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The Visitation

Domenikos Theotokopoulos (aka El Greco) (1541–1614)

Spanish, Mannerist
ca. 1610 - 1614
96.52 cm x 71.44 cm (38 in. x 28 1/8 in.)
oil on canvas

On view


The subject of The Visitation concerns the meeting of the pregnant Virgin Mary, at the right, and her cousin, Elisabeth, also pregnant with John the Baptist (Luke 1:39–57). The Visitation was intended for the Church of San Vicente in Toledo for the Chapel of Isabel de Oballe, and the contract signed in 1607 for the chapel’s altarpiece (an Immaculate Conception now in the Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo) stipulated “in the ceiling a story of the Visitation of Saint Elizabeth [Isabel], because that is the name of the founder, which is to be placed in a circle… . ” By April 17, 1613, El Greco declared the paintings completed. However, it is not certain that The Visitation was installed (see Commentary).

The artist, Doménikos Theotokópoulos, called El Greco, was born on Crete, where he trained in the tradition of Byzantine icon painting. In 1567, he emigrated to Venice, where he established himself with Titian’s workshop, and by 1576–77 he had left for Spain, where he spent the rest of his life in Toledo. El Greco’s art developed into a personal blending of Byzantine and Italian Mannerist elements and was often characterized by a spiritual fervor. Typical of this is the Dumbarton Oaks Visitation, where the boldly attenuated figures are caught in strong highlighting and are outlined by a seemingly celestial light. Such artistic abstractions allowed El Greco to emphasize the ethereal and timeless nature of the biblical world, achieving a result not dissimilar in intent to that of much of Byzantine art.

Conservation of the painting has revealed that, at some unknown date, the original canvas was cut on all sides and that the original composition had a circular outline, exactly as was specified in the 1607 contract.

J. Carder

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Exhibition History
"A Century of Progress, Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture 1934," Chicago Art Institute, 6/1-11/1/1934, cat. p. 14, no. 77.

"Summer Exhibition: The Museum Collection and a Private Collection on Loan," Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, summer 1935.

"Exhibition of Spanish Painting," Brooklyn Museum, 10/4-31/1935, cat. no. 33.

Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA, 1936.

"Origins of Modern Art," Arts Club of Chicago, 4/2-30/1940, cat. no. 29.

"El Greco of Toledo," The Prado Museum, Madrid, 4/1-6/6/1982, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 7/3-9/6/1982, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH, 9/26-11/21/1982, and The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, TX, 12/12/1982-2/6/1983, cat. p. 107, 253-254, cat. no. 52, pl. 65.

"El Greco Identity and Transformation, Crete. Italy. Spain," National Gallery/Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens Greece, 10/18/1999-1/17/2000.

"El Greco," The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 10/7/2003-1/11/2004, and The National Gallery, London, 2/11-5/23/2004, cat. no. 58, pp. 206-207.

The National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1/12/2004-7/15/2005.

"Picasso et les Maîtres," Les Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 10/8/2008-2/2/2009.

"El Greco and Modernism," Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, 4/28–8/12/2012.

"El Greco's Visual Poetics," The National Museum of Art, Osaka, 10/16-12/24/2012; Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1/19-4/7/2013, cat. no. 51.

"El Greco of Toledo, Painter of the Visible and the Invisible," Museum of Santa Cruz, Toledo, 3/14-6/14/2014, cat. no. 69.

"El Greco," The Art Institute of Chicago, 3/5/2020 - 6/21/2020.

Acquisition History
Intended for the ceiling of the Oballe Chapel in the Church of San Vicente in Toledo, possibly never installed.

Reportedly at the Convent Church of Sta. Clara, Daimiel (Ciudad Real), Spain.

Arthur Byne, Medieval & Renaissance Art, Madrid, in the 1920s.

Apolinar Sánchez (dealer), Calle Santa Catalina 3, Madrid, early 1931.

Possibly J. Horace Harding, New York, NY, early 1930s.

Purchased through Arthur Byne, Madrid (dealer), from M. Knoedler & Co., New York, NY (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 1/17/1936.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1/17/1936-11/29/1940.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.

Related Objects

Cornice | El Greco | Elizabeth|Saint Elizabeth|St. Elizabeth | Mantles | Virgin Mary | Visitation