Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Toledo Sightseeing: Santo Tomé & "The Burial of Count Orgaz"
Dating from the 14th century, Toledo’s Santo Tomé is best known for housing El Greco’s most famous painting, The Burial of Count Orgaz.
Santo Tomé was founded in the 12th century, but completely restructured in the 14th century as commissioned by the Lord of Orgaz, the subject of El Greco’s painting. Count Orgaz, born Gonzalo Ruiz, was a Toledo native and Señor of the town of Orgaz. He died in 1312, leaving substantial donations for the enlargement and detailed adornment of the Church of Santo Tomé. A pious man, Orgaz was known to donate to multiple local charities in his lifetime. It is believed according to local Toledo legend that Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine even presided over his burial. A painting depicting this legend was commissioned for the church on March 18, 1586.
The chosen painter was El Greco, who served as a member of the church. The painting was unveiled by Christmas of that year and immediately attracted attention. Spectators were especially impressed by the inclusions of realistic portraits of the Toledo’s most notable figures of the time posing as onlookers. The painting portrays the burial of Count Orgaz with the posthumous assistance of Saint Augustine and Saint Stephen miraculously appearing to thank the Count for his donations to all the religious institutions named after them.
Even more interesting about the painting is the lack of ground, horizon, sky, and perspective. There appears no conflict, and El Greco successfully achieves a convincing expression of supernatural space.
The Burial of Count Orgaz was El Greco’s first major work. Many of his later pieces are displayed in the Toledo Cathedral.