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El Greco's Expulsion from the Temple
An Analysis by Frederic Taubes, with drawings by the author.
Reprinted from Pacific Art Review, 1944

Page 16, Figure 1: Analysis of Construction of El Greco's Expulsion from the Temple 

The analyses of Expulsion from the Temple (Figures 1, 2 and 3) illustrate some directions in which objects may be conditioned into abstractions. As we all know, each particular form may be found to possess a geometric dominator which underlies its structure. Thus, skyscrapers, Chinese pagodas, and Grecian temples as well, may be reduced to basic forms which, as the case may be, will be rectangular or triangular, or cylindrical, and so forth. Such geometric forms are also common in the apple, the torso and other objects. Plato referred to "straight lines and solid forms and curves made by lathes, rules and squares," and he called them "not beautiful relatively-but absolutely and eternally." Here Plato himself subscribes to the ambiguous idea that a term such as "beautiful" retains identical connotation no matter where it is applied.

Let us consider, for instance, a flamboyant sunset: we all agree that it is beautiful-in nature. But, were the painter to register such a spectacle in paint on a canvas, the result would be hardly beautiful, especially when faithfulness of rendition would guide his brush. The beauty of a circle filled with a yellow color will be entirely different from the beauty of a grapefruit. And what we consider beautiful in a machine will again be different from the beauty which we expect in a work of art. Equally, the term "truth" is mostly misapplied when referred to art, where this term has a vastly different meaning than in the courtroom or the hospital.
There is no hardship involved when we resign ourselves to the fact that the arts of painting, or writing, or music are well defined conventions, each limited in scope and confined to exploration of certain domains of our intellect. The limitations of these conventions are not of occult nascence, but they are simply the result of cultural endeavors of a few thousand years.

Returning to Figure 1, I have tried to reduce in this example El Greco's composition to its structural elements. These elements are encompassed mainly in rectangles and triangles arranged in a harmonious balance. Little talent, i.e., skill and ingenuity, is required to construct such an abstract arrangement, since all these forms are generalized and related to each other by virtue of their absolute neutrality. However, the difficulties start to pile up when one attempts to transmute a generality into particularity and a neutrality into individuality.

Page 17, El Greco, Expulsion from the Temple – The Frick Collection

Page 18, Figure 2, Analysis of Design of El Greco's Expulsion from the Temple
In Figure 2, I have analyzed the design of the composition. To use a much abused term, the "rhythmic" and "dynamic" pattern of the painting is developed by accentuating the dominants of the picture's energies, and, not as demonstrated in figure 1, by circumscribing the picture's static forms.

Although the forms developed in Figure 2 left the province of geometry, they are nevertheless formulated on a general and not on an individual pattern — they remain essentially formalistic devices.

Page 19, Figure 3, Analysis of Forms of El Greco’s Expulsion from the Temple

In the last drawing, Figure 3, closer relationship to individual form is attained, but these forms do not enter as yet the field of particular commitments; the painter still evades here the issue of facing the objects in a personal manner.

Page 20
Through such media of formalization, a few of which I have introduced here, the skeleton of a painting is brought forward to a better understanding of its construction and function. As a device for composing formal relationships in a painting, the method of abstraction is most useful, and as such, it has been employed by some painters from the time of antiquity. Today, most of these abstract or semiabstract formalizations serve chiefly to conceal the direst pitfall of art-the banality of viewpoint.

— Reprinted from The Pacific Art Review, 1944
Published by the M. H. De Young Memorial Museum,
San Francisco, CA

El Greco’s Explusion from the Temple
An Analysis by
Frederic Taubes

The Frederic Taubes GallerY                    Info@FredericTaubes.com