To be perfectly honest, I am tired of disliking Contemporary Art in this blog so, if you allow me, I am going to focus a little bit on the art that I like. 2014 is the IV centenary of the death of El Greco and I thought that a good way of remembering him would be to discuss (in detail) his ‘Burial of the Count of Orgaz’ (1586-88). the_burial_of_the_count_of_orgaz If I had to define a a few words this painting, I would say that it is the depiction of a massive and highly institutionalised birth. El Greco make it very clear that the viewer unconsciously captures the coalescence of vaginal shapes that are structured around that central vagina that is both depicted externally and internally. I am saying internally because the structure of the painting is divided in two halves: the bottom half belongs to the world and the top one to Heaven. To pass from one to the other one, a rite of passage has to be performed hat looks like giving birth. On the top, in what seems to be the uterus (Heaven), there is Christ enthroned and Saint Peter, on his right, showing the keys for his Kingdom and for His Church. Having said this, the journey of the soul is not without obstacles for it firstly has to pass through a very thin opening that looks like a vagina which is orthogonally placed below the aforementioned uterus. That vagina seems to be the extension of the skirt of the Virgin Mary which shape is, oh surprise, that of a vagina. The fact that the Archangel Saint Michael is the gate keeper gives us the degree of seriousness (and danger, for the soul in question) of the whole operation and his flexed arm forms the shape of another vaginal opening that seems to face the viewer. In other words, this painting, in itself, functions (at least, during the performance of its viewing) as a gateway to Heaven.

Unknown The bottom part of the painting depicts the miracle that occurred when St Stephen and St Augustine appeared to lay the charitable Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo to rest. Both saints function as undertakers but also as mid-wives helping in the birth of his soul and its ascension to Heaven. As we can see, El Greco loved to depict visual paradoxes. It seems that everything in this picture is one thing and its opposite at the same time. More paradoxes are the angels depicted as pearls in winding path of oysters, underlining once again the vaginal metaphor.

This painting was commissioned to El Greco because more than twenty years before, in 1564, the town of Orgaz had stopped paying the Toledan parish of Santo Tome the tribute in kind and the, by then, risible sum of 800 maravedis that had been imposed in the fourteenth century by their lord, Don Gonzalo (the corpse in El Greco’s painting).  The tribute used to be used in a ceremony that celebrated the patron saint of the parish and the memory of Gonzalo. Andres Nunez de Madrid, parish priest from 1562 until 1601 wanted to raise the profile of the miracle involving the person to whom the city owed money to by moving the tomb (which was denied to him by the Eclesiastical authorities) and by creating a new chapel (the Chapel of Our Lady of the Conception) which would be crowned by this painting. The clause in the contract specified what El Greco had to paint: ‘First the space to be painted is everything from above the arch downwards and everything must be painted on canvas down to the epitaph that is on the aforesaid wall and below, in fresco, there must be painted a tomb and on the canvas must be painted a procession of priests and other clergymen whir are officiating at the burial of Don Gonzalez Ruiz de Toledo, lord of the town of Orgaz, with St Augustine and St Stephen coming down to bury this knight, one holding his head and the other his feet, lowering him into the tom and all around there should be a multitude watching and above it, the heavens opening up in glory….’ The painting was to be submitted on the following Christmas. This means that not only this painting was supposed to depict the salvation of the soul as giving birth but it was also to be delivered the day that the Virgin Mary gave birth. More than an image of birth, this painting functions as a symbol of fertility. More tomorrow…