Ildefonso, whose name is more familiar in its Castilian form, Alfonso, was appointed archbishop of Toledo in 657 and later became that city's patron saint. He was especially famed for his book defending the purity of the Virgin, which he was said to have written at her dictation.

El Greco represented the saint in a richly decorated room, seated at a writing table furnished with costly silver desk ornaments consistent with the style of the artist's own time. The contemporary setting notwithstanding, an otherworldly aura pervades the room as the saint pauses in his writing and, as though awaiting the next word, gazes attentively at the source of his inspiration, a statuette of the Madonna. The combination of strangely compacted space, the chalky highlights that play over the saint's sleeves and the velvet tablecover, and, not least, Ildefonso's fervent expression, remove the scene to a spiritual realm.

El Greco's image of the Virgin resembles an actual wooden figure that Ildefonso is said to have kept in his oratory until it was given by him to the church of the Hospital of Charity in the small Spanish town of Illescas, near Toledo. The statuette is preserved there today together with El Greco's larger version of _Saint Ildefonso_.

More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication _Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries_, which is available as a free PDF <u>https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/spanish-painting-15th-19th-centuries.pdf</u>


  • Title: Saint Ildefonso
  • Creator: El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)
  • Date Created: c. 1603/1614
  • Physical Dimensions: overall: 112 x 65.8 cm (44 1/8 x 25 7/8 in.) framed: 135.4 x 89.9 x 6.7 cm (53 5/16 x 35 3/8 x 2 5/8 in.)
  • Provenance: Probably in the artist's possession at the time of his death in 1614;[1] his son, Jorge Manuel Theotocópuli, Toledo, by 1621.[2] Presented 1698 to Carlos II [1661-1700] by Don Juan Varela Colima, the King's secretary and tax collector for the city and province of Toledo.[3] Condesa de Quinto, Paris; (sale, Paris, 1862, no. 64, as _Un saint Évêque écrivant, les regards tournés vers l'image de la Sainte Vierge_);[4] Alphonse Oudry; (his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 16-17 April 1869, no. 139, as _Prélat écrivant l'histoire de la Vierge_, for 500 francs);[5] Jean-François Millet [1814-1875], Paris; his widow, Catherine Lemaîre Millet; (her estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 24-25 April 1894, no. 261, as _L'Évêque_, for 2000 francs);[6] acquired by (Durand-Ruel, Paris) for Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas [1834-1917], Paris; [7] (his atelier sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 26-27 March 1918, 2nd day, no. 2, as _Saint Ildefonso écrivant sous la dictée de la Vierge_);[8] (M. Knoedler & Co., London and New York);[9] sold 7 February 1922 to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.;[10] deeded December 1934 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh;[11] gift 1937 to NGA. [1] The inventory of El Greco's estate made in 1614 includes the following item: "Un S. ilefonso escribiendo" ("A Saint Ildefonso writing"); see Francisco de Borja de San Román y Fernández, _El Greco en Toledo_, Madrid, 1910: 193. [2] The painting is listed in the inventory of 1621 as follows: "Un san Ylefonso bestido de cardenal escribiendo, de bara y terzia de alto y casi un bara de ancho, con quadro dorado" ("A Saint Ildefonso dressed as a Cardinal writing, a _vara_ and a third in height and almost a _vara_ in width, with a gilded frame"); see Francisco de Borja de San Román y Fernández, "De la vida del Greco," _Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueologia_ 3 (1927): 70, n. 15. A _vara_, a traditional Spanish measurement, equals about 84 cm. Thus, the painting was said to be 112 cm tall and almost 84 cm wide. [3] _Relación del magestuoso recibimiento y entretenido cortejo de una fiesta de toros celebrada en honor de Carlos II y su esposa en Burguillos en una casa de recreación de D. Juan Varela Colima, secretario de S. M. y recaudador de los servicios de millones de Toledo y su partido...3 de junio de 1698_, Madrid, 1698. The relevant passage is transcribed in Francisco J. Sánchez Cantón, _Fuentes para la historia del arte español_, 5 vols., Seville and Madrid, 1923-1941: 5:509-510. The presentation is described as follows: "A la Reina se ofrecieron doce albanicas de láminas primorísimas y al Rey una pintura de vara y media de alto, original del célebre Dominico Greco, que representaba a San Ildefonso con nuestra Señora, objectos predeilectísimos de la devoción de Carlos II..." ("To the Queen were presented twelve fans with exquisitely decorated blades and to the King a painting a _vara_ and one-half in height [i.e., about 126 cm tall], an original by the celebrated Dominico Greco, which depicts San Ildefonso with Our Lady, favored objects of devotion of Carlos II..."). The NGA painting is the only work by El Greco or his workshop which corresponds to this description. The painting is listed in the inventory of the collection at the Palacio Real, Madrid, made between 1701 and 1703, as follows: "Ytten otro lienzo de Vara y Quartta de altto y bara de Ancho poco mas de Un San Yldefonso escribiendo delantte de Una Ymagen de nuestra Señora y Un Retratto en el mismo lienzo del Griego todo tasado en treinto Doblones" ("And another painting one _vara_ and a quarter in height [i.e. c. 105 cm] and a little more than one _vara_ wide [i.e., c. 84 cm] of a Saint Ildefonso writing in front of an image of Our Lady and a portrait in the same painting [frame?] by Greco all valued at 30 _doblones_"); see _Inventarios reales: Testamentario del Rey Carlos II_, ed. by Gloria Fernández Bayton, 6 vols., Madrid, 1975-: 1(1701-1703):31, no. 130. This entry seems to refer to two separate paintings which had been enframed together. Double enframing was not common, but it was sometimes utilized in the collection of paintings at the Palacio Real in Madrid. Among the 1,067 entries in the 1701-1703 inventory of the Madrid palace, there are five additional references to other small works enframed together. It is impossible to know what portrait was enframed with _Ildefonso_; the portrait might be a now-lost work. Nevertheless it is tempting to posit that the _Ildefonso_ was displayed with Greco's portrait of a Dominican or Trinitarian monk (now in the Prado). This is one of the few portraits by El Greco or his school that could be combined with the _Ildefonso_ without significantly exceeding the measurements given in the 1701-1703 inventory. Because the subject of this portrait is a monk, the combination of this painting with the _Ildefonso_ would accord with the practice otherwise followed in the royal collection of jointly enframing thematically related works. [4] Manuel B. Cossío, _El Greco_, Madrid, 1908: 598-599, no. 299; and August L. Mayer, _Domenico Theotocopuli, El Greco_, Munich, 1926: 46, no. 287, maintained that Zacharie Astruc purchased the painting in Madrid and imported it to France. This is not possible if the painting was in the Condesa de Quinto's sale because Astruc made his first trip to Spain in 1864. See Sharon Fletcher, _Zacharie Astruc: Critic, Artist and Japoniste_, Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1977 (published in the series, Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts, New York, 1978): 305. [5] The price is annotated in both the Frick Art Reference Library and the NGA copies of the sale catalogue. [6] The price is annotated in the Frick Art Reference Library copy of the sale catalogue. [7] Ives, Colta et al. _The Private Collection of Edgar Degas: A Summary Catalogue_. New York, 1997: no. 599 give Durand-Ruel, who was an expert at the Millet sale, as the intermediary for Degas. [8] In the 1990 NGA systematic catalogue (Jonathan Brown and Richard G. Mann, _Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries_, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Washington, 1990: 44), the painting was incorrectly identified as lot number 3 in this sale, which was _Saint Dominique_, now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, accession number 23.272 and identified as _Saint Dominic in Prayer_. Diana Kostyrko, e-mail of 18 March 2015, in NGA curatorial files, kindly pointed out the error. [9] For an interesting account of Knoedler's purchase of this painting, see Sir Charles J. Holmes, _Self & Partners (Mostly Self)_, London, 1936: 335-340. [10] The date of purchase is noted in David Finley's notebook of Mellon acquisitions; original in NGA Gallery Archives, and copy in NGA curatorial files. [11] Mellon collection records in NGA curatorial files.
  • Medium: oil on canvas

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