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El Greco, View of Toledo

Met curator George Goldner on first impressions in El Greco’s View of Toledo.

In this, his greatest surviving landscape, El Greco portrays the city he lived and worked in for most of his life. The painting belongs to the tradition of emblematic city views, rather than a faithful documentary description. The view of the eastern section of Toledo from the north would have excluded the cathedral, which the artist therefore imaginatively moved to the left of the Alcázar (the royal palace). Other buildings represented in the painting include the ancient Alcántara Bridge, and on the other side of the river Tagus, the Castle of San Servando.

View this work on metmuseum.org.

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Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Video transcript

The first time I saw it was the first time I came to the Metropolitan Museum when I was oh, about ten years old, I think. I came with my mother. We wandered around the paintings galleries a bit. I was particularly struck by this one painting. I always thought of paintings as being…they reproduced reality and that was what they were all about. They were much like a photograph only bigger and with paint on them. And I think seeing this painting, I think it was the first picture which attracted me to art, let’s put it that way. It is a somewhat sketchy depiction of Toledo, which is a beautiful hill town, under an extremely dramatic and powerful sky during a thunderstorm. When I looked at this picture, I recognized that an artist not only was present, but was an interpreter, emotionally, in terms of mood, in terms of drama. If you ever stand outside during a thunderstorm and you look at the sky and you look at the brilliance of the lightning on buildings or trees, I think a lot of that is captured here. It was the one picture that sort of stayed in my mind for a number of years and once in a long while I’d come to the Museum and I would always go back to that painting. So in a way it created my view of art. To me the works of art that have the greatest impact are the ones that begin with reality and expand on the experience of reality. Even though a sky during a thunderstorm is a beautiful, dramatic sight, they rarely look like this. This seems to me enhancing even that extreme to a further level of expression. As an art historian and a curator, I do spend a lot of time dissecting ideas and trying to form coherent views about them. As someone who enjoys works of art as a normal person, let’s say, I tend to be more attracted to works of art that strike me immediately. I can’t say that there have been a lot of works of art that I’ve grown to love. There are works of art that I’ve grown to admire and understand. Usually the works of art that I love, I loved when I saw them right away. And I think that that remains true, and it did with this and it does today.