View of Toledo

7:00 AM

El Greco, View of Toledo, 1597
Wind. Wicked wind.

Like one of those summer days, you suddenly feel the cold ice cream in your mouth as the wind carries away the sweat on your back, looking out through your sunglasses, the capricious clouds chasing each other and blocking the sun; and you know it's time to head back.

El Greco captures the ominous moment as a storm approaches on the horizon. The swaying bushes, the shades of grass on the hill, and most of all, the spinning sky, all imply the presence of wind, which, I believe, is what gives me the goosebumps.

Comparing the actual view of the city and El Greco's depiction, it shows that he changes the location of the cathedral to next to the Alcazar palace, and omits some of the buildings. Through the deliberated arrangement of the city's characteristic features, El Greco makes the composition more effective and evocative. It always amuses me how a landscape painting, a natural view that once captured by brushes, could speak for the artist, his mood and his state of mind. Hidden behind the bushes, camouflaged by colors, some strong feeling is right below the canvas, waiting to be discovered. In this case, it's a feeling of awe and ominousness.

The people in this painting are too small to be seen upon the first glance. Their images are vague, and their actions are empty. It is almost as if they have no agency... and much less individuality. However, in a paradoxical way, their negligible presence seems to show the substantial fact of human impotence. In the face of nature, or perhaps, of God, as insinuated by the cathedral, man is powerless, hopeless, and at worst, unaware. But who am I to judge. It could be a blessing not to realize our minuteness and mortality, as John Milton put it, "And fear of death deliver to the winds."

All in all, El Greco to me is little ahead of his time - in his message and his way of delivering. But isn't that the measure of a master, in bringing all of us around his work hundreds of years later?

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