Fundación Casa Ducal de Medinaceli

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El Cardenal Tavera

Particularly noteworthy among the five paintings by the Cretan artist that were probably commission by his friend the rector Don Pedro Salazar de Mendoza or were among the possessions confiscated from Jorge Manuel Theotocópulo by the Hospital de San Juan Bautista on account of the lawsuit over the work on the altarpieces, is the portrait of the founder of the institution, archbishop of Toledo and cardinal with the title of S. Ioannis ante Portam Latinam, governor of the kingdom of Castile in the absence of Emperor Charles V, president of the Council of Castile and inquisitor general, Cardinal Juan Pardo de Tavera (1472-1545). Although it was originally signed, the minute Greek characters disappeared from the lower right corner owing to partial deterioration of the canvas.

Originally hung on the walls of the hospital Chapel [], it was most probably modelled both on the burial mask housed in the Archive [] Room and on the portrait attributed to Alonso Berrugueteon the basis of statements by Salazar de Mendoza; at his death in 1629, Mendoza possessed a portrait of the cardinal in his living quarters in the hospital "in the upper part of the house", where it hung among other portraits, devotional images and maps. Nonetheless, the image engraved by Pedro Ángel and published in his historical biography entitled Chrónico de el Cardenal don Ioan de Tavera [] (Toledo, 1603) appears to derive more from Berruguete's portrait, in which the sitter wears his cardinal's robes, than from the more modern work by the Cretan, which critics have always ascribed to a later date, after 1608, in consonance with the timescale of the commission for the altarpieces.

Wheres the aforementioned portrait showed Don Juan attired in a purple biretta and white rochet, engrossed in reading a breviary resting on his cardinal's hat, El Greco's figure, despite his emaciated appearance, is seated at a table on which his left hand leans beside a biretta and thick bound book [] with an illegible title. He is depicted more than half length dressed in his cardinal's robes. The painter uses these compositional devices, the coluring and the lively brushstrokes to achieve s a portrait with great immediacy and a powerful physical and psychological presence. Despite recalling portraits like that of Paul III and His Nephews Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese (1546) by Titian (in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples) [], the composition is closer to the type of image exemplified by Saint Jerome in His Study [], which El Greco so often employed.

Fernando Marías