Portable Altarpiece

Domenico Theotokopulos, detto El Greco

Candia, 1541 – Toledo 1614


Oil tempera emulsion on wooden panel; lateral panels: 24 x 18(cm); central panel: 37 x 23.8(cm)

Signed by the artist, this devotional altar (featuring the Fall, the Annunciation, the Baptism of Christ, the Adoration of the Shepherds and, at the centre, the view of Mount Sinai and the Allegory of the Christian Knight) is one of the best-known and most significant of El Greco’s early works. The work arrived at the Galleria Estense in 1805 from nobleman Tommaso degli Obizzi’s art collection at the Castello del Catajo. 

The small dimensions of this work are reminiscent of Cretan cabinet-making, yet the entire execution process (the purely pictorial use of light and colour) indicates direct contact with venetian painting and marks the artist’s separation from byzantine artistic practice in favour of the Western tradition. 

This work in a miniaturist style shows the direct influence of Venetian painting in the plastic interpretation of bodies, rounded shapes and a highly sensitive use of colour. The complex iconography unifies the composition. The Original Sin decreed the Fall of Man, yet humankind’ salvation is made possible through the Incarnation of Christ, narrated in the scenes of the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Shepherds.