El Greco


El Greco
(Domenikos Theotokopoulos; 1541-1614).
   Born in Candia, Crete, El Greco was trained in the Byzantine tradition. In 1568, he traveled to Venice, which, at the time, ruled Crete. There he discovered the art of Tintoretto and was deeply inspired by it. Two years later he moved to Rome where he entered in the service of the Farnese and began painting in a Venetianized style. His Christ Healing the Blind(c. 1576; New York, Metropolitan Museum) shows the loose Venetian brushwork and deep tones of Tintoretto, elements that would become characteristic of his own style.
   El Greco did not achieve success in Rome, as his works only appealed to a small group of patrons. In 1576, Don Diego de Castilla, dean of the Cathedral of Toledo, invited him to Spain to render works at the Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo that memorialized Castilla's mistress and their child. It was in Toledo that the artist received the sobriquet El Greco (The Greek). One of the works for Castilla was the Holy Trinity (1577-1579; Madrid, Prado), a painting whose theme and composition were inspired by Albrecht Dürer's work of the same subject (1511; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). It shows God the Father as the "throne of mercy," as he is described in the Book of Exodus. He supports the dead body of Christ, who is based on Michelangelo's in the Vatican Pietà. The Santo Domingo commission proved to be a complete success and established El Greco as a master of note.
   In 1580, El Greco received from King Philip II of Spain the commission to paint the Martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion for the Monastery of San Lorenzo in El Escorial. Philip paid for the work, but then stored it in the monastery basement and never again commissioned El Greco; perhaps the master's style was too abstract and progressive for its time. This work was followed by his famed Burial of Count Orgáz (1586), painted for the Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo, and St. Martin and the Beggar (1596-1599; Washington, National Gallery) for the city's Chapel of San José. El Greco's View of Toledo (1600; New York, Metropolitan Museum) has a cataclysmic quality that some have read as commentary on the Inquisition carried out in Toledo, then the second major Catholic center in the world and the leader of the Spanish Counter-Reformation. The portrait Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara (1605; New York, Metropolitan Museum) shows the head of the Spanish Inquisition seated, wearing glasses, his windswept drapery adding to his threatening demeanor.
   Though considered a Mannerist for his elongation and distortion of forms, some prefer to classify El Greco as Proto-Baroque because his religious paintings addressed the concerns of the Counter-Reformation. Some, like Christ Healing the Blind, speak of the blindness of those who reject Catholicism in favor of Protestantism. Others, such as St. Martin and the Beggar and the Burial of Count Orgáz, stress salvation through charity, a key message imparted by the Church in these years. Among El Greco's pupils, Luis Tristan is the most noted.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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