The Garden Prayer ("La Oración del Huerto")
Parish of Santa María
The Garden Prayer ("La Oracion del Huerto"), by El Greco
In the chapel of San Ildefonso there is the picture of Prayer in the garden of DomEnico Theotocópulos, El Greco. The canvas was part of the priimitive altarpiece of the main chapel of the parish and its significance went unnoticed for a long time, since, from the baroque, the excellent work of El Greco took a back seat by not adjusting to the new aesthetic criteria in vogue.
Don JosE JuliA SanfeliU, Magistral of the Metropolitan SI of Zaragoza and years later canon of the Cathedral of Baeza, during one of his visits to the city, on the occasion of the preaching of the novena of the Virgen del Carmen in the church of Santa Marina, discovered the authorship and importance of this work. In the spring of 1936 the Popular Front sent the painting to the Prado Museum for its restoration, which prevented its destruction in the period of the war.
It is an oil on canvas of 169 by 112 centimeters. Of very controversial chronology, probably it was realized between the years 1605 and 1610. In the inferior part of the picture it is represented San Juan, Santiago and San Pedro intertwined in a deep sleep. In the upper one, on a much more distant plane, Christ kneeling on a rock. His arms open with palms facing the ground. His gaze, intense and supplicating, is directed towards the chalice carried by an angel in his left hand and which is supported by a cloud. To the left of Christ, in the distance, Judas and a large crowd approaching him to consummate the betrayal. Above them, a Jerusalem blurred by distance but surprisingly illuminated. An olive branch serves as a link and separation between the top and bottom that are of similar dimensions.
The very low horizon line, at the foot of San Juan, so that the vision of the scene develops from bottom to top, typical of an altar cloth, placing the convergence on the head of Christ. Consequence of this are the foreshortenings of the characters that intervene in the scene.
The apostles, in a very close plane to the spectator, when represented in foreshortening, very accused in the recumbent position of San Juan, consciously exaggerate and expand the spatial illusion in this part of the composition. The figures of San Juan and San Pedro concur in a same plane that is prolonged in that of the Apostle Santiago. The position that San Pedro adopts seems inspired by the Christ of the Final Judgment of Michelangelo of the Sixtine Chapel.
The figure of Christ is in a much more distant plane, as a result of it is its smaller size. The relationship between the two scenes that make up the canvas does not keep adequate proportionality in relation to the planes that support it. Hence, the figure of Christ and that of the angel are excessively reduced in correspondence with those of the apostles. This distortion of real space is a valid and usual argument in the mannerist aesthetic. With this, probably, El Greco intends to highlight the loneliness of Christ in this dramatic moment. The apostles, although physically close to their Master, do not share their dramatic loneliness, to such an extent that they find themselves abandoned in the slumber of a deep sleep. Different psychic realities that are mapped to planes that do not keep the required correlation.
El Greco in the scene of Christ chooses to repeat the same argument used in the position of the Zebedeos. In such a way that the angel, whose face is that of Saint John, is shown to us in foreshortening and laterally to increase the spatial illusion in correspondence with the almost frontal figure of Christ.
The plane in which the figure of Christ is found is made to coincide with the only source of supernatural light that exists in the composition. The distance of Christ is counteracted by the use of light that highlights his figure. His tunic of crimson red, so characteristic of the painter, seems to emanate light. The apostles, between penumbras, in correspondence with their location and the meaning of their attitude. Light is used not only as a stylistic resource but also with moral intentionality.
In this work of maturity, El Greco puts on the canvas all the resources that have made his style Mannerist unmistakable despite the fact that Spanish painting is looking for, at that time, a very different aesthetic horizons.
Association of Friends of the Patrimony of AndUjar