Attributed to Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco (Candia 1541-1614 Toledo)
Saint Peter oil on canvas 68 x 56cm (26 3/4 x 22 1/16in). unframed
PROVENANCE: The Property of a Private European Collector
In the words of José Gudiol, 'Faced with the problem of placing undocumented canvases in their right position in the chronological sequence of El Greco's work, and with no more to go on than what is revealed by their style, the art historian is always assailed by a certain amount of worrisome hesitation...his decision, despite the fact that has been reached after infinite consideration, has only the value of a working hypothesis. To form some idea of the difficulties this entails, we need only consider the disparity of the opinions uttered and published regarding the dates of these undocumented works.' He thus concludes that 'The task of distinguishing between a truly authentic work and a workshop copy sometimes - not always, fortunately - goes beyond the bounds of human possibilities.' J. Gudiol, Domenikos Theotokopoulos El Greco 1541-1614 (London, 1973), p. 297.
Certain specific stylistic features of the present painting are nonetheless highly comparable to works that El Greco painted in particular in his late Roman and early Spanish period, when his rendering is very three-dimensional and naturalistic. Perhaps the most notable comparison can be made to the artist's Disrobing of Christ in Toledo Cathedral Sacristy. Executed between 1577-1579 this large altarpiece is one of El Greco's finest paintings and a work of the foremost importance in the history of European art. Most striking is the similarity between the treatment of the nose, ear and forehead with several of the heads depicted above Christ, but especially the bearded figure who lies at a similar angle, third from the right (see the detail in José Gudiol's volume, op. cit., fig. 70, p. 84). Further comparison can be drawn from the figure in the same composition who is crouching lower right (op. cit., fig. 73, p. 89). The same treatment of the eyebrows and beard may also be discerned in the artist's 1577 Assumption, in three of the figures to the lower right of the composition (Chicago Art Institute, see op. cit., fig. 56, p. 72). A further work that bears close comparison is the head of the full-length Saint John the Baptist in Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo, a work which was also executed in the period 1577-79.
It has been suggested that the subject may represent Saint Joseph and be a fragment of a larger composition.