I went to a sports collectibles store today, and found myself buying a box of 1991-1992 Skybox basketball cards, which grabbed my attention for their unusual style, in which the photograph of the basketball player was isolated against a bold graphic design background. I’d like to show you a number of these interesting cards, which make for some mini-artworks in their own right, but one card in particular grabbed my attention today: Manute Bol, then playing for the Philadelphia Sixers. As you can see in the picture here, it’s a pretty striking image: a 7′ 7″ tall man with his long right arm stretched above his head, and the long fingers of his left hand accented by their placement against a bright orange background. It made me think of Mannerist paintings, with their style of elongated bodies, and then I found some good matches with El Greco, shown below. These two El Greco figures are both details from his painting titled “The Opening of the Fifth Seal,” (1608–1614), which is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
El Greco is also known for his detailed depictions of hands, and the central role they play in his various paintings. Below we have some examples of El Greco hands set up around Manute Bol’s hands from his basketball card. Do you think the basketball card photographer – or the graphic designer who laid out the final card design – had El Greco or Mannerist art in mind?