Style or Substance ?
The Fallacy of the El Greco Fallacy
In your art history courses, you came upon with wonder and amazement the remarkable works of the visionary 16th century master, Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), and noticed his highly elongated figures.
Was this a result of El Greco possibly having astigmatism?
Or was it simply his unique and quite modern version of Mannerism?
The “logical” response to explain the elongations would be that it was his style, of course, and not astigmatism.
Well, you respond immediately with the “self-correcting” algorithm, by which someone with astigmatism, even if they perceive a circle as an oval in their mind’s eye, will still depict it as a circle, thus self-correcting it. Any perceptual elongation that El Greco might have experienced as a result of astigmatism would have caused not only his subjects to be elongated but also his canvas. Hence, it should have been unnecessary for him to elongate his paintings to match his perception.
And you correctly propose as examples the masterpiece of St Jerome at the Frick Collection or a similar version at the Met, because how could Jerome’s face be depicted with a vertical elongation while at the same time his fingers are horizontally elongated. Astigmatism elongated in one meridian, not in two meridians orthogonal to each other.
Then you posit the masterpiece that is “The Burial of Count Orgaz” in Toledo Spain, as your ace in the hole.
Here, El Greco paints the human figures at the bottom more or less naturally, but exaggerates Mary and Jesus and the angels in the Empyrean above.
It would be optically impossible (i.e. physically impossible) for someone with astigmatism to see part of their visual field normally and another part in an elongated way.
So all is well. Right?
Style and not a medical condition.
Style and not Substance.
Ah, but now 2014 comes around and you find this fascinating article, entitled “The Fallacy of the El Greco Fallacy”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24577418/) see comments for abstract.
So now what do you think? 🙂
(The Burial of Count Orgaz
Domenikos Theotokopoukos (El Greco)
Iglesias di Santo Tome’