"The Martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion"

by El Greco



This painting was originally commisioned of El Greco (1550-1614) in 1580 by King Philip II of Spain for the main church of the Escorial palace in Madrid. The king had heard of this new Greek painter's reputation and comissioned the painting for the altar in the chapel of St. Maurice, then under construction. The king had a great devotion to the soldier saint and his legionaires' tale of martyrdom. Hence it was a great honor for any artist, especially a relative unknown as was El Greco. Unfortunately the king was not impressed with the final work and rejected it. He did not like El Greco's anatomical style which he found almost vulgar. Ironically it was this controversial work which many art historians credit as having given El Greco the exposure he needed to go on to fame.

Today, this painting is in the collection of the National Museum of Romania. Years of communist rule took their toll on this once grand museum. Since 1995 however, a massive restoration has been underway. In order to raise funds, this El Greco as well as other great works, have been sent on tours throughout the world. In 1997, "The Martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion" was seen by thousands at an exposition in San Diego. It has since been returned to storage in Romania, where it will hopefully soon be seen in its newly restored home.


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