View of Toledo (1595-1600) by El Greco
Interpretation of Mannerist Landscape Painting

Pin it

View of Toledo
By El Greco.
Considered to be one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

View of Toledo (1595-1600)


Interpretation of Other Paintings by El Greco


Name: View of Toledo (1595-1600)
Artist: El Greco (1541-1614)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Landscape painting
Style: Mannerism
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

For analysis and explanation of other important pictures from the Mannerism school, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

For analysis of works by
Mannerist artists
like El Greco, see
our educational articles:
Art Evaluation and
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of View of Toledo

Born on the island of Crete where he trained in icon painting, El Greco (real name Domenikos Theotokopoulos) studied Venetian painting under Titian (1485-1576) in Italy, where he also absorbed the idiom of Mannerist painting from a variety of artists, including Tintoretto (1518-94), Jacopo Bassano (1515-92) and Parmigianino (1503-40) - see, for instance the latter's Madonna With the Long Neck (1535) - as well as Michelangelo (1475-1564). An intense, intellectual and spiritual man, in 1577 he left Italy for Spain where he completed numerous religious paintings for the Spanish Church. These works were executed according to the new guidelines issued by the Council of Trent (1545-63) for the creation of Catholic Counter Reformation art (1560-1700). In fact, despite falling out with Philip II, El Greco's non-naturalistic style of painting proved to be an ideal vehicle for conveying the spiritual intensity of the Catholic faith in the homeland of the Spanish Inquisition.

NOTE: View of Toledo is one of the first 'pure' landscape paintings in Western art, and one of only two surviving landscapes by El Greco. The other is View and Plan of Toledo (1610), which is in the city's El Greco Museum.

This view of his beloved city of Toledo - probably one of the most famous landscape paintings in history - captures the distant panorama of a city that straggles from the towered castle of San Servando on the left (below which is the Agaliense Monastery), across the high span of the Roman Alcantara bridge over the Tagus river, and up the hill to the tower of the cathedral and the stone mass of the Alcazar palace, where Hernan Cortes was received by Charles I in 1521, following Cortes' conquest of the Aztecs. (Note: Using artistic licence, El Greco moved the cathedral to the left of the palace, so it could be seen.) Threatening, swirling clouds are pierced by light that illuminates the contours of the hills, the curve of the roads, and the incongruous green trees. The storm may break at any moment and erase the view before us, but by depicting this scene in paint, El Greco has ensured it will never happen. A prelude to the Spanish Baroque art of the 17th century (including the Spanish painting in Naples: 1600-1700) - and contemporaneous with devotional works by Francisco Ribalta (1565–1628) - View of Toledo is the ultimate example of Mannerist Romanticism, with its menacing, almost apocalyptic atmosphere, and its gloomy colours. A masterpiece of Spanish painting, this is a wonderful example of El Greco's always troubled, always triumphant art.



The composition of the painting contains several noteworthy features. In particular, note the contrast in colour between the darkening, sombre sky above and the glowing greenery of the hills below. Note also the restless swirl which permeates the whole picture, which lends support to the view of certain art critics that the artist was expressing the mysticism that infused the city at the time. At any rate, the over-arching sky, which defines the picture and gives the city its bleak mood, is surely El Greco's attempt to capture something of the over-arching authority and power of God's presence. But he does not stop there: he still finds time to add some details of human life. Downstream from the Alcantara bridge, using tiny brushmarks, he reveals reflections in the water and washing spread out on the ground. Several tiny figures are fishing in the shallows armed with spears, while a figure crosses the stream on horseback.

Interpretation of Other Paintings by El Greco

The Disrobing of Christ (1577)
Toledo Cathedral.

The Burial of Count Orgaz (1586-88)
Church of Santo Tome, Toledo.

Portrait of a Cardinal (1600)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Portrait of Felix Hortensio Paravicino (1605)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (1609)
Church of San Gines, Madrid.


• For the meaning of other Mannerist paintings, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.