The Burial of the Count of Orgaz

• Date of Creation: circa 1588

• Alternative Names: Entombment of the Count of Orgaz

• Height (cm): 480.00

• Length (cm): 360.00

• Medium: Oil

• Support: Canvas

• Subject: Scenery

• Art Movement: Mannerism

• Created by: El Greco ( Domenikos Theotokopoulos )

• Current Location: Toledo, Spain

• Displayed at: Santo Tome Church

• Owner: Santo Tome Church

El Greco: "I paint because the spirits whisper madly inside my head."

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More details under these line.

Story  &  Theme

El Greco's The Burial of the Count Orgaz is universally considered his greatest masterpiece. Some even claim that this is the most beautifully crafted religious painting of all time.

Ever since El Greco completed the painting in the late 1500s, people have been flocking to the Santo Tome church in Toledo, Spain, where the impressive 16 by 10-foot image lives.

The Commission: 
When the Count of Orgaz was alive, he donated a large sum of money to the Santo Tome church.  After his death however, the officials in the town ignored his request to bequeath the money -for over 200 years.

 Then came along Father Andres Nuñez, a humble priest at the Santo Tome who filed a lawsuit in 1569 and won back payments of the Count's original endowment.

 The priest decided to use this money to decorate the church in honor of the Count and on March 15, 1586, he chose El Greco as the man for the job.

 The theme of this painting is an historical-mystical series of events surrounding the death of local hero Count Orgaz, who died in his native Toledo in the early 1300s. The Count was said to be a pious man, a philanthropist, and a knight.

 After the Count died in 1312, he was interred by the Cardinal and a host of clerics.

 The story goes that during this ceremony, the heavens erupted spontaneously and friends and mourners witnessed a sky filled with images of Jesus,  the Virgin,  St. John, and several other saints and angels.

  Legend explains that Saint Augustine and Saint Stephen appeared to reward the Count for his generosity to the church by burying him with their own hands and dazzling all those present.

Being a pious Toledan himself, El Greco chose to recapture this remarkable legend, painting both the mortals and immortals in attendance at Count Orgaz's funeral.

Paying Tribute: 
By way of thanks for this commission, El Greco painted Nuñez into this masterpiece (located in the far right of the image). Furthermore, as a tribute to the aristocracy of Toledo,  El Greco honored various prominent Toledan social figures by immortalizing them in the painting.

 El Greco even allegedly painted himself, as the figure looking straight out toward the viewer next to Saint Stephen.

In addition to immortalizing Santo Tome's priest and several prominent men of Toledo, El Greco also honored his own son in The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. The young boy looking directly at viewers from the bottom left hand corner of the painting is Jorge Manuel, El Greco's beloved illegitimate son.

Inscribed on the handkerchief in his pocket are both El Greco's Greek signature and the date of his son's birth 1578.

El Greco's inspirations for this painting are a great topic of debate among contemporary art critics. Some say that he was inspired by Byzantine art, as evidenced by his earlier work, The Dormition of the Virgin. Others point to Renaissance and other Mannerist artists as particularly influential.

In addition to paintings and artists, El Greco was also inspired by the fine churchmen and influential members of Toledan society, the Count himself, and God, who served as El Greco's primary influence and inspiration throughout his life.

Composition: This image painting is clearly divided into two parts: heaven above and the moral burial scene below. Above in the heavens swirl unearthly clouds of ice and elongated phantomlike saints and angels in El Greco's typical Mannerist style.

Below terrestrial scene is painted in normal proportions. Because the painting lacks ground, horizon, and perspective, it achieves supernatural space and creates a strange species of harmony.

Color palette: The composition is brought together through rich gold and red colors, which produce a royal and ceremonial character, making the image more cohesive. The figures' varied participation in both the earthly and heavenly events and the torches and cross stretching upward from the terrestrial scene help create harmony in the image.

Several areas of this painting shimmer and dance with an unmatchable glow. El Greco put so much care into the detail of this work, that even the brilliant garments of his figures are masterpieces in their own right.

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz has long been considered one of El Greco's finest paintings. From its early reception by the Toledans, who undoubtedly held this tributary painting in high regard, to the contemporary critics and visitors who still flock in droves to see this masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz has generally been received with overwhelming praise.

Much of the critical reception of this work has focused on El Greco's inspirations for the piece. While many believe that this painting marks El Greco's first major departure from his Renaissance and Mannerist mentors, others try to draw close parallels between this painting and related works by predecessors like Titian and Tintoretto.


This scene is divided into two sections:

The lower part, where it represents the scene of the miracle itself, at the moment in which San Esteban and San Agustín, as a reward for the life of Don Gonzalo's life (Such a reward receives God and its saints serves), come down from the sky to put in the tomb the body of the Lord of Orgaz while the assistants to the funeral contemplate the scene. This section is more rational, darkly colored and the figures with the correct proportions. Both sections are joined by the people in the painting as well as the high and crossed torches carried by some of the people.

The upper part, is an open heaven in the glory that receives the soul of the deceased. This section is represented with swirls of clouds and ethereal and elongated figures. Here we can see the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.

The looks of some characters and the angel with its outstretched wings and foreshortened position, lead us to the Gloria, which opens in the shape of a triangle.

Strangely, the figure of King Philip II is also included among the celestial figures, although at that time when El Greco painted this painting, Philip was still alive. Here appears the King with a gola and the characteristic hand on his chest in the way that El Greco used to paint. Having painted the King showed us his lack of resentment towards the monarch for the rejection of his paintings as I mentioned earlier.

El Greco was also included in the figures, as well as that of his son Jorge Manuel. That El Greco was portrayed is not strange, since it is a custom he takes from Italian painters. His son is carrying a lighted torch (one of the six candles of the mass of the dead, who stares at us and points out the miraculous event.) A handkerchief stands out of his pocket where the artist's signature is.

El Greco always signed in Greek script. "Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Domenicos Theotocópoulos) ἐποίει 1578"

Here we can see the keys of Saint Peter, the keys of heaven and earth, symbolizing the power of binding and loosing that Christ granted him.

The soul of the Count of Orgaz is represented by the body of a child held by an angel with golden hair.

One can also recognize Noah leaning on the ark, Moses carrying the Tablets of the Law and David playing the harp.

The crucifix connects the events that are happening on earth with the celestial scenes. This reminds us of the Resurrection of Christ, who achieves the salvation of the Count.

To the right appear three tenouous figures: one of them would be María Magdalena, with the bottle of essences, the second could be Marta and the third Lázaro, although also, being naked and in an upright position, it could be San Sebastián.

San Juan Bautista is the figure that is semi naked and dressed in camel skin in allusion to his ascetic life. Together with the Virgin Mary they intercede for the soul of D. Gonzalo.

If we look to the opposite extreme, to the right of St. John the Baptist and immediately behind him are several apostles, among whom we can identify St. Paul, with a violet robe and a reddish cloth; to Santiago el Mayor and Santo Tomás, the latter dressed in a greenish tunic and yellow cloth, and who has the carperter´s square - he is the patron of the architects - besides being in a pre-eminent place for being the titular saint of this parish of Santo Tomé.

Behind, a great choir of blessed with the heads crowded and staggered, where it has been wanted to see relevant personages of the moment.

El Greco represented the miracle, but not as a historical matter that happened in the fourteenth century, when this event occurred, but as an episode of the sixteenth century, when paint this canvas, with contemporary characters dressed in the fashion of the moment and reflecting a deceased office of that time.

As it is related in the narration of the miracle, Saint Augustine and Saint Stephen descend from the sky, who bend and hold the body of Mr. Orgaz by the shoulders and legs, respectively, to deposit it in the tomb.

St. Augustine, one of the four great Fathers of the Church, appears as a bearded elder with a miter and episcopal cape (remember that he was bishop of Hispona) richly embroidered, in which St. Paul is represented with the sword, James with the book and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the latter with the sword of decapitation, the palm of martyrdom and stepping on the head of the Emperor Maximian, his persecutor.

St. Esteban, deacon and first protagonist, has engraved, in the lower part of his dalmatic, the scene of his martyrdom. If we look at it we can see a whole picture inside the painting.

Here we can observe the three religious orders: Franciscans, Augustinians and Dominicans, who used to go to the funerals of the members of the nobility.

Esq. Gonzalo with his face stiffened by death wears a damask armor in which one can see the reflected face of San Esteban and the hand of the knight of Santiago.

The priest in the white robe is said to be Andrés Nuñez, the parish priest of Santo Tomé who commissioned this painting.

As the monk on the left side of the painting reflects the pose of the priest who is reading the Bible on the right side of the painting.

What about the colors of this painting?

The contrast between the top and bottom of this painting makes it an attractive scene to the eye of the viewer. The lower scene is in shadow, only illuminated by the shining gleams of the vestments of the saints and the surplice priest, in front of the luminous glow of the upper scene.

In the lower part black tones dominate together with warm colors: crimsons, violets, golds, and cold tones dominate in the sky.

To end ...

Toledo was known for its weapons and armor crafts. The Count of Orgaz wears a magnificent suit of armor of the type produced in the time of El Greco. The detailed realism of the earthly figures contrasts with the distorted shapes and acid colors of the celestial figures.

Did you know ...

    This painting has been known as The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. Actually D. Gonzalo was not count, but Lord of Orgaz, since the title of count was received by his descendants in the sixteenth century, so that at the time when El Greco painted the painting, the title was not lordship but county. Probably there the confusion originated.

This painting of such great proportions was painted on a one-piece canvas, with a fine grain called mantelillo.

     In 1940 was issued by the Bank of Spain a bill of 500 pesetas with a detail of this table.

Maneirist: The Roman painters of the 1550s would have come to a name called full mannerism or mania based on the works of Raphael and Michelangelo, where the figures were exaggerated and complicated to become art, seeking a precious virtuosity.

St. Augustine is represented as Cardinal Gaspar de Quiroga, who was granted the corresponding license for the execution of the painting.

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