Take a careful look at El Greco’s “Saint Ildefonso.” The artist represents the saint in a richly decorated room. He is seated at a writing table furnished with costly silver objects. An otherworldly aura pervades the room; as the saint pauses in his writing, he gazes attentively at the source of his inspiration, a statuette of the Madonna.
El Greco’s image of the Virgin resembles an actual wooden figure that Ildefonso is said to have kept in his oratory. The saint later gave the figure to the church of the Hospital of Charity in the Spanish town of Illescas, near Toledo. The statuette is preserved there today together with El Greco’s larger version of this work.
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), “Saint Ildefonso,” c. 1603/1614, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Andrew W. Mellon Collection