Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Portrait of an Old Man

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek, Iráklion (Candia) 1540/41–1614 Toledo)
ca. 1595–1600
Oil on canvas
20 3/4 x 18 3/8 in. (52.7 x 46.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1924
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 611
El Greco’s candid portraits have been consistently admired for their naturalism and psychological insight, even when (as in the eighteenth century) his other works fell out of favor. Since about 1900 this portrait of about 1595–1600 has been alternately accepted and rejected as a searching self-portrait. No indisputable evidence of the artist’s appearance is known, although El Greco appears to have cast himself in supporting roles within a few religious pictures. Those figures bear some resemblance to the present sitter but seem more virile and have white hair.

For over a century scholars have considered whether or not this sympathetic portrait of an old man is a self-portrait by El Greco. Lafond (1906) described the seemingly Romantic notion as at best a plausible hypothesis, and a number of more recent scholars (for example, Wethey 1962) have rejected the idea, mainly on the basis of comparisons with presumed self-portraits inserted by El Greco into several of his major religious pictures (see also Christiansen 2003). In those examples, the figure bears some resemblance to the sitter here, but seems more virile, and has a white beard and hair. Nonetheless, some scholars have continued to maintain the identification of the sitter with El Greco. A portrait of El Greco, perhaps by the artist himself but conceivably by his son Jorge Manuel, is listed in the 1621 inventory of the latter’s possession (no. 189, "un retrato de mi P[adr]e, con su quadro guarnecido" [a portrait of my father, with its decorated frame]).The question is complicated by the fact that the artist approached his sitters, many of whom he had knew personally, with considerable empathy and a searching interest in human character. Thus, the impression that El Greco put much of himself into this portrait has at least some poetic truth. For many viewers from about 1900 to the present day, this image reveals the painter himself as a soulful person, and in this may be taken as a representative example of Spanish art and culture. The portrait has long been familiar from its reproduction on a Spanish postage stamp (and, in 2014, one issued by Greek Cyprus), and in books on El Greco ranging from the first (Cossío 1908) to the most recent scholarly monograph (Marías 2013).

There is general agreement that the painting dates from the 1590s, with a date of about 1595–1600 being most frequently proposed. As Christiansen (2003) notes, a specialist in Spanish costume considers a dating to the 1590s "supported by the width of the ruff the sitter wears." However, very similar ruffs date from the previous decade as well (as seen in El Greco’s famous Burial of the Count of Orgaz of 1586–88 in the church of Santo Tomé, Toledo). Another consideration—allowing a later date—is that one often finds ruffs that were ten to fifteen years out of fashion in formal portraits of older people dating from the later 1500s or the first half of the 1600s. In any case, both the style of the painting and that of his collar favor a date before about 1600, when El Greco was not quite sixty years old.

[Walter Liedtke 2014]

Marqués de Heredia; [Arteche, Madrid, until 1892; sold to Beruete y Moret]; Aureliano de Beruete y Moret, Madrid (1892–d. 1922; his widow, 1922–24; sold to MMA)
Madrid. Museo Nacional de Pintura y Escultura. "Exposición de las obras de Domenico Theotocopuli, llamado El Greco," 1902, no. 3 (as Portrait of El Greco, lent by Aurlieano [sic] de Beruete).

London. Grafton Galleries. "Exhibition of Spanish Old Masters," October 1913–January 1914, no. 127 (as "Portrait of the Artist," lent by A. de Beruete y Moret).

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Exhibition of Spanish Paintings," November 1920–January 1921, no. 36 (as "Portrait of the Artist," lent by Aureliano de Beruete, Madrid).

Hempstead, N. Y. Hofstra College. "Metropolitan Museum Masterpieces," June 26–September 1, 1952, no. 26.

University of California at Los Angeles. "Spanish Masters," January 24–March 6, 1960, no catalogue.

Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego. "Spanish Masters," March 25–May 1, 1960, no catalogue.

Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 27.

Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 27.

Athens. National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. "From El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," December 13, 1992–April 11, 1993, no. 3.

Madrid. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. "El Greco: Identity and Transformation: Crete, Italy, Spain," February 3–May 16, 1999, no. 57.

Rome. Palazzo delle Esposizioni. "El Greco: Identità e trasformazione: Creta, Italia, Spagna," June 2–September 19, 1999, no. 57.

Athens. National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. "El Greco: Identity and Transformation: Crete, Italy, Spain," October 18, 1999–January 17, 2000, no. 57.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. "El Greco," May 4–September 2, 2001, no. 30.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "El Greco," October 7, 2003–January 11, 2004, no. 75.

London. National Gallery. "El Greco," February 11–May 23, 2004, no. 75.

New York. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. "Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History," November 17, 2006–March 28, 2007, unnumbered cat.

Barcelona. Museu Picasso. "Picasso versus Rusiñol," May 27–September 5, 2010, unnumbered cat.

National Museum of Art, Osaka. "El Greco's Visual Poetics," October 16–December 24, 2012, no. 1 (as "Self Portrait [Portrait of a Man?]").

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "El Greco's Visual Poetics," January 19–April 7, 2013, no. 1 (as "Self Portrait [Portrait of a Man?]").

Toledo. Museo de Santa Cruz. "The Greek of Toledo," March 14–June 14, 2014, no. 18 (as "Self-Portrait").

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "El Greco in New York," November 4, 2014–February 1, 2015, no catalogue.

Salvador Sanpere y Miguel. "Domenikos Theotokopoulos." Revista de la Asociación-Artístico-Arqueológica-Barcelonesa 4 (March–April 1900), pp. 394–95, ill., as a self-portrait by El Greco in the collection of Aureliano Beruete.

Miguel Utrillo. "Le Greco." L'art et les artistes 1 (April–September 1905), p. 207, ill., as a self-portrait.

Paul Lafond. "Domenikos Theotokopuli, dit Le Greco." Les arts 5 (October 1906), pp. 28, 30, ill., observes that there is no proof that this is a self-portrait, calling this identification of the sitter "no more than a plausible hypothesis".

Ludwig Zottmann. "Zur Kunst von 'El Greco'." Die christliche Kunst 3 (1906–07), p. 234, as a self-portrait.

Rafael Domenech. "Aureliano de Beruete." Forma 2 (1907), pp. 165, 174, ill., as a self-portrait.

Manuel B. Cossío. El Greco. Madrid, 1908, vol. 1, pp. 36, 417, 566, no. 89; vol. 2, pls. 1, 117 (overall and detail), hesitates to identify it as a self-portrait; adds to the provenance, dates it between 1594–1604 and notes that it is signed [falsely].

Carl Justi. Miscellaneen aus drei Jahrhunderten spanischen Kunstlebens. Berlin, 1908, vol. 2, p. 201, ill., as a self-portrait.

Albert F. Calvert and C. Gasquoine Hartley. El Greco: An Account of His Life and Works. London, 1909, pp. 139, pl. 24, observe that "this startling, strong, yet refined face, is what we would expect El Greco to be"; date it on the basis of style "to the years immediately before the last period" of El Greco.

Maurice Barrès and Paul Lafond. Le Greco. Paris, [1911], pp. 28, 179, as probably a self-portrait.

August L. Mayer. El Greco: Eine Enführung in das Leben und Wirken des Domenico Theotocopuli gennant El Greco. Munich, 1911, pp. 2, 22, 86, ill. (frontispiece), as "Self-portrait (?)"; dates it about 1610.

Emile Bertaux. "Notes sur Le Greco." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 29 (January–June 1911), pp. 409–11, ill., illustrates it as "Portrait d'Inconnu" and doubts it is a self-portrait.

Maurice Barrès. Greco, ou le secret de Tolède. Paris, 1912, p. 38, as a self-portrait.

Paul Lafond. Le Greco. Paris, 1913, pp. 100, IX, pl. 1 (frontispiece), as probably a self-portrait.

Hugo Kehrer. Die Kunst des Greco. Munich, 1914, p. 19, pl. 5, as a self-portrait.

A. de Beruete y Moret. El Greco, pintor de retratos: Conferencia dada en Toledo en ocasión del III centenario del Greco, Abril 1914. [Madrid], 1914, p. 24, ill. (frontispiece), as a self-portrait.

Exhibition of Spanish Paintings. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1920, pp. 28–29, no. 36; plate vol., pl. 36.

Max Dvorák. "Über Greco und den Manierismus." Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 1 (1921–22), p. 35, fig. 10.

August L. Mayer. Geschichte der spanischen Malerei. Leipzig, 1922, pp. 246–47, 255, fig. 179, as a self-portrait from the last years of his life.

A. de Beruete y Moret. Conferencias de arte. Madrid, 1924, p. 122, ill. opp. p. 122, as a self-portrait.

Elizabeth du Gué Trapier. El Greco. New York, 1925, pp. x, 50–52, 148, pl. XI (frontispiece), calls it "Portrait of an Old Man", noting that there is no evidence for its being a self-portrait.

Bryson Burroughs. "A Portrait by El Greco." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 20 (May 1925), pp. 122-24, ill. (cover), notes that the sitter for this portrait appears in several others works by El Greco including: "The Disrobing of Christ" [Cathedral, Toledo], "The Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion" [El Escorial], and "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" [Santo Tomé, Toledo]; reproduces a [false] signature; tends to see it as a self-portrait; dates it about 1600.

Bryson Burroughs. "Le nouveau Greco du Metropolitan Museum." Bulletin de l'art no. 721 (September–October 1925), pp. 269–72.

Dimand. "Neuerwerbungen des Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York." Kunstchronik und Kunstmarkt, n.s., 35 (April 1925–March 1926), pp. 281–82, ill., as a self-portrait; dates it about 1600.

[F. J.] S. [Sánchez] C. [Cantón]. "El autoretrato del Greco de la colección Beruete." Archivo español de arte y arqueología 1 (1925), p. 228.

Julius Meier-Graefe. The Spanish Journey. London, 1926, p. 53, as a "so-called self-portrait".

August L. Mayer. Dominico Theotocopuli, El Greco. Munich, 1926, pp. xviii, 52, no. 329, pl. 90, identifies it as no. 189 in inventory B (Jorge Manuel's 1621 inventory), "un retrato de mi padre"; dates it around 1609.

F. de B. San Román. "De la vida del Greco (Nueva serie de documentos inéditos)." Archivo español de arte y arqueología 3 (1927), p. 303, as with all probability the portrait listed as no. 189 in Jorge Manuel's 1621 inventory: "un retrato de mi P[adr]e, con su quadro guarnecido".

Malcolm Vaughan. "Portraits by El Greco in America." International Studio 86 (March 1927), pp. 28, 30, 102, ill., dates it about 1600; notes that it is generally considered a self-portrait, although "no actual evidence exists".

Emilio H. del Villar. El Greco en España. Madrid, 1928, pp. 40, 139–40, pl. 31, as a supposed self-portrait.

Frank Rutter. El Greco (1541–1614). New York, [1930], pp. 66, 94, no. 53, pl. 2, as "Portrait of the Artist (?)"; dates it 1600–1608.

Frank Gray Griswold. El Greco. 1930, pp. 50, 78, pl. 18 (frontispiece), as a supposed self-portrait; dates it 1594–1604.

August L. Mayer. El Greco. Berlin, 1931, p. 12, fig. 1, dates it 1605–08 at the latest.

Raymond Escholier. Greco. Paris, 1937, p. 161, ill. (detail, cover), as a self-portrait.

M. Legendre and A. Hartmann. Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco. Paris, 1937, pp. 32–33, 504, ill., as a self-portrait; dates it "circa 1609–1594–1604".

Ludwig Goldscheider. El Greco. London, 1938, ill. p. 21 and pl. 194, as "Self-portrait (?)"; dates it about 1609.

Hans Vollmer in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 33, Leipzig, 1939, p. 4, as a "visionary self-portrait".

Hugo Kehrer. Greco als Gestalt des Manierismus. Munich, 1939, p. 83, as a self-portrait.

Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 229–30, ill., as "Portrait of a Man (Perhaps the artist)"; observes that there is no evidence connecting this portrait with the "portrait of my father" in Jorge Manuel's 1621 inventory; notes that the workmanship is that of El Greco's late period.

Kurt Pfister. El Greco. Zürich, 1941, pp. 109, 112, 150, ill., as a self-portrait.

Ignacio de Beryes. Domenicos Theotocopoulos, El Greco. Barcelona, [1944?], pp. 18, 20, as a self-portrait.

Jean Babelon. El Greco. Paris, 1946, pp. 37, 95, ill., as a self-portrait; dates it about 1609.

Anthony Bertram. El Greco. London, 1949, pp. 5, 14, ill., as "Self-portrait (?)"; dates it about 1609.

Leo Bronstein. El Greco. New York, 1950, pp. 98–99, ill. (color), as "Self-portrait (?)".

José Camón Aznar. Dominico Greco. Madrid, 1950, vol. 1, p. 192; vol. 2, pp. 1108–10, 1393, no. 733, fig. 866, as "Portrait of an Old Man", not likely to be a self-portrait; dates it about 1590–1600.

John F. Matthews. El Greco (Domenicos Theotocopoulos), (1541–1614). New York, 1953, unpaginated, pl. 1, colorpl. 29 (overall and detail), as "Self-Portrait (?)"; dates it about 1604; notes the similarity between the sitter in this portrait and the figure in "Saint Luke" [Toledo Cathedral].

Ludwig Goldscheider. El Greco: Paintings, Drawings and Sculptures. 3rd ed. London, 1954, p. 17, pl. 141, as "Self-Portrait of the Artist"; dates it about 1604.

Manuel B. Cossío with the assistance of Natalia Cossío de Jiménez in Dominico Theotocopuli, El Greco. Oxford, 1955, p. 13, no. 38, pl. 38, as "Portrait of an Old Man".

Antonina Vallentin. El Greco. Garden City, N.Y., 1955, p. 251, pl. 84.

Paul Guinard. El Greco: Biographical and Critical Study. [Lausanne?], [1956], pp. 30–31, ill. (color), as "Presumed Self-portrait"; dates it 1605–10.

G. Marañón. El Greco y Toledo. Madrid, 1956, p. 282, as a self-portrait, certainly identifiable with the one listed in Jorge Manuel's 1621 inventory.

Ruth M. Anderson. Letter. 1956, [the author was the Curator of Costume, Hispanic Society, New York] discusses sumptuary laws passed in Spain in 1586 and 1593 regarding men's ruffs; lists several portraits dated between 1586 and 1598 in which ruffs are worn that are similar to the one worn here.

Halldor Soehner. "Greco in Spanien." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 3rd ser., 8 (1957), p. 167, as "Portrait of an Old Man"; dates it 1596–99.

Juan Antonio Gaya Nuño. La pintura española fuera de España. Madrid, 1958, p. 206, no. 1420, as a self-portrait of about 1609.

Karl Ipser. El Greco, der Maler des christlichen Weltbildes. Braunschweig, 1960, pp. 172–76, ill., as "Portrait of an Unknown Man"; dates it after 1600.

Hugo Kehrer. Greco in Toledo: Höhe und Vollendung, 1577–1614. Stuttgart, 1960, pp. 87–89, pl. 89, as a self-portrait.

Gerald Eager. "The Missing and the Mutilated Eye in Contemporary Art." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 20 (Fall 1961), p. 54, ill., as a self-portrait.

Pál Kelemen. El Greco Revisited: Candia, Venice, Toledo. New York, 1961, p. 138, pl. 94B, as perhaps a self-portrait.

Harold E. Wethey. El Greco and His School. Princeton, 1962, vol. 1, fig. 330; vol. 2, pp. 96–97, no. 156, dates it 1595–1600 and catalogues it as "Self-portrait (so-called)," observing that the sitter does not resemble other possible portraits of the painter [i.e. in the "Christ Healing the Blind," Parma, and in Jorge Manuel's "Marytrdom of Saint Maurice," private collection, Paris].

Georg J. Reimann. El Greco. Leipzig, 1966, pp. 66, 68, 77, pl. 68, as a self-portrait; dates it 1605–08.

Tiziana Frati. L'opera completa del Greco. Milan, 1969, p. 111, no. 108, ill., as a self-portrait (?); dates it about 1590–1600.

Enrique Lafuente Ferrari. El Greco: The Expressionism of His Final Years. New York, 1969, pp. 63, 68–69, ill., as "Portrait of a Man (perhaps the artist)"; dates it about 1590–95.

Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 233 [rev., enl. ed., 1989].

Manuel B. Cossío. El Greco. Ed. Natalia Cossío de Jiménez. definitive ed. Barcelona, 1972, pp. 18–19, 248, 250, 393, no. 353, ill., fig. 95 (overall and detail), as "Portrait of an Old Man"; dates it 1594–1604; states incorrectly that it was "sold to the United States in 1902".

Jacques Lassaigne. El Greco. London, 1973, pp. 197–98, ill., as "Portrait of an Elderly Gentleman (Self-portrait?)"; dates it 1590–1600.

José Gudiol. El Greco, 1541–1614. New York, 1973, pp. 112, 113, 344, no. 73, ill. (detail), as "Head of an Old Man"; suggests the sitter was of Jewish origin; dates it 1579–86.

Kazimierz Zawanowski. El Greco. Warsaw, 1979, unpaginated, no. 22, ill., dates it about 1605–10 (?).

Katharine Baetjer. "El Greco." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 39 (Summer 1981), pp. 39–41, ill. (color), notes that "when the picture was thought to represent El Greco, it was dated about 1600, but it is now believed to have been painted some ten to fifteen years earlier".

René Huyghe. "Art et littérature. L'Esthétique de Barrès et Greco." Bulletin des Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique 34–37 (1985–88), p. 332, ill., as a self-portrait.

Deborah Krohn et al. in From El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exh. cat., National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. Athens, 1992, pp. 12, 36–37, no. 3, ill. (color), dates it about 1590; suggests the sitter may have been a relative, commenting on his resemblance to Jorge Manuel, El Greco's son.

José Álvarez Lopera. El Greco: La obra esencial. [Madrid], [1993], pp. 231, 291, no. 251, as "Portrait of an Old Man"; dates it 1597–1607.

Fernando Marías. "Reflexiones sobre una colección de pinturas de El Greco y la "Gloria de Felipe II"." Anuario del Departamento de Historia y Teoría del Arte 5 (1993), pp. 61, 62, 70, ill., identifies it as no. 258 in the second inventory: "Un retrato del Griego de sí mismo y de su mano (retrato de medio cuerpo del Griego original de sí mismo), 300 reales".

José Álvarez Lopera in El Greco in Italy and Italian Art. Ed. Nicos Hadjinicolaou. Exh. cat., National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. Athens, 1995, pp. 177, 453, ill. (color), calls it the "mistakenly presumed self-portrait".

Ludmilla Kagané. "Las ideas del humanismo cristiano en el "San Pedro y San Pablo" del Greco del Museo del Ermitage." El Greco of Crete: Proceedings of the International Symposium Held on the Occasion of the 450th Anniversary of the Artist's Birth. Ed. Nicos Hadjinicolaou. Iráklion, Crete, 1995, pp. 293–94, ill., notes the similarity between this portrait and El Greco's paintings of "Saint Paul" (Private collection, Madrid) and "Saints Peter and Paul" (National Museum, Stockholm).

María Margarita Cuyás in El Greco: Su revalorización por el Modernismo catalán. Ed. José Milicua. Exh. cat., Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. Barcelona, 1996, pp. 126–27, ill.

Fernando Marías in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 13, New York, 1996, p. 343, refers to this picture as a "supposed Self-portrait" and dates it about 1590.

Fernando Marías. Greco: Biographie d'un peintre extravagant. Paris, 1997, pp. 224, 226, ill. p. 8 (color), as a self-portrait.

M[aría del Mar]. Borobia [Guerrero] and José Manuel Pita Andrade in El Greco: Identity and Transformation; Crete, Italy, Spain. Ed. José Álvarez Lopera. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Milan, 1999, pp. 157, 409, no. 57, ill. pp. 296 (color) and 409, Pita Andrade in his essay considers this a self-portrait, but Borobia, who wrote the catalogue entry, does not; she dates it 1595–1600.

Joanne Snow-Smith. "El Greco's Religious Oeuvre in Spain: Reflections of Titian's Venetian Light and Michelangelo's Figura Serpentinata." El Greco in Italy and Italian Art: Proceedings of the International Symposium. Ed. Nicos Hadjinicolaou. Rethymno, Crete, 1999, p. 416, ill. (detail), as "Self-portrait, about 1609".

Fernando Marías. El Greco in Toledo. Ed. Moira Johnston. London, 2001, pp. 6–7, ill., as a self-portrait; dates it about 1595.

Dawson W. Carr in El Greco. Ed. Sylvia Ferino-Pagden and Fernando Checa Cremades. Exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Milan, 2001, pp. 186–87, no. 30, ill. (color), as "Portrait of an Old Man (self-portrait?)"; dates it 1595–1600.

Gudrun Maurer. Spanish Paintings. Stockholm, 2001, pp. 67–68 n. 16.

Keith Christiansen et al. in El Greco. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. London, 2003, pp. 271–73, no. 75, ill. (color).

José Álvarez Lopera et al. in El Greco / colaboraciones . . . Barcelona, 2003, p. 209.

José Álvarez Lopera in The Spanish Portrait: From El Greco to Picasso. Ed. Javier Portús. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado. London, 2004, pp. 47, 123, 126, 129–31, fig. 60 (color), as "Portrait of an Old Man (presumed Self-Portrait)"; dates it about 1597–1603 and notes that it may depict El Greco's brother, Manusos.

Anna Reuter in Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History. Ed. Carmen Giménez and Francisco Calvo Serraller. Exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Madrid, 2006, pp. 318–19, ill. (color).

Eduard Vallès in Picasso versus Rusiñol. Exh. cat., Museu Picasso. Barcelona, 2010, pp. 192, 393, ill. p. 207 (color).

Fernando Marías in El Greco's Visual Poetics. Exh. cat., National Museum of Art, Osaka. [Tokyo], 2012, pp. 28–29, no. 1, ill. (color), as "Self-portrait (Portrait of a Man?)".

Fernando Marías. El Greco, Life and Work—A New History. London, 2013, p. 330, ill., and frontispiece (color).

Pedro J. Martínez Plaza in El Greco & la pintura moderna. Ed. Javier Barón. Exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid, 2014, pp. 96, 99 n. 87.

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