Come meet Doménikos Theotekópoulos and his great altar piece Pentecostés!
Who? Well, you know, that Greek guy who became known working in Toledo, Spain, as El Greco. OK, now you’re talking and making sense.
No, really, without any silliness: dive into the sacrosanct atmosphere of the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) at the Dam in Amsterdam and experience the Pentecostés by El Greco! It’s a rarity for work by El Greco to be shown to the general public, and what better venue to see this work: a church to see an altar piece! A number of wooden benches are put in front of the painting, so you can sit restfully and take your time taking in the art work. And, you not only get to see it, but you can hear three soundtracks put together by three experts: a classical DJ, a musicologist, and a conservator, to accompany it as well. The soundtracks are downloadable on Spotify. Find the plaque with instructions or ask the guards to help you find them.
The painting is part of a bigger altar piece consisting of seven pieces altogether and is shown against a backdrop of white fabric with representations of them all. They don’t know the original composition for sure so the construct is partly guess. The painting shows El Greco’s signature vertical composition, and, the white bearded man, second from the right in the top row, is a depiction of himself, or so they say. Little understood and appreciated in his time, he got all-the-more valued some four hundred years later.
Who’s El Greco?
Born in Heraklion, Crete, El Greco first moved to Venice and later Rome to get commissions. In Italy, he was influenced by painters like Titian and Tintoretto. A rather difficult man, not afraid to voice his – unpopular – opinions, he was way ahead of his time. Looking at his brushstrokes and use of color, you can see where expressionists like Cézanne and Degas learned it. And you can also see the inspiration he was for Picasso, mostly in the works from his blue period, but also in the composition of his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
When he outstayed his welcome in Rome and got fewer commissions – he criticized Michelangelo for lacking artistic talent no less – he moved to Spain. There he spent the rest of his life in Toledo, where, apparently, he felt at home. The city, being a religious hotspot, spoke to him, and he painted his best works there, often depicting religious scenes and figures.
The altar piece Pentecostés exhibited in a beautiful Church
The only painting showing in this exhibition is the altar piece Pentecostés, which is not to be photographed, by the way! You’ll find a lot of information about the painter, his work, his influence, and his legacy. In addition to that, there is a 5-to-10-minute film on him, “El Greco: An Artist’s Odyssee“. It is narrated by Academy Award winning actor Adrian Brody (talking about cross-overs in art!). You get to understand the connection through time between different artists as well as an insight into the era El Greco worked in.
The extra perk of the exhibition is the church where it is showing, of course. The beautifully sculpted wooden pulpit, the ornamental pipe organ covering the entire back wall, the wooden choir going around the altar, where the El Greco altar piece is showing against the white fabric reconstruction of the total, playing the soundtrack they created to go with it. It doesn’t get more divine than that.
The exhibition runs until April 9th 2017.
In addition to the exhibition there is an evening concert on March 17th with high lights from the flamenco opera El Greco de Toledo by composer and guitar virtuoso Eric Vaarzon Morel, with the cooperation of a violinist, a mezzo-soprano, and a flamenco dancer. And there are two lectures by experts on El Greco, one on February 25th and one on April 8th, both Saturdays.