Van Eyck and El Greco

A sense of chaos permeates the picture, and the viewer is invariably struck by the depth and detail of its illusion.”

Every inch of the canvas is filled with color and vibrant detail.

El Grecos “The Vision of St. John” is also vivid and colorful, and yet the composition and style as well as the iconography could not be more divergent from Jan van Eycks “The Crucifixion.” In El Grecos oil painting, St. John the Evangelist appears in the foreground, his arms outstretched to the heavens. The artist does not attempt a realistic depiction of the subject, but rather an impression thereof. Bodies are undulating as if under water.

Both Jan van Eyck and El Greco created masterworks of official Catholic iconography. Also an altar painting like van Eycks, “The Vision of St. John” was commissioned by Pedro Salazar de Mendoza in 1608. The most notable shift in artistic consciousness that took place in early seventeenth century Spain was that “El Greco set out to renew Catholic imagery.

..he did not depict the “moment …but in the process of musing.”

Moreover, El Greco adopted “stylistic innovations” to serve the goal of revealing psychological realities with as much intensity as historical ones.

It is striking how the artist “integrates the saint in the picture, thus placing the accent not on the actual event, the opening of the seal, but on his vision of it,” creating the effect that the form of the saint is “dematerialized.”

The two artists approach their subject from divergent cultures, formal styles, and perspectives, but both achieve the same goals.


Harbison, Craig. Jan van Eyck: the play of realism. Reaktion Books, 1995, 13.

Scholz-Hansel, Michael. El Greco: Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 1541-1614. Taschen, 2004

Craig Harbison, Jan van Eyck: the play of realism. Reaktion Books, 1995, 13.

Craig Harbison, Jan van Eyck, 1995, 57.

Craig Harbison, Jan van Eyck, 1995, 13.

Michael Scholz-Hansel, El Greco: Domenikos.

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