Saint Dominic in Prayer

about 1605
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek (active in Spain), 1541–1614)


Dimensions

104.7 x 82.9 cm (41 1/4 x 32 5/8 in.)

Accession Number

23.272

Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

Not On View

Collections

Europe

Classifications

Paintings

A favorite subject of El Greco and his workshop, Saint Dominic founded the mendicant order that bears his name and popularized the use of the Rosary after receiving it in a vision. El Greco’s novel brushwork, distilled composition, and restrained palette convey a sense of spiritual intensity as Dominic kneels in solemn devotion before the crucifix. Such paintings were especially popular during the Counter-Reformation because they encouraged direct empathetic responses from viewers. El Greco was later revered by 19th-century avant-garde artists intrigued by his ‘modern’ way of painting. Tellingly, this work once belonged to the artist Edgar Degas.

Inscription

Lower left, on rock: domenikos theotokopoulos / e'poiei (in Greek characters)

Provenance

1896, Zacharie Astruc (b. 1833 - d. 1907), Paris [see note 1]; September 1896, sold by Astruc to Edgar Degas (b. 1834 - d. 1917), Paris [see note 2]; March 26, 1918, Degas estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, lot 3, for 52,500 fr. to Trotti et Cie. for Hermann Heilbuth (b. 1861 - d. 1945), Copenhagen; about 1920/1923, probably sold by Heilbuth to Ehrich Gallery, New York [see note 3]; 1923, sold by Ehrich Gallery to the MFA for $12,000. (Accession Date: June 7, 1923)

NOTES:
[1] Manuel B. Cossio, "El Greco" (Madrid, 1908), p. 598, cat. no. 298, associates the Saint Dominic with an El Greco painting owned by the painter Jean-François Millet, stating that it had been acquired by M. Fèvre (presumably for Degas), by exchange, at the death of Millet's widow. Millet owned an El Greco painting of Saint Ildefonso (now National Gallery of Art, Washington), which was included in the posthumous sale of Millet's widow in 1894. The Ildefonso, like the Dominic, was subsequently acquired by Degas. Cossio apparently confused the two paintings; he says nothing of Millet's ownership of the Ildefonso, stating instead that it was exported from Spain by Astruc. In fact, Astruc handled the Saint Dominic, which he sold to Degas in 1896. There is no evidence, beyond Cossio's work, that Millet owned the painting of Saint Dominic.

[2] Number 88 in Degas's posthumous inventory, according to a label affixed to the back of the painting. On the acquisition from Astruc, see The Private Collection of Edgar Degas: A Summary Catalogue (New York, 1997), p. 67, no. 600.

[3] Exhibited with other paintings from Heilbuth's collection at the Danish Museum of Fine Art ("Catalogue of a Collection of Paintings," Autumn, 1920), cat. no. 43. Many paintings from Heilbuth's collection were subsequently with Ehrich Brothers; see, for example, MFA accession no. 24.342.

Credit Line

Maria Antoinette Evans Fund