El Greco
VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE   VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE
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The landscape in Theotocopoulos' painting cannot have been rendered from life, since there is no information to suggest that the painter ever visited Sinai. Consequently, the model in his mind must have been an engraving of the type used to illustrate 16th century travel books printed in Western Europe. According to scholars, the source most likely to have been used was an engraving by Giovanni Baptista Fontana. There are many similarities between the two works, with regard both to the rendition of the landscape and to particular details, such as the caravan of pilgrims being received in the lower right-hand extreme. Nevertheless, differences do exist - the group of travellers to the left, which is the most obvious addition to the Sinai landscape made by Theotocopoulos, is absent from the engraving.


El Greco
VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE
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  GIOVANNI BAPTISTA FONTANA, VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE
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In both works the fortified monastery compound is set diagonally in space. Other striking similarities include the height and shape of the main defensive walls, as well as the presence of a low outer wall on one side, protecting the main entrance to the monastery. A further feature common to both works is the arched opening in one wall, though with one significant difference: in the engraving the purpose served by the opening is clear. A figure raising or lowering a basket by rope is clearly visible in the engraving, whereas this detail is absent from the painting by Theotocopoulos.


El Greco
VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE
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  GIOVANNI BAPTISTA FONTANA, VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE
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Over and above common elements, such as the thick clouds shrouding the mountain summit in both works, it is the iconographic differences that draw our attention here. The scene in which Moses receives the Tablets of the Law from the hand of God does not feature in the work by Theotocopoulos; its omission is probably due to the artist's intention to lay greater emphasis on the unusual landscape itself, without the well-known biblical references.


El Greco
VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE
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  GIOVANNI BAPTISTA FONTANA, VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE
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The landscape of Mt Sinai was a popular theme among a number of late 16th century artists. In some cases particular iconographic motifs were even repeated, though the stylistic differences between versions are more than evident. Such motifs include the buildings scattered throughout the landscape, and the reception of the entourage of pilgrims with camels, which is visible in the lower right-hand section of the composition.


El Greco
VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE   DOMENICOS THEOTOCOPOULOS, TRIPTYCH,
LANDSCAPE OF MT SINAI, MODENA

Theotocopoulos first worked on the landscape of Mt Sinai on the back central panel of the Modena Triptych. For all the similarities, such as the rendition of the Monastery with turrets at the corners of its walls, the three wayfarers to the left and the reception of the pilgrims to the right, differences are discernible. The painting exhibited at the Historical Museum of Crete omits the biblical scenes on the mountain summits which appear in the triptych panel. There are also marked differences in the choice of colours and the lighting.


El Greco
VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE
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  DOMENICOS THEOTOCOPOULOS, TRIPTYCH,
LANDSCAPE OF MT SINAI, MODENA
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The human figures in the Modena Triptych are drawn in a light, summary manner, almost as if devoid of substance, without any facial features or detailed rendition of their clothes. On the other hand, the figures in the painting at the Historical Museum of Crete have acquired true substance, their physiognomy and clothing are rendered in greater detail and their movement through space has become more realistic.


 
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The first of the three wayfarers in the lower left-hand section of the work is closely related to a figure depicted in a woodcut by Titian, in his collection St Rocco and Scenes from his Life. This relationship is not restricted to the rendition of European travellers' attire, but extends to the movement of the figure, since in both cases the body is striding forward, with the head turned to the rear. The similarities between the figure by Titian and its counterpart by Theotocopoulos may not be entirely unconnected with the fact that the former artist taught the latter.
VIEW OF MT SINAI AND THE MONASTERY OF ST CATHERINE
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  TITIAN, ST ROCCO AND SCENES FROM HIS LIFE - DETAIL
   
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