The Opening of the Fifth Seal is an oil painting created by El Greco during the late years of his life. It was produced as an altarpiece for the church of Saint John the Baptist Hospital in Toledo, Spain. The painting emphasized the privileges that the hospital’s deceased patients received, and the meaning was connected to the artist’s personal faith. The upper portion of the artwork is missing, but it is thought to depict the Sacrificial Lamb while opening the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse.
The surviving lower section of the painting portrays the souls of martyrs receiving their rewards from God. El Greco’s use of vibrant colors and elongated figures, which represent his signature style, has inspired other artists such as Pablo Picasso. The artwork, which is located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, highlights El Greco’s religious beliefs as well as his artistic talent.
The painting’s theological meaning is fascinating, displaying the end of the world when the seals covering a book are broken, one by one, by the divine hand. The Seventh Seal signifies a final judgement, and its opening is linked to the end. The painting is one of El Greco’s most dramatic works, with the elongated figures exaggerated by the bright light and bursting colors. The overall impression is one of distress and tension, emphasizing the martyr’s distress as well as the divine judgement that encompasses them.