Small, but Precious

Written by  Jadranka Bentini
The four panel paintings in the Sacrati Strozzi collection, now part of the Fondazione collection, on exhibition at the Pinacoteca Nazionale, have beeen definitively attributed to El Greco.
Resplendent with a new light, the four panels formerly in the Sacrati Strozzi collection and purchased by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara in 1994 with an uncertain attribution to El Greco, have now reappeared.

1994 was a year to remember for the city's art collection, enhanced by twenty-three paintings, described by Sotheby's as a "residual portion" of the historic Sacrati Strozzi collection, in the city's art gallery since 1992. Among the paintings by Dosso, Scarsellino, Cagnacci, Palma il Giovane, and Luigi Crespi there were the four panels depicting four scenes from the Passion: The Laving of the Feet, The Prayer in the Garden, Christ Before Pilate, and the Crucifixion, certainly part of a triptych similar to the well known one in the Galleria Estense in Modena, by El Greco.

In the 1850 inventory of the Max Sacrati collection the panels were ascribed to Lucas van Leyden, while the Sotheby's catalogue - albeit tentatively - ascribes them to El Greco. The reconstruction of the original polyptych was carried forward by the restorers and by Constantinus Kitromilides, who made an overall reassessment of the nucleus, also in the light of comparisons with other youthful works by the master.
A pictorial tenor not always at the same pitch had induced Sergio Marinelli to suggest that various artists had been involved, thus encouraging an attribution to a general area of influence rather than to the master directly, considering the quasi total interference of period prints in the iconography of paintings. But it is precisely the ease with which such engravings could be had that helped the Cretan school of the 16th century to draw canons of modernity from Western, and above all Venetian, culture.

A stylistic exercise that the young Theotokopoulos also practised. But it is the use of these model engravings (from Dürer to Marcantonio Raimondi; from Giovan Battista Franco to Enea Vico to Giovanni Battista Augelli) in an eclectic and chromatically forceful manner, with everything hinging on continuous, fluid movement reinforced by vigorous brushstrokes that emphasize the contrasts of light and shade, so similar to the style of the Modena triptych, which makes the ascription to El Greco more than plausible.

Here, Venetian mannerism takes on a dimension of great originality in comparison with the master's Cretan work, which was still influenced by the miniatures of Marcos Strelitzas-Bathas and Georgios Kionzus. Certain technical elements, so similar to those of the Cretan period, are also of major importance for a critical judgement of El Greco's more interesting earlier minor works produced around 1567-68. In short, a palette that revealed the kind of allusive awareness reserved for great talents only.