The Opening of the Fifth Seal (or The Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse or The Vision of Saint John) was painted in the last years of El Greco’s life for a side-altar of the church of Saint John the Baptist outside the walls of Toledo. Before 1908 El Greco’s painting was referred to as Profane Love. Cossio had doubts about the title and suggested the Opening of the Fifth Seal. The Metropolitan Museum, where the painting is kept, comments: “the picture is unfinished and much damaged and abraded.”
The very subject is taken from the Book of Revelation (6:9-11), where the souls of persecuted martyrs cry out to God for justice upon their persecutors on earth. The ecstatic figure of St. John dominates the canvas, while behind him naked souls squirm in a chaotic storm of emotion as they receive white robes of salvation.
The upper portion of the canvas appears to have been considerably cut down (it was destroyed in 1880). This lost upper portion may have resembled that of another altarpiece, the Concert of Angels, painted by El Greco for the same church, and also cut off. Many believed that the bottom section, which has been preserved, depicted profane love, while the missing upper part depicted divine love.