on one side of St. John are balanced by a larger rock with a sheep on another side.
In St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix the neutral colors are heavily dominant
over hues. There is, in fact, almost no hues at all, except for the dark-yellowish color of his skull, which El Greco deliberately makes low in value so as to match the
surroundings, and some very little blue of the small piece of the sky which is shown in an upper right corner. Overall, the picture is low in both intensity and value, with the main colors being gray (St. Francis’s robe), brown and dark brown (the surrounding rocks), and some black (shaded part of the rocks). The face of St. Francis and the Christ on the crucifix create a strong contrast in value with the rest of the objects shown in the picture.
They are in comparison are much higher in value because they are the only objects in the
picture upon which the light from the sky falls from the top corner. In St. John the Baptist the artist uses a lot more hues. They are: blue (the sky in the background), green (the grassland behind St. John), and indigo/violet (the mountain in the background). The neutrals are only the brownish color of the earth upon which St. John is standing, gray rocks, and gray sheep. Overall, the colors in the picture, being high in value & much higher in value in comparison to St. Francis, work together to create a much warmer look as opposed to the grim neutrals of St. Francis. Both pictures, however, are low in intensity, that is there is no bright colors in either.
The lighting used in both pictures is very different. In St. Francis Venerating the
crucifix the light comes only from the top right corner, and falls only on St. Francis’s face and the crucifix, whereas in St. John the Baptist the light is diffused. There is no strong contrast between light and shadow in either picture, but it is much more obvious in St. Francis because his face being illuminated creates somewhat of a contrast with the shaded areas.
The texture in both works is the same. The actual texture, being old in age and
being oil on canvas, is somewhat rough, although it looks smooth from a distance. The
visual texture created by both works is also smooth.
I found both works of art to be very unusual, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They
seem to be filled with an artist’s passion to convey the beauty of the spirit of religion. I found both to be truly inspiring works of art, Both rich in context as though they were taken straight from the bible. Seeing drawings of the two Saints really made me think about values of life, in terms of what are the more important endeavors that a person needs to attend to, and where does the real spiritual happiness lies. Both works are truly inspiring and original, and although my own religion is a little different, these works still convey to me the essence, the beauty, and the might of Christian religion.