Toledo’s skyline has changed little since El Greco immortalized Spain’sreligious centre in 1597-9(Cardillac 28). El Greco’s natural talents, his”schooling,” and the flare of his adopted Spain, combined to producean artistic genius. El Greco’s ability to convey manneristic images that were sooriginal in conception and color that the detail gives a miraculous conceptionof cohesion to the whole work(Wethey 61). When studying this canvas, however,one must examine the passionate, moonlit sky; the artistic license El Greco tookin the placement of the city’s salient landmarks; and what these libertiesconnote within the context of his time(Brown 244). View of Toledo is one of theearliest landscapes in Western Art; in addition, it is El Greco’s only truelandscape and the first in Spanish Art (Legendre 13). It is a romantic, yetstark dramatic view of his beloved city. Toledo was the centre of the secularand ecclesiastical Spanish world. El Greco was a deeply pious man and formed aninstant affection for the city(joslyn.org). Of El Greco’s two survivinglandscapes, View of Toledo is essentially as mystical in composition as hisreligious canvases (Wethey 63). The painting seems to anticipate theimpressionist movement 250 years away. Historically, the striking use of suchrich tones of violet, azure, and emerald were dramatically different from therealist conception of nature. In fact, one could argue that El Greco mimickedthe almost psychedelic hues” from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel(WebMuseum). Today, these bold color schemes lose much of their impact; however,historically, they were a watershed in painting(Acton 82). The idea behind thislandscape of Toledo was to announce the city’s greatness. The painting wasintended to propagate the cities place among other great Spanish Cities. Thepainting itself is not a true topographical representation of Toledo(Wethey 64).
El Greco took some liberty in his placement of the dominant structures. Inreality, the belfry of the cathedral would be far to the right and beyond thepaintings field of view. Furthermore, he has distorted the steepness of thealcazar’s hill and the river Tagus has moved to the right of it’s actuallocation(Brown 244). Past the ancient Roman bridge Alcantara, three mysteriousbuildings rest in a patch of cloud like white. These three buildings bafflecontemporary critics and writers; however, recently it has been proposed thatthe buildings were symbolic of St. Ildefonso’s monastic retreats. Writers haveaccepted this based on a description from the biography of the saint by PedroSalazar de Mendoza, who was a patron and friend of El Greco’s. The saint’smonastery, according to Mendoza was situated in a field along side a hill on thenorth part of the city. In its random reorganization of the historic monumentsboth past and present: El Greco’s picture clearly falls more within thetradition of the emblematic city view than within that represented by theobjective panorama of van der Wyngaerde”(Brown 244). In short, El Grecotransformed Toledo’s landscape into an historic interpretation of the city.
Whereas this work is such a unique landscape, naturally, it is highlyexpository. There have been numerous attempts at deciphering the work’sevocative moods: Davies, who calls the picture a ?hymn to the forces ofnature,’ relates it to contemporary spiritual literature” (Brown 32).
Clearly, the same landscape is visible in so many of El Greco’s other works,works that propagated the Faith in Spain’s counter reformation. Therefore, onecannot justly state that this composition’s mood is unique to this painting.
Rather, the composition’s brooding quality is inherent in all of his works fromthe era, for example, St. Joseph with Christ Child and Laconoon (MediaHistory).
The composition lives with a peculiar mysticism which comes as a nervousexaltation from a dreamlike vision. That in and of itself is mysticism: adirect, intense relationship to God. It was only because of the ?mysticfervour’ of Spanish Catholicism that mannerism lost much of its characterof an art for connoisseurs”(Gombrich 274). Naturally, while the mystiscmwas so obvious in his religious works, this view of Toledo takes on that samequality as well. Hence, the misclassification of this painting as being”Toledo in a Storm.” Rather, it is an intensely passionate portrait ofhis beloved home(Wethey 61). This landscape was very unusual for both El Grecoand Spanish art. Typically, they depicted religious scenes from the new and oldtestaments. View of Toledo, would appear to be anything