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El Greco’s Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind

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Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541-1614) also known as El Greco (Spanish for “The Greek”) was a Greek painter, sculptor, and architect who spent much of his time in Italy and Spain during the Renaissance.  Like many Renaissance painters, the matter of his paintings is related to biblical accounts of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry.  Nevertheless, it does not mean that his style was just a mere repetition of the typical style that was imposed by the involvement of the Catholic Church in the Arts.  As a matter of fact, his style is quite unusual due to his Greek origin. 

Although his family may have been part of a Roman Catholic minority on the Mediterranean island of Crete, El Greco was trained in the Orthodox Greek Byzantine tradition of icon painting, which had a life-long effect on his work.  One cannot fully understand El Greco’s art without examining the theology of the icon.  The icon is held by the believer to be an agent of communion between the worshiper and that which is represented.  Before the icon, there is a moment of encounter between the terrestrial and celestial.

The icon mediates the presence and power of God to the worshiper. This theology is evident in El Greco’s art—the temporal is represented as sanctified and the sacred is made.  Specifically, his fluid style is a synthesis of Greek, Italian and Spanish influences and his rapturous images are claimed by each of these national traditions of painting.  Allowing no division between the material and spiritual, El Greco’s art was rooted in his personal vision, and the mysticism of the Catholic Counter Reformation.  Around 1566-67, El Greco traveled to Venice, which then controlled Crete and was under the sway of the Byzantine tradition (the Crusaders had carted off many of Byzantium’s treasures to Venice).

There the painter was likely a pupil of Titian, and influenced by Veronese and Tintoretto.  Around 1570, El Greco went to Rome in search of patronage.  Christ driving money changers out of the temple was his first widely recognized work in Rome.  El Greco had painted this subject before and would return to it again (there are four versions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit).  This biblical story was popular with the Counter Reformation movement, suggesting that El Greco had, at least by this date, identified with the Roman church, who imagined Christ driving out merchants from the temple as symbolic of the Church purifying itself from the Protestant heresy.

El Greco’s return again and again to the same subject, with only minor, but significant, compositional alterations, may be a key evidence of his training in the Byzantine school of icon painting, where artists are discouraged from deviating from the established model.  Interestingly, among the Renaissance painters, a similar tradition existed with themes, colors, gestures, and symbolism that were used to paint biblical accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry.  In addition, El Greco integrated Venetian and Roman elements to develop a style that would typify the “El Greco” works of art.

Another typical element of his Byzantine school of icon painting training was the elongation of faces and bodies of his subjects, which was reminiscent of Greek-Orthodox iconic style.  Unfortunately, his innovative tendencies with the Renaissance artistic style were rejected by many important figures of the Catholic Church patronage.  Consequently, El Greco moved to Spain in order to establish himself in another stimulating environment to exercise his art.

He stayed in Spain until the end of his life, but also created magnificent and highly recognizable paintings due to his wonderful abilities to synthesize his different painting techniques learned throughout his life and his journeys.  The visual language El Greco created to inspire the worshiper is still spiritually and aesthetically moving to modern viewers.  His flame-like figures are rapturous, they shed their earth-bound constraints.

 Although he could paint with any degree of realism that he desired, he preferred to idealize, as seen in his elongated figures. In El Greco’s art, everything on earth is in a state of ascension and everything in heaven is poured out like the spirit on Pentecost.  El Greco’s vision was driven by the spirit, rather than the eye, and by an intense mystical fervor, which has been dubiously attributed to some optical defect or even a form of “madness.” [1]

            The painting in question for this analysis is the Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind.  (See Figure 1 below.

Figure 1 Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind by El Greco[2]

The overall impression of the painting is one of a dynamic scene involving Jesus Christ in an episode of his ministry.  Christ is the main character standing on the left, holding his right hand over the face of a kneeling man.  The painting shows Jesus Christ healing the blind man by touching his eyes.  Remarkably, Christ is not in the center of the painting, but off-centered to the left, which is a deviation from the general style of Christian art in the Renaissance in which Christ is center to all the activities taking place around him.  This deviation might be explained with the overall position of all the characters: a group on the left, one on the right, and a couple seated in the front.

There is a direct view in between the group of the background in perspective where you can see the buildings, reminiscent of classical Roman/Greek architecture with one in particular being some kind of arch or gate, featuring a figure on top of the triangular face design, perhaps a cross or a bird, perhaps symbolizing divinity.  Jesus may have walked from that gate towards us.  You can also observe the intensely bright blue sky being the dominion of God and his heavenly angels, and one can see a couple sitting on the ground, a man as well as a woman; the woman is stroking the man’s face as if comforting him.

We may assume that this man was also healed by Jesus.  On the right, there is another group of people with one man in a light purple outer garment, reaching out with his right hand, as if he is trying to grab Jesus.  This character looks like it could be Peter by the look of his features.  This is one of the elements of Christian iconography in this painting, namely the portraying of characters who can be readily identified by their facial features, gestures, actions.  This iconographic technique is the standardization of the forms of Holy persons.  His gesture might have been one of protection towards Jesus who attracted many people around him.  Peter considered himself the protector of his Lord.  This sense of protection is seen in the biblical account of Jesus’ betrayal in Gethsemane during which Peter took out his sword to defend Jesus against him being taken away by the arresting party. [3]

  In addition, another Christian symbol is the gestures of the characters.  The woman on the right is pointing towards Jesus, essentially pointing at the miracle taking place while the standing man on the left of the picture points to the sky with a posture of reverent as well as fervent curiosity.  This man points to the power of God, given to Jesus to perform the miracle.  This is the acknowledgment of the heavenly power behind miracles as well as life, observed in other Renaissance paintings.  Moreover, the color coding of people’s garments are seen in this painting, which is another item of Christian iconography.

The selection of colors was immutable in the Christian art of the Renaissance, also functioning as additional clues to identify characters.  For example, Christ wears a bright azure blue outer garment and a reddish dark pink-colored inner garment.  El Greco’s signature is seen here with the elongation of the faces signifying the expressive connection between human nature connected to the Divine.

This feature is particularly true for Jesus’ face.  However, El Greco did not include the hands of his characters in his elongation styles as was the case in his other paintings.  Going back to the couple in the front of the painting, their attention is solely focused on Jesus performing his miracle.  Their posture is also seen in other Renaissance paintings as a classic Christian symbol of submission to the Messiah.  This is about the reverence for the person of Christ: the characters are lower than Christ while looking up to him. [4]

            In conclusion, El Greco developed a style that integrated his skill within Italian and Spanish Christian Renaissance art while integrating his training as a Byzantine icon painter.  The iconography or symbolism of Renaissance paintings related to the Christian faith are numerous and aim at readily identifying biblical accounts and their characters to the devout Christian.  Postures, gestures, colors of garments as well as of surroundings are codes that express spiritual ideas recognizable to the Faithful.  The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind is no exception and draws the observers into the action of the picture by its inherent dynamism of the painting’s characters.


  1. Lefaivre Liane, Tzonis Alexander. El Greco (Domenico Theotocopoulos) in El Greco-The Greek. Routledge, UK, 2003.
  2. El Greco. Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. possibly ca. 1570 (Greek, 1541-1614), Oil on canvas; 47 x 57 1/2 in. www.metmuseum.org/…/ep/images/ep1978.416.R.jpg
  3. Book of John. New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Brooklyn: New World Bible Translation Committee, 1984.
  4. Griffith, William. El Greco, in Great Painters and Their Famous Bible Pictures. Kessinger Publishing, 2005.

[1] Lefaivre, Tzonis, El Greco (Domenico Theotocopoulos)

[2] El Greco, Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

[3] John 18:10

[4] Griffith, El Greco

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