Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Only a Storm Brewing?

Toledo between splendour and disaster



Accursed the day, о Lord, on which I saw the light of this world, abominable the night in which I was conceived. May no ray of light enlighten it! Nor the sun break victorious through her mists! Only night, always night, that I may not see the heavens. No moon, no stars. Only a storm brewing to make the darkness more profound.

"The Poor Man" in Calderon de la Barca's The Great Theatre of the World, с 1645



High above the Rio Tajo: The Alcazar in Toledo

El Greco, Laokoon, 1610

The allegorical horse in the middle distance trots toward the city, which is spread out under a glowering, doom-laden sky. It is a beautiful landscape, in which the vibrant red-earth ground is covered with a lattice of silvers, blues, and greens. However, this is not the ancient city of Troy, but El Greco's hometown of Toledo in Spain. El Greco painted Laocoon during the time of the Spanish Catholic Counter-Reformation, and his allegorical drama, of transgressing mortals and vengeful gods, set unequivocally in his own modern Spain, is an indication of the orthodoxy of the artist's religious beliefs.



Toledo is a unique open-air museum of Spanish history. The eastern slope of this oriental-looking city is crowned by the Alcazar, the citadel. To the left the cathedral's tower rises up out of a sea of medieval houses. A wreath of Moorish Gothic fortifications encircles the city like a diadem, and at the foot of the impressive granite outcropping, the River Tagus cuts through a magnificent gorge.

The city of Toledo has seen glorious times. Yet disaster loomed on more than one occasion, for the first time in 192 ВС when the city, which is one of Spain's most ancient, was conquered by the Romans. Nearly 700 years later, at the time of the Great Migrations, the West Goths subdued Toledo and made it the residence of their kings. Although the city was still brilliant, the West Gothic kingdom was tottering into decline. When the Arabs appeared on the Iberian peninsula, members of the Jewish community in Toledo opened the gates of the city to them on 11 November 711. This was their revenge for the hardship they had been made to endure by their fellow Toledans. Losing its status as a major city, Toledo was degraded to that of one of the five district capitals of Moorish Spain.

Pacified with great difficulty, Toledo eventually flowered into a centre of science and the arts, where a fruitful dialogue between Jewish, Christian and Islamic cultures took place. From 1085 the city was again governed by Christians. Not only did Toledo become Catalan's capital, it was noted for its policy of religious tolerance towards Jews and Arabs. As early as the twelfth century, an Arab scholar praised Toledo as being "the centre of Europe".

However, palace revolts, civil wars and excesses committed by the Church ensued, shaking the city. Its star was on the wane. The Inquisition moved in and Jews and Arabs were expelled. The royal residence was transferred to Madrid, and a century of troubles broke over the city.

Did El Greco, who settled in Toledo in 1577, wish to highlight the tragic side of his new home when he painted his View of Toledo (Storm over Toledo)? Born at Fodele on Crete, he went to Venice at the age of twenty-four to become a pupil of Titian. After long sojourns in Parma and Rome, El Greco moved to Toledo, a city that had lost its political importance. However, perhaps for this very reason it was able to focus on the role it had retained as the country's leading centre of Church activity. El Greco was a mystic and he may have found Toledo, where the opponents of the Reformation were more ardent than elsewhere, a bastion of the "true" belief, a place the painter saw as threatened by the very forces that were shaking the foundations of the old order.



A View of Toledo

Oil on canvas, 121,3 x 108,6 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


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