Christ on the Cross

Object Details


Christ on the Cross




Spain, Europe (Place created)


1600 - 1610


Oil on canvas


82.6 × 51.8 cm (32 1/2 × 20 3/8 in.)

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Isolated atop a mountain, a gaunt, tormented Christ dominates a nearly empty landscape. On a road leading to the walled city of Jerusalem, horsemen pass by the execution hill, literally turning their backs on Christ. El Greco's use of dramatic colors and exaggerated proportions distorts the figure, conveying the transcendent moment when Christ sublimated his physical pain and commended his spirit to God. Turning his eyes upward toward heaven, Christ looks away from the bones and skulls that lie at his feet, representative of his triumph over death. Light plays across his undulating form, illuminating his tortured body against the dark background. To heighten empathy between the viewer and Christ, the elongated but graceful figure appears alone. This private, devotional image was meant to encourage contemplation and spiritual reflection.

Few paintings by El Greco can be entirely attributed to the artist himself, rather than his workshop. Scholars conclude that the bold handling of paint on this canvas, which includes undulating contours and vigorous dashes, confirms that El Greco painted it himself. Purchased by a Spanish family at a flea market around 1950, it remained in their possession until recently.

by 1950 - 2000

Oriolo collection (Madrid, Spain) [sold, Oriolo sale, Sotheby's, London, July 6, 2000, lot 36, to the J. Paul Getty Museum.]

El Greco (ca. 1541 - 1614) (May 2 to September 16, 2001)
  • Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna), May 2 to September 16, 2001
Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261 - 1557) (March 15 to July 5, 2004)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), March 15 to July 5, 2004
El Greco to Velazquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III (April 13 to November 9, 2008)
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, April 13 to July 27, 2008
  • Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University (Durham), August 22 to November 9, 2008
El Greco's Visual Poetics (October 16, 2012 to April 7, 2013)
  • National Museum of Art, Osaka, October 16 to December 24, 2012
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum (Tokyo), January 19 to April 7, 2013

Sotheby's, London. Old Master Paintings Part I. July 6, 2000, pp. 82-85, lot 36, ill.

Jeromack, Paul. "Old Masters, London." Art & Auction 22, no. 10 (Summer 2000), p. 53, ill.

"Old Master Paintings." Sotheby's Art at Auction 1999-2000 (London: Sotheby's, 2000), p. 49, ill.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 6th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001), p. 144, ill.

Ferino-Pagden, Sylvia, and Fernando Checa Cremades. El Greco: Eine Ausstellung des Kunsthistorischen Museums Wien, exh. cat. (Vienna: SKIRA, 2001), pp. 176-77, no. 25, ill., entry by Dawson Carr.

Ravenal, John B. Robert Lazzarini, exh. cat. (Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2003), pp. 44-45, ill.

Allen, Denise, et al. Masterpieces of Painting in the J. Paul Getty Museum. Rev. ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, with Thames & Hudson, 2003), p. 111, no. 60, ill., entry by Dawson Carr.

Evans, Helen C., ed. Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557), exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Yale University Press, 2004), p. 508, no. 310, ill., entry by Dawson W. Carr.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 7th ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2007), p. 102, ill.

Schroth, Sarah, and Ronni Baer. El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip II, exh. cat. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2008), pp. 185-86, 191, no. 2, ill.

Marías, Fernando, et al. El Greco's Visual Poetics, exh. cat. (Osaka: The National Museum of Art, 2012), p. 128, under no. 37, entry by Yusuke Kawase; pp. 142-43, no. 43, ill., entry by Yusuke Kawase; p. 292.

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