El Greco

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El Greco (meaning the one from Greece) was an influential Greek painter. He was born in Crete around 1541. His birth name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos. His father was a merchant and tax collector and his older brother, Manoussos Theotokopoulos was a wealthy merchant. El Greco trained as an icon painter and also studied the ancient Greek and Latin classics. He was born Greek Orthodox but later converted to Catholicism. At the age of 20, he moved to Venice to study with Titian, who was the greatest painter living at the time. With him, he learned the fundamentals of Renaissance painting, such as how to construct figures and narratives. From 1570 to 1576, El Greco lived and worked in Rome. Armed with a letter of recommendation from the miniaturist Giulio Clovio, he went to live with Alessandro Farnese, who was one of the wealthiest and most influential people in Rome.

In 1572, he joined the painter’s academy, where he was commissioned for numerous portraits, devotional paintings and sculptures to be created for wealthy clients. He distinguish himself with his unique interpretations of religious paintings and used long and twisted figures in his paintings. In Rome, he was introduced to the intellectuals of his time, who had a profound impact on his style and work. He had a large measure of success but it was limited because of his public criticism of Michelangelo, who was well known and highly respected in Rome. Because of this, several notable critics and artists were angered and El Greco felt shunned and decided to move again.

This time he chose Spain. First, he moved to Madrid, where he tried to gain a commission from King Philip II but failed because of the high price he was demanding. He then moved to Toledo, where he finally began to gain more recognition. One of his most famous paintings “View from Toledo” was created here. At the time, Toledo was the religious center of Spain. Through friends in the artistic community, El Greco met Benito Arias Montano, who was an agent of King Philip and others who were influential in the art world. He secured his first large commissions in Toledo. He then signed contracts for a group of paintings for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo. He completed nine paintings for them in a short period of time, including The Trinity and The Assumption of the Virgin, which helped to establish his reputation as a fine artist in Toledo. These were some of the biggest and most well renowned masterpieces that he created, and were done in a unique variety of styles.

However, a dispute about the price he was to receive for his work led to a conflict with the notable artists of the time, and hampered his career and reputation to a large extent. He never received another major project from the church, and most of his later commissions were received from private individuals. Possibly the most famous painting which El Greco drew was “The Burial of Count Orgaz” which was commissioned by the priest of Santo Tome in Toledo, in 1586. It is said to be his quintessential style of painting.

Late in his career, El Greco accepted a style known as maneira, or mannerism, while other artists were rejecting this style. It uses elongated and twisted figures and unreal colors. He died on April 7, 1614, and although unacknowledged in his time, he came to be known as a master artist more than two centuries after his death. He is said to have influenced many modern artists, including Picasso.

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