In hope of El Greco homecoming

Today is the last chance for the people of Iraklion, Crete to acquire Domenikos Theotocopoulos’s painting «Baptism of Christ,» which is being auctioned today at Christie’s in London. The painting’s value has been set at between 400,000 to 600,000 pounds sterling (approximately 570,000-860,000 euros) and even until late yesterday officials were still making a public appeal to amass the sum. Business people, ordinary citizens and organizations from around Crete and other parts of the country have shown a lively interest in furthering the Iraklion Municipal Council’s bid, while even diaspora Greeks and churchgoers in Iraklion all made a contribution. Until late yesterday, however, it was not known whether the amount had been amassed. The coveted painting is an oil on wood said by experts to have been made by El Greco when the young painter moved from his native Crete to Venice, between 1567 and 1570. The painting is a depiction of the baptism of Christ and was recently discovered in a dirty brown envelope in the private collection of a large Spanish family which has been in possession of it since the 19th century. It is not, however, the panel of the same title from the Modena Triptych, but a lesser-known work by the same artist. If Iraklion does succeed in obtaining the piece, it will be the second work by the artist to return to his place of birth, following «View of Mount Sinai and the Monastery» (circa 1570) which is on display at the Historical Museum of Crete in Iraklion after being purchased at a private London auction 14 years ago. A few days ago, Iraklion Mayor Yiannis Kourakis, who is in charge of the campaign for the painting’s acquisition, called a meeting at which not only was the fund-raising campaign discussed but also the authenticity of the painting. Greek National Gallery Director Marina Lambraki and celebrated art historian David Davies expressed some trepidation regarding the latter. The director of the Historical Museum of Crete, Alexis Kalokerinos, also questioned its authenticity but nevertheless expressed his fervent support for its acquisition, arguing that experts will be called upon to confirm its authenticity before any steps to purchase it are finalized. By the end of the meeting, the panel of experts had decided 85 percent that the painting was an original El Greco. Other paintings by the master in Greece include «The Dormition of the Virgin,» housed in Ermoupolis, the capital of the island of Syros, «St Peter,» which is at the National Gallery in Athens, and «Luke Painting the Virgin» and «The Adoration of the Magi» which belong to the Benaki Museum.