My Favourite Painting: Ronnie Wood

Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones picks his favourite painting for Country Life, an El Greco masterpiece that hangs in Toledo.

Ronnie Wood on El Greco’s The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin

‘I’ve recently reinterpreted this painting to feature the band and other musicians that have meant a lot to me during my career. I’m increasingly aware how lucky I have been in life and I wanted to capture that sense of having been protected by some higher power for all those years.

‘El Greco has this electric theatricality that reminds me of the music and movement of performing — as if you’re being drawn up into a different plane of experience. There’s an unmistakable pathos and spirituality in this painting.

‘It’s so dark, dramatic and passionate and the colour is so deep and vibrant. It fascinates me that El Greco discarded the classical criteria and colour was the most important element in his work.’

The Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood is a musician, songwriter and artist whose exhibition at Ashridge House, Hertfordshire, runs from August 21–27.

John McEwen on El Greco

Grecian El Greco spent the second half of his life in Toledo, Spain’s ecclesiastical capital, intellectual core of the Spanish-driven Catholic Counter Reformation that opposed Luther’s Protestant Reformation.

The central biblical dispute between Catholics and Protestants was reverence of Jesus’s Virgin Mother Mary, the Gospels giving no clear proof of her role in Christian redemption. When the Catholic Holy League defeated the Muslim threat of the Turkish navy at Lepanto in 1571, victory was credited to Mary because of the prayers said in her name across Catholic Europe before the battle.

El Greco, initially an icon master in the Christian Greek Orthodox tradition, became an intellectual Catholic participant in this Marian fervour. The inspiration behind this masterpiece was the affirmation that Mary, the mother of Christ, was conceived without sin — hence Immaculate Conception. El Greco was among the first to convey this abstract concept in painting.

It was iconic convention to move upwards from the present earthly world to the spiritual next, thus the view of Toledo (bottom left) and the roses and lilies, Marian flowers. The supernatural proportions of the Virgin’s body and of the angels emphasise her passing into the ethereal. Convention dictated that she stood on the moon and soared towards the sun; the moon is placed in a fleeting cloud and the dove, symbol of God the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, fills the sun. In miniature (bottom right) are traditional symbols of her Immaculate Conception: ship, well, fountain, unblemished mirror and Eve’s banished serpent.