The National Museum of Western Art

update 14 September 2021

Currently not on display

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called) [Candia, 1541 - Toledo, 1614]

Christ on the Cross

Materials/Techniquesoil on canvas
Size (cm)95.5 x 61
InscriptionsSigned lower center: domhnïkos / qeotokopulos / epoiei
Credit LinePurchased
Standard ref.Mayer 96; Manzini 61e
Collection NumberP.1974-0001
Christ on the Cross

El Greco created a number of Christ on the Cross paintings throughout his life. Many examples of the type seen here with its dramatic background filled with black, roiling clouds, can be found amongst the works of both El Greco and his followers. The background motifs, namely the combination of figures on horseback and buildings, were rendered in various different combinations. In all instances, however, the figure of Christ is shown in elongated form, and the elegant curve of his body along with his facial expression reveal more religious ecstasy than suffering. The church seen on the distant hill is San Lorenzo Monastery, constructed in El Escorial by Phillip II. The selection of this background element is particularly fascinating given that El Greco was estranged from Phillip II and was not commissioned by him to participate in the decoration of that monastery. Paintings of Christ on the Cross by El Greco with the same depiction of the figure of Christ and background exist in many large and small variations, located today throughout the world. One of these works, a large-scale image today in the Cleveland Museum of Art, is particularly impressive. However, the Cleveland image background shows only the tops of a forest and the tower of San Lorenzo Monastery, without any inclusion of the figures on horseback riding up a hill or skull and bones. These factors indicate that the Cleveland work was not the model for the NMWA work. This painting was created sometime after El Greco's arrival in Spain, when he had switched from his more corporeal images to an elongated, thin human proportion, a stronger flow to his curving lines and his almost impressionistic, rough brushstrokes. Given these various characteristics, this work can probably be considered a late period work, although it is quite hard to definitely confirm that the painting is by El Greco himself. It is clear that the fluttering drapery of Christ's loincloth is not by El Greco himself, and there is a dryness about the other brushwork overall that differs from another high-quality small-scale version (Ex-Gutzwiller Family, Paris). Further, there is some loss of sharpness in the expression of the background sky, an area in which El Greco excelled. If El Greco's hand is apparent in this work, it is only a bit, and overall the work should be considered a high-quality workshop production. Further research is needed on this question of attribution. (Source: Masterpieces of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 2009, cat. no. 23)


Duc d'Albe; Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, 1926; Hermann Eisner, Wien; Wildenstein, New York, 1961; Wildenstein Tokyo, Tokyo, 1973; Purchased by the NMWA, 1974.

Exhibition History

The Arts of Man: a Selection from Ancient to Modern Times, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, 6 October 1962 - 31 December 1962, cat. no. 4, repr.
Inaugural exhibition, From Renaissance to Fauvism, Wildenstein, Tokyo, 18 January 1973 - 16 March 1973, cat. no. 2
El Greco, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 18 October 1986 - 14 December 1986, cat. no. 46, col. repr.
The Image of Human Body in the Past and Present, Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, 19 October 1991 - 1 December 1991, cat. no. Ⅰ-5, col. repr.
The Suma Collection Revisited: 500 Years of Spanish Art, Nagasaki Prefectual Art Museum, 23 April 2005 - 5 June 2005, cat. no. 32, col. repr.
El Greco's Visual Poetics, National Museum of Art, Osaka , 16 October 2012 - 24 December 2012, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 19 January - 7 April 2013, cat. no. 37, col. repr.
The Rings from The Hashimoto Collection of The National Museum of Western Art, The National Museum of Western Art, 8 July 2014 - 15 September 2014, cat. no. 165


Mayer, August L. Dominico Theotocopuli, El Greco: kritisches und illustriertes Verzeichnis des Gesamtwerkes. München, F. Hanfstaengl, 1926, cat. no. 96, repr. p. 19.
Mayer, August L. El Greco. Berlin, Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1931, p. 114.
Legendre, M.; Hartmann, A. Domenico Theotocopouli dit El Greco. Paris, Hyperion, [1937], repr. p. 220.
Camón Aznar, José. Dominico Greco. 1st. ed., Madrid, Espasa-Calpe, 1950, tomo 1, p. 654, fig. 499, tomo 2, cat. no. 175.
Gaya Nuño, Juan Antonio. La pintura española fuera de España. Madrid, Espasa-Calpe, 1958, pp. 205-206, no. 1417.
Wethey, Harold E. El Greco and His School. vol. 2, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1962, p. 176, cat. no. X-50.
Dallas News. 30. 9. 1963, col. repr.
Manzini, Gianna; Frati, Tiziana. L'opera completa del Greco. Milano, Rizzoli, 1969, cat. no. 61e, repr.
Camón Aznar, José. Domenico Greco. 2nd. ed., Madrid, 1970, tomo 1, p. 662, fig. 542.
Gudiol, José. Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco, 1541-1614. Barcelona, 1971, cat no. 120, fig. 143.
Les cent chefs-d'œuvre du Musée National d'Art Occidental. Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art, 1975 (Japanese), no. 11, repr.
Gazette des Beaux-Arts. ser. 6, tome 85, Mar. 1975. "Chronique des Arts", p. 67, no. 258, repr.
Bulletin Annuel du Musée National d’Art Occidental. No. 9 (1974), 1976, Nouvelles acquisitions, par Chisaburoh F. Yamada, pp. 4-5. Nouvelles acquisitions (catalogue). pp. 6-7, col repr. p. 2.
Masterpieces of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art, 1978 (Japanese, preface in Japanese and English), no. 11, repr.
The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo: Catalogue of paintings. Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art, 1979, no. 137, repr.
Masterpieces of The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art; Tokyo, The Western Art Foundation, 2006 (Japanese, preface in Japanese and English), no. 23, col. repr.
Masterpieces of The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art; Tokyo, The Western Art Foundation, 2009, no. 23, col. repr.
Masterpieces: The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo. Tokyo, The Western Art Foundation, 2013 (Japanese, preface in Japanese and English), no. 30, col. repr.

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