According to documentary evidence, this majestic canvas is one of El Greco’s last works. The artist was commissioned to paint a series of canvases for the high altar and lateral altars of the Hospital de San Juan Bautista in Toledo, generally referred to as the Hospital de Tavera after its founder, the cardinal of that name.
At an unknown date the present Annunciation was cut down at the upper part, removing an area with musical angels that has fortunately survived and has been in the National Gallery of Athens since 1931. The composition of this canvas is highly original and is quite different to earlier depictions of this subject by the painter.
In the present version the long, elegant figure of the Virgin is shown at the moment of standing up, surprised by the appearance of the Archangel and resting her left hand on the prayer-book stand before which she has been praying. Gabriel has alighted on the ground and makes a gesture with his right hand. The Holy Spirit is shown in the upper part of the canvas in a burst of light while the figures of the Virtues appear at the top, surrounded by child angels and presided over by a youthful angel that flies forward with his right arm raised.
Recent restoration of the canvas has revealed El Greco’s audacious technique in which the artist deployed the brush with enormous freedom, making use of black strokes to outline the forms and to define the figures and fields of colour. As a result, when seen from a distance the canvas gives a strange and almost magical sensation of stained glass, achieved through the vibration of the brushstroke and the use of the red under-layer to obtain effects of transparency and volume. El Greco’s son Jorge painted a considerable amount of the lower part of this composition, which would otherwise have not progressed beyond the underlayer by the time of the artist’s death.