El Greco (1541-1614) was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. Cretan-born, he settled in Spain and is regarded as the first great genius of the Spanish School. He was known as 'El Greco' (the Greek), but his real name was Domenikos Theotocopoulos; and it was thus that he signed his paintings throughout his life, always in Greek characters, and sometimes followed by Kres (Cretan).
Little is known of his youth, and only a few works survive by him in the Byzantine tradition of icon painting. In 1566 he is referred to in a Cretan document as a master painter; soon afterwards he went to Venice (Crete was then a Venetian possession), then in 1570 moved to Rome. The miniaturist Giulio Clovio, whom he met there, described him as a pupil of Titian, but of all the Venetian painters Tintoretto influenced him most, and Michelangelo's impact on his development was also important. During his stay in Italy, El Greco enriched his style with elements of Mannerism and of the Venetian Renaissance.
By 1577 he was at Toledo, where he remained until his death, and it was there that he matured his characteristic style in which figures elongated into flame-like forms and usually painted in cold, eerie, bluish colors express intense religious feeling. The commission that took him to Toledo, the high altarpiece of the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, was gained through Diego de Castilla, Dean of Canons at Toledo Cathedral, whom El Greco had met in Rome. A succession of great altarpieces followed throughout his career, the two most famous being "El Espolio" ("The Disrobing of Christ", 1577-79) and "The Burial of Count Orgaz" (1586-88). These two mighty works convey the awesomeness of great spiritual events with a sense of mystic rapture, and in his late work El Greco went even further in freeing his figures from earth-bound restrictions; "The Adoration of the Shepherds" (1612-14), painted for his own tomb, is a prime example.
El Greco excelled also as a portraitist, mainly of ecclesiastics or gentlemen. He also painted two views of Toledo, both late works, and a mythological painting, "Laocoön", that is unique in his oeuvre. The unusual choice of subjects is perhaps explained by the local tradition that Toledo had been founded by descendants of the Trojans. El Greco also designed complete altar compositions, working as architect and sculptor as well as painter, for instance at the Hospital de la Caridad, in Illescas.
He had a proud temperament, conceiving of himself as an artist-philosopher rather that a craftsman, and had a lavish life-style, although he had little success in securing the royal patronage he desired, and seems to have had some financial difficulties near the end of his life. His workshop turned out a great many replicas of his paintings, but his work was so personal that his influence was slight. Interest in his art revived at the end of the 19th century: El Greco is regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism. The strangeness of his art has inspired various theories, for example that he was mad or suffered from astigmatism, but his rapturous paintings make complete sense as an expression of the religious fervor of his adopted country.
| || |
"The Knight with His Hand on His Chest" (1557) Oil on canvas, 81 x 66 cm - 31 7/8 x 26 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
| || |
"The Repentant Peter" (circa 1600) Oil on canvas, 93.6 x 75.2 cm - 36 7/8 x 29 5/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC., USA.
| || |
"The Disrobing of Christ" (1577–79) Oil on canvas, 285 × 173 cm - 112.2 x 68.1 in. Sacristy of the Cathedral, Toledo, Spain.
| || |
"The Holy Trinity" (1577-79) Oil on canvas, 300 × 178 cm - 118.1 x 70.1 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
| || |
"View of Toledo" (1597) Oil on canvas, 121.3 x 108.6 cm - 47 3/4 x 42 3/4 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.
| || |
"Assumption of the Virgin" (1577) Oil on canvas, 401 x 228 cm - 158 x 90 in. The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, USA.
| || |
"The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" (1586–88) Oil on canvas, 480 × 360 cm - 189 x 141.7 in. Santo Tomé, Toledo, Spain.
| || |
"Portrait of Julije Klovic" (circa 1570, his earliest surviving portrait). Oil on canvas, 58 × 86 cm - 22.8 x 33.9 in. Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy.
Text source: 'Webmuseum' (www.ibiblio.org/wm) and others.