Is this ‘enormously powerful’ painting of Jesus Christ by El Greco? Spanish expert questions new attribution

Art history scholars disagree over possible discovery of work by Renaissance master, which is owned by private collector

The painting comes from a private collector who asked Company to study it and make conclusions about its authorship Courtesy of CAEM

A small-scale painting of Jesus Christ carrying the cross has been attributed to the Renaissance artist El Greco by scholars at a Spanish university. Ximo Company, the director of the Centre d’Art d’Època Moderna (CAEM) at the University of Lleida, Catalonia, insists that the work, which only measures 57.5cm in length, was not produced by El Greco’s workshop or any of his students.

Fernando Marías, a professor of art history at Madrid's Universidad Autonoma, tells The Art Newspaper, however: "Although I have only seen the pictures in El País and on Twitter, the painting is doubtful [as an autograph work by El Greco]. It looks reworked and restored—the mouth is terrible, so are the cross, hands and signature."

The painting comes from a private collector who asked Company to study it and its authorship. The research process and technical analysis, which took more than two years, was undertaken with Carmen Garrido Pérez, the former director of technical documentation at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, who died last month.

“This little canvas has a wonderful freshness, tenderness and quality... the face of Christ is enormously powerful, silent and expressive,” Company told El País newspaper. He says that the work could have served as a model for other paintings. Also “the refined finish of this exquisite work” and its small size mean “it could also be a work conceived for the private oratory of a noble or clergyman”, Company adds.

“Reviewing published documentation, it is known that in the inventory of El Greco's assets, made by his son Jorge Manuel Theotocópuli between 17 April and 7 July 1614, mention is made of a painting with the title Christ with the Cross on his Back; this could refer to our work. After comparing it with others of the same iconography, we are not aware that there is any [other work] with smaller dimensions,” he says.

But Marías disagrees with these conclusions. "[The painting] comes from an unknown collection in Valencia and lacks provenance or an old [source] photograph," he says, noting that "the connection with El Greco's 1614 inventory is wishful thinking at best". He adds: "Nothing has been said about the material aspects of the canvas, or published radiographs or other types of [relevant] material. I won’t trust it until I see all the materials they could have gathered." At the time of publication, the Lleida University team had not responded to a request for comment.

The newly attributed work, which will be boosted in value commercially, was compared with pieces in the El Greco Museum in Toledo and the Prado. One of El Greco’s most celebrated paintings of Christ carrying the cross is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The artist was born Domenikos Theotokopoulos in 1541 on the island of Crete.