Three Spanish cultural institutions join forces to present “El Greco’s Library” exhibition

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This April, the Museo del Prado, the Biblioteca Nacional de España and Fundación El Greco 2014 are presenting the exhibition El Greco’s Library. This exhibition aims to reconstruct the theoretical and literary roots of El Greco’s art through 39 books, four of which belonged to him, that have been identified from two inventories compiled by the artist’s son Jorge Manuel between 1614 and 1621.

Notable among them is a copy of Vitruvius’s treaty on architecture (from the BNE), and another of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the most excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects. Both were copiously annotated by El Greco with comments that reveal his ideas on architecture and above all on painting. Also on display is a copy of Xenophon’s Works and one of Appian’s Civil Wars, both of which were represented in his library, and one of Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural treatise with annotations that have on occasions been attributed to the artist. The exhibition is completed by three manuscripts, nine prints that probably inspired compositions by El Greco, and five paintings which reveal the relationship between his pictorial output and the books in his library. In addition to reconstructing part of the artist’s library, the exhibition also encourages a reflection on the traditional interpretations of El Greco and his work, based on the books that he owned and on his annotations to his copies of Vitruvius’s treatise and Vasari’s Lives.

El Greco’s Library includes 39 books of which he is known to have owned copies from the entries in the two inventories, selected on the basis of the editions that he is most likely to have possessed. Also on display are three manuscripts; the original inventories of 1614 and 1621; a letter from the artist to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese; nine prints, most of them by Cornelis Cort and Dürer, which were key reference points for the painter; and five paintings, including Boy blowing on an Ember and The Annunciation, which reveal the relationships between the artist’s pictorial creations and his books. In total, the exhibition includes 56 works that introduce visitors to what El Greco read and wrote, his knowledge and thinking, with the aim of understanding the ideas on the art of painting that underpinned his creative activities.