One of the obligatory stops, when visiting the city of Toledo, is in the Church of Santo Tomé, where one can see one of the works of El Greco, and the pinnacle of universal painting: “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”.
In 1323 Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo died, “Conde de Orgaz”, who was the most outstanding benefactor of the church of Santo Tomé. The tradition affirms that at the moment of their burial, in gratitude for their generosity, they descended from Heaven before the astonishment of the present San Agustín and San Esteban to gently deposit the body of the Count in his grave, while at the same time a powerful voice exclaim: “Such reward receives who God and his Saints serve”.
Before his death the Count ordered the annual payment by the Villa de Orgaz of eight pairs of hens, two rams, two wine hides, two loads of firewood and eight hundred maravedis to the parish of Santo Tomé. As this disbursement ceased to be made in the sixteenth century, Don Andres Nuñez de Madrid, parish priest in 1586, went to court claiming debts accumulated during such a long period. Obtained a favorable ruling, he took advantage of the benefits to entrust El Greco with a large-scale painting in which the miraculous event occurred two and a half centuries before. Two years later, after some disputes over the retribution to receive, the artist delivered the unparalleled work that elevated him as one of the great geniuses of painting.
The painting is clearly divided into two different environments separated by a symbolic mantle of clouds. In the lower part, the earthly scene of the burial is reflected with great realism, that is to say, the one that those who attended the miracle could perceive. Meanwhile, at the top, the artist wanted to capture in an ideal way, according to the thought of the time, a vision of the heavenly divinity at the moment of receiving the soul of the noble knight.
In the center of the terrestrial scene stand out the gilded figures of the saints Augustin and Esteban, who carry the body of the deceased in whose face the grayish hue of death is reflected. The small page that appears at his side carrying a torch is none other than the son of the painter, Jorge Manuel Theotocópuli, whom the Cretan wanted to immortalize in such an incomparable work. The gentleman who appears on San Esteban, with a direct look at the spectator, is the self-reprocessed Greco himself, while the priest carrying the book is the parish priest Andrés Nuñez of Madrid. The rest of the reflected faces are supposed to be contemporary characters to the pictorial work, or failing that, noble friends of the deceased who actually attended the funeral.
The heavenly scene is presided by Jesus Christ, to whose right appears Saint Peter carrying the keys of Heaven. Under them the Virgin Mary, who seems to intercede San Juan Bautista for the soul of the deceased. The image is equivalent to the divine vision of the time.
In this painting appears a set of all the artistic influences that El Greco used throughout his life.