‘Baptism’ declared a true Greco

Hundreds of Cretans gathered to see El Greco’s «Baptism of Christ,» as the work was unveiled to the public at the Aghios Markos Basilica in Iraklion last Friday. At the initiative of the Municipality of Iraklion, the painting was bought through a public fund-raising campaign at a Christie’s auction on December 8, 2004 – the work’s final price reaching 1,578,800 euros. While initial announcements mentioned that the work would go on permanent display at the basilica, members of the city council and art specialists agreed that it ought to be showcased at the Historical Museum of Crete (another work by Dominikos Theotocopoulos, «View of Mount Sinai and the Monastery,» is also housed there). Besides the emotional unveiling, the event was also an opportunity to assure the public that the painting is indeed an original work by the Cretan master (doubts had been raised in the local press). In his opening speech, Iraklion Mayor Yiannis Kourakis emphasized that the painting’s purchase was a cultural act of major importance and an unprecedented effort on the part of local government. He also expressed his gratitude to all those who contributed financially, especially Gianna and Theodoros Angelopoulos, who offered 700,000 euros. National Gallery Director Marina Lambraki-Plaka commented that a number of specialists have assured her of the painting’s authenticity, adding that the work’s size further attests to this – El Greco was known for his small-scale paintings. Lambraki-Plaka considers «Baptism of Christ» to be one El Greco’s most beautiful works of the Venetian period. London University Professor Robin Cormack based his analysis on El Greco’s penchant for using the same subject in a number of variations. In this light, «Baptism of Christ» is linked to the «Modena Triptych,» based on the same subject. University of Thessaly Professor Maria Vassilaki offered a highly detailed analysis, while professors M. Constandoudaki-Kitromilidou and Nano Hadjidaki also defended the case for the painting’s authenticity.