Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, Toledo

Domenikos Theotokopoulos known as El Greco ("The Greek")(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (1586-88)
Oil on canvas
460 x 360 cm.
Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo

In 1323, a certain Don Gonzalo Ruíz, native of Toledo, and Lord of the town of Orgaz, died. The family received the title of Count, by which he is generally known, only later.

A legend grew up that because of his great works of charity, at the time he was being buried, Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine themselves, descended from heaven and buried him in front of those present.

The painting remains in the chapel - the purported scene of the event - for which it was ordered. Don Ruiz is buried by the painting.

In his Will, Don Ruiz left a charge on the town payable to the priest of Santo Tomé. After many years the townsfolf of Orgaz (part of Toledo) refused to pay the money. The parish priest sued them and in 1570 won his case.

To commemorate this, in 1580, the Archbishop of Toledo authorised the commissioning of the painting. The townsfolk of Orgaz were to pay for the painting.

The assessor of painting assessed the value of the painting very highly and accordingly, El Greco`s fee was high. However El Greco had great difficulty in obtaining his fee from the people of Orgaz. Litigation again followed over the valuation.

Despite its huge size, El Greco painted it in nine months.

Why such a great picture was commissioned for such a local and obscure event is not known.

The upper part of the painting is the heavenly vision. It occupies more than half the painting. One of the attendants in the celestial sphere is King Philip II, who at that time was very much alive.

The lower part of the painting represents the miracle itself. The foreground is the act of the two saints. Around them are the serried ranks of various notables.

Andrés Núñez, the parish priest, and a friend of El Greco's, who was responsible for the commission, is the figure on the extreme right. The artist himself can be recognised in the caballero third from the left, immediately above the head of Saint Stephen. The artist's son, Jorge Manuel, acts as the young page. The signature of the artist appears on the handkerchief in the pocket of the young boy.

Further references:

El Greco: The Burial of Count Orgaz, 1586
Two saints bury the munificent donor

By Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen

Wikipedia has an article on the painting with more information and commentary on it. See:

The Web Gallery of Art has a large section on El Greco as well as this particular painting. See:

Official website of the Church which houses the painting. See


Liisa Berg: El Greco in Toledo

Mann, Richard G. (2002). "Tradition and Originality in El Greco's Work". Journal of the Rocky Mountain 23: 83–110. [Note-.pdf file]

El Greco. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of European Paintings.

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