?Domenikos Theotokopoulos, also known as El Greco, was a Cretan painter, and he was one of the “greatest Mannerist” (Beckett 261). Due to his journey between Venice, Rome, and Spain, El Greco’s art was influenced greatly from this. Thus, his works all reveals his “passion and restraint, religious fervor and Neo-Platonism, influenced by the mysticism of the Counter- Reformation” (Beckett 261). Additionally, by travelling to Spain he was greatly impacted by the Christian doctrine (Beckett 261). He traveled to different places in Europe to study more about art such as traveling to Italy to study Western Renaissance style, and to Rome, where “he was influenced by the rich colors and the Venetian painters” (National Gallery of Art). However, El Greco was not able to get any commissions in Rome which resulted him on settling to paint altarpieces for the church of Santa Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo, where he finished nine paintings, which benefited his reputation greatly (National Gallery of Art). Madonna and Child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes was one of the paintings that El Greco made for the church (Web Gallery of Art).
This painting was placed on the high altar of the Capilla de San Jose in Toledo, next to other important altar art pieces. The painting consists of “Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus enthroned in the heavens, surrounded by angels and seraphim” (Web Gallery of Art). The figures in this painting takes up almost all the scale in this painting, “intertwining with each other in a complex interdependent way” (The Art Story). The position of the important figures in this painting has a familiarity to another painting, The Holy family with Saint Mary Magdalen in Cleveland. The two figures underneath the Virgin Mary and Jesus are St. Martina and St. Agnes. St Martina is in the bottom left corner with the Lion, and St. Agnes is in the bottom right corner with a lamb (Web Gallery of Art). According to William Newton from Blog of The Courtier, that the “lamb is symbolically associated” with St. Agnes because of a tale that white lamb can be seen whenever someone visits her grave, thus, a saint seen holding a lamb in a painting is assumed to be St. Agnes. However, Newton believes that it has more something to do with her name, which means lamb in Latin word “Agnus” (Newton).
According to The Art Story, this art piece by El Greco is a representation of El Greco’s “deeply expressive nature and stylized approach to form”. El Greco is a very fond of bright color, thus, it is not a surprise that this painting features lively colors, which is what he mastered from his early years studying in Rome. Furthermore, according to El Greco the replication of colors is the “greatest difficulty of art” (qtd. in The Art Story). According to a novelist and art critic Aldous Huxley, this piece is not about copying “nature nor to tell a story”, but to “create his own world…expressing what he wanted to say about life” (qtd. in The Art Story).