The National Museum of Art of Romania
El Greco - The Adoration of the Shepherds
Artwork description
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, called El Greco
(Crete, 1541 - Toledo, 1614)
Spanish school
Oil on canvas
364 x 137 cm
Inv. 8423/457
Artwork location
European Art Gallery, 2nd floor, room 5
Sign language video
Sign language video

The Adoration of the Shepherds was part of the high altar of the Dona María de Aragón colegiate church in Madrid on which El Greco had worked between 1596 and 1600. The artist had conceived a monumental structure consisting of 6 paintings and 6 sculptures which visually embodied the idea of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the subject of many theological debates in contemporary Spain. The altar was dismantled in the early 19th century, the other five paintings being now with the Prado Museum.

The Adoration of the Shepherds The scene is set at night. The lower part of the painting features the secular while the upper half represents the Divine world, angels singing songs of praise to the Lord. El Greco focuses on the moment when shepherds kneal in front of the infant Jesus, venerating Him. The white lamb, the gift they brought Him, foretells Christ’s sacrifice.

With a highly rhethorical gesture, the Virgin holds open Jesus’s white swaddling cloth revealing the miracle of the Incarnation. Clearly her gesture is not meant for the shepherds or the angels. Rather it answers the conversation in which Joseph and the elderly man next to him are deeply engrossed. Looking closer we notice the elderly man is present in all the three El Greco paintings in Bucharest. The master’s self portraits are statements as to the visual contribution his religious scenes made to theological debates in contemporary Spain.

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