The composition is entirely typical of El Greco's saint portraits, with a relatively modest scene reducing these figures to mere humans. Saint Anthony was from Lisbon and El Greco features several items within his scene which help us to identify him. There are the white lilies, and then a book in his other hand, both of which hold symbolic values. The artist himself had only recently moved to Spain at the time of this work but managed to acquire a good number of commissions fairly quickly. Whilst working on one major series which involved nearly a dozen artworks, he was also able to fit in other smaller projects alongside. El Greco would expand his studio because of the growing number of requests and never wanted to displease his patrons by turning projects down. The artist also felt that other artists within his region of Spain would also conspire against him, given the opportunity, and so he wanted to make the most of this successful period while it lasted.
We believe that the book within his grasp is containing an image of the Christ Child. This touch was added after the initial work was complete, but significantly the saint is shown reading the book fairly closely. The entire composition is also carefully angled in a way which provides a pyramid shape to the piece, in a similar manner to how sculptors had worked previously. For example, rather than a face-on depiction, where his outline would run straight down, this posture forces his width to each side of the painting. The hands are delivered in a precise manner, without any of the elongation which appeared regularly in the latter part of his career. El Greco was still learning at the stage of 1580, having moved to Spain to complete some commissions and to also experience new artistic influences which might help to evolve his style yet again. He remains one of the most important artists in Spanish art history, despite being from Crete originally.
This portrait of Saint Anthony of Padua can be found in the prestigious Prado museum in Spain. They host around forty paintings from his career alone, as well as featuring many other major artists. Their main focus is Spanish art, and although El Greco was from Crete, his biggest influence was made within Spain in the second half of his career. Some of the highlights from his career to be found alongside this painting within the Prado include the likes of The Holy Trinity, The Resurrection and Pentecost. He would also influence Diego Velazquez, who himself is featured here just as prominently. El Greco was a respected portrait painter who switched between this genre and religious art for much of his career, rarely feeling the need to work outside of these two content types. He would be rewarded with consistent commissions that kept himself and his studio busy for many decades.