Comparing El Greco’s St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix to El Greco’s St. John the Baptist
In both of his works of art, El Greco is working within a same format, a vertical rectangle. There is a difference in the scaling though. St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix is about four by eight feet in size, whereas St. John the Baptist is only about two
and a half by four feet in size. Both pieces use oil on canvas as the medium.
The compositions are alike not only because they are done by the same artist, but also in the same time period. In both of the paintings El Greco prefers the triangular and rectangular shapes to any other ones (the only round forms that he uses are the shapes of the Saints’ faces), and the triangular forms are dominant over the rectangular ones. In Saint Francis Venerating the Crucifix, the big slab of rock in the background forms a triangle in an upper right corner (from the viewer’s perspective,) The kneeling position of St. Francis and his cape form a right triangle, so does the crucifix leaning against the skull. The Christ’s body on the crucifix forms a number of triangles-first is formed by his legs being bent at the knees; second is formed by his body and a right arm, and yet another one is formed by his body and his left arm. The sides of the rock in front of which St. Francis is kneeling form rectangles, and the top of it, which is being used as a table, forms a triangle. Two triangles are also being formed by St. Francis’s hands being crossed on his chest. In St. John the Baptist the overall shape of St. John’s body is a vertical rectangle, but each one of his hands create a triangle with his body on each side. The top rock to the left of St. John (viewer’s perspective) also forms a triangle, and the rock directly below it forms a rectangle. The triangles are also formed by an overall arrangement of the clouds at the both sides of St. John. The top area and the sides where the sheep are placed form rectangles. The overall shape of the sheep itself forms another two triangles.
In St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix, the neutral colors are heavily dominant over hues. There are almost no hues at all, except for the dark-yellowish color of his skull, which El Greco deliberately makes low in value so as to match the surroundings, and some very little blue of the small piece of the sky which is shown in an upper right corner. Overall, the picture is low in both intensity and value, with the main colors being gray (St. Francis’s robe), brown and dark brown (the surrounding rocks), and some black (shaded part of the rocks). The face of St. Francis and the Christ on the crucifix create a strong contrast in value with the rest of the objects shown in the picture.
They are in comparison are much higher in value because they are the only objects in the picture upon which the light from the sky falls from the top corner. In St. John the Baptist, the artist uses a lot more hues. They are: blue (the sky in the background), green (the grassland behind St. John), and indigo/violet (the mountain in the background). The neutrals are only the brownish color of the earth upon which St. John is standing, gray rocks, and gray sheep. Overall, the colors in the picture, being high in value & much higher in value in comparison to St. Francis, work together to create a much warmer look as opposed to the grim neutrals of St. Francis. Both pictures are low in intensity.
The lighting used in both pictures is very different. In St. Francis Venerating the Crucifix, the light comes only from the top right corner, and falls only on St. Francis’s face and the crucifix, whereas in St. John the Baptist the light is diffused. There is no strong contrast between light and shadow in either picture, but it is much more obvious in St. Francis because his face being illuminated creates somewhat of a contrast with the shaded areas.
In both works, the texture is the same. The actual texture, being old in age and being oil on canvas, is somewhat rough, although it looks smooth from a distance. The visual texture created by both works is also smooth.
I chose to compare these two pieces for a fairly simple reason; faith in the Lord. In St. Francis Venerating the Cross, I noticed that on the bottom right corner there is a page from the Bible ripped out and looks like blood stains are on it. That stood out the most for me because the Bible is a sacred book and letter from God. Blood stains are not very positive and having the page on the ground is symbolic of evil. We are to have God on the most high and not let Him ever feel lesser than the greatest and most almighty. In St. John the Baptist, I noticed that he is very tall and the only light that is really showing is right over the city. St. John’s size is a symbol that he is one of God’s followers. Also, another point is that he is trying to show that Jesus loves everyone no matter who or what you are. The light shows that the Lord is looking out for His children that reside in that area. Overall, these two pieces are very admirable and show a faith in the Lord that is unconditional; just like His love for us.