An Allegory (Fàbula) about 1580 - 1585

On Display Scottish National Gallery

The intense light and deep shadow enhance the air of mystery around the boy lighting a candle, watched closely by a monkey and grinning man. The monkey may refer to the artist's skill in aping nature, especially in flickering light effects. However, monkeys often symbolised vice and the grinning man may represent folly. The kindled flame could suggest the arousal of passion. The painting, therefore, may be intended to convey a moralising message against the base and foolish instinct of lust. El Greco had already painted two other versions of the same subject. Here the boy's jacket has darkened from its original green.

Glossary Open


The representation of subjects or ideas by use of a device or motif to create underlying meaning. A literary and artistic movement that originated in France and spread through much of Europe in the late 19th century. There was no consistent style but rather an appeal to the idea of the artist as mystic or visionary and the desire to express a world beyond superficial appearances.



  • Acc. No. NG 2491
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 67.30 x 88.60 cm (framed: 116.80 x 94.60 x 10.20 cm)
  • Credit Accepted in lieu of tax, with additional funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and Gallery funds 1989