E. Parès, Paris
American Art Association Sale, New York, 13 December 1919, no. 711
Theodore Szarvas, Chappaqua, New York
Private collection, New York
Wildenstein & Co., New York
Private collection, since 1956
Brooklyn NY, Brooklyn Museum, Exhibition of Spanish Painting, 1935, no. 29
Philadelphia, Museum of Art, Masters of Spanish Painting, 1937
Paris, Galerie de Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Domenico Theotocopuli - El Greco, 1937, no. 22
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, El Greco. Identidad y Transformación. Creta. Italia. España, 3 February - 16 May 1999, no. 22, pp. 360-361, ill. p. 249
Andros, Museum of Contemporary Art, Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Classics of Modern Art, 27 June - 19 September 1999, pp. 26-33, ill. p. 27
Athens, National Gallery, Alexandros Soutzos Museum, El Greco. Identity and Transformation, 18 October 1999 - 17 January 2000
London, The National Gallery, El Greco at the National Gallery, 26 February - 2 August 2015, no. X4811
Manuel Bartolomé Cossío, El Greco, Victoriano Suarez, Madrid, 1908, pp. 191-192, no. 103, 235, 251 and 358
August Liebmann Mayer, “Einige Gemälde und eine Zeichnung des Greco”, Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, 1921, pp. 55-56
August Liebmann Mayer, Dominico Theotocopuli - El Greco; kritisches und illustriertes Verzeichnis des Gesamtwerkes, Franz Hanfstaengl, Munich, 1926, no. 70
Maurice Legendre and A. Hartmann, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, Hypérion, Paris, 1937, p. 192.
Ludwig Goldscheider, El Greco, German edition, Phaidon, London, 1938, ill. 15 (Spanish edition, Buenos Aires; French edition, Paris; English edition, George Allen and Unwin, London; American edition, Oxford University Press, New York)
Maria Luisa Caturla, “La Veronica - vida de un tema y su transfiguración por el Greco”, Revista de Occidente, Madrid, 1944
Enrique Lafuente, “El Greco - some recent discoveries”, Burlington Magazine, vol. LXXXVII, pp. 293-300
José Camón Aznar, Dominico Greco, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1950, no. 145
Karl Ipser, El Greco - der Maler des christlichen Weltbildes, Klinkhardt und Biermann, Brauschweig and Berlin, 1960, p. 110
Harold Edwin Wethey, El Greco and his School, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1962, p. 148, no. 284 and no. 6A, 282, 283, 285, X-458, X-459, X-460
Tiziana Frati,L’opera completa del Greco, Rizzoli, Milan, 1969, no. 23
José Camón Aznar, Dominico Greco, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1970, no. 147
José Gudiol, El Greco, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1971, no. 34
José Manuel Pita Andrade, El Greco, Mondadori, Milan, 1981, no. 45
Alfonso Emilio Pérez Sánchez, El Toledo de El Greco, exhibition catalogue, Hospital de Tavera/Iglesia de San Pedro Martir, April-June 1982, no. 98
Luís de Moura Sobral, “Uma Santa Face desconhecida do Greco no Palácio da Ajuda”, Colóquio / Artes, no. 69, June 1986, pp. 5-13
Luís de Moura Sobral, “Santa Face”, A Pintura maneirista em Portugal - arte no tempo de Camões, exhibition catalogue, Lisbon, 1995, pp. 314-315
On his way to crucifixion towards Calvary, Jesus Christ, carrying his cross, falls for the first time. A young woman driven by compassion, bends over offering him the veil she wears on her head. Jesus takes it, wipes away the sweat and blood, and then gives it back to her. Veronica is astonished to find out that the Saviour’s face is miraculously imprinted on the same piece of cloth, giving our painting its title.
Based on this incident, the legend of St. Veronica is born, which became popular in the 15th century and inspired many great painters, such as Dürer, Bosch, Pontormo and Correggio. Therefore, when Greco decided in 1577 to approach the subject of the Holy Face, he joined an already well-established tradition in the Catholic iconography.
Whether alone or in collaboration with the pupils at his studio, Greco carried out several paintings on this subject. In some of them he focused merely on Christ, while in others he represented the veil as well. In the versions realized only by himself, as is the case of the one presented herein, he took the time to elaborate carefully the folds of fabric, the attachment points, the variations of the lighting. The face of Christ appears more harmonious, floating almost on this moving surface and bathed in light, placed itself on a dark background. The Holy Face seen by El Greco, summarises his entire aesthetic journey, in the sense that it borrows as much from Byzantine art – his first education, in Crete - as from Western painting. If the pictorial treatment remains faithful to what he learned in Venice and subsequently in Rome, the symbolism of the choices made around the emotionless face of Christ seems that he tends towards the orthodox beliefs: the physical suffering and the pain of sacrifice are not visible through it; the gaze seems already envisioning immortality; no source of external light is visible, as if it emanated from Christ Himself. The hollow cheeks, the long and narrow face and the almond-shaped eyes, typical in El Greco’s works, confer upon Him nobility and grace, voluntarily foreign to our world. Even the wounds caused on his head by the crown of thorns do not affect Him at all; a drop of blood running down in the middle of the forehead symbolizes all the route to Calvary.
Thanks to The Holy Face, El Greco, whose genius absorbed with a recognizable individuality all the civilizations, aesthetic codes and cultures of the East and the West, succeeded to reconcile Catholicism and Orthodoxy. His achievement is to evoke the sacredness of the icon in a world deprived of it.