El Greco

El Greco

Overview
El Greco was a painter, sculptor
Sculpture
Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials—typically stone such as marble—or metal, glass, or wood. Softer materials can also be used, such as clay, textiles, plastics, polymers and softer metals...

 and architect
Architecture
Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural and political symbols and as works of art...

 of the Spanish Renaissance
Spanish Renaissance
The Spanish Renaissance refers to a movement in Spain, emerging from the Italian Renaissance in Italy during the 14th century, that spread to Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries...

. "El Greco" (The Greek) was a nickname, a reference to his ethnic Greek
Greeks
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 origin, and the artist normally signed his paintings with his full birth name in Greek letters
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos).

El Greco was born on Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

, and the centre of Post-Byzantine art. He trained and became a master within that tradition before travelling at age 26 to Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

, as other Greek artists had done.
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Encyclopedia
El Greco was a painter, sculptor
Sculpture
Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials—typically stone such as marble—or metal, glass, or wood. Softer materials can also be used, such as clay, textiles, plastics, polymers and softer metals...

 and architect
Architecture
Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural and political symbols and as works of art...

 of the Spanish Renaissance
Spanish Renaissance
The Spanish Renaissance refers to a movement in Spain, emerging from the Italian Renaissance in Italy during the 14th century, that spread to Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries...

. "El Greco" (The Greek) was a nickname, a reference to his ethnic Greek
Greeks
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 origin, and the artist normally signed his paintings with his full birth name in Greek letters
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos).

El Greco was born on Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

, and the centre of Post-Byzantine art. He trained and became a master within that tradition before travelling at age 26 to Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

, as other Greek artists had done. In 1570 he moved to Rome, where he opened a workshop and executed a series of works. During his stay in Italy, El Greco enriched his style with elements of Mannerism
Mannerism
Mannerism is a period of European art that emerged from the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520. It lasted until about 1580 in Italy, when a more Baroque style began to replace it, but Northern Mannerism continued into the early 17th century throughout much of Europe...

 and of the Venetian Renaissance
Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 13th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe...

. In 1577, he moved to Toledo, Spain
Toledo, Spain
Toledo's Alcázar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces.-Economy:...

, where he lived and worked until his death. In Toledo, El Greco received several major commissions and produced his best-known paintings.

El Greco's dramatic and expressionistic style was met with puzzlement by his contemporaries but found appreciation in the 20th century. El Greco is regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism was a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas...

 and Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

, while his personality and works were a source of inspiration for poets and writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke
Rainer Maria Rilke
René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke , better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was a Bohemian–Austrian poet. He is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language...

 and Nikos Kazantzakis
Nikos Kazantzakis
Nikos Kazantzakis was a Greek writer and philosopher, celebrated for his novel Zorba the Greek, considered his magnum opus...

. El Greco has been characterized by modern scholars as an artist so individual that he belongs to no conventional school. He is best known for tortuously elongated figures and often fantastic or phantasmagorical pigmentation, marrying Byzantine
Byzantine art
Byzantine art is the term commonly used to describe the artistic products of the Byzantine Empire from about the 5th century until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453....

 traditions with those of Western painting
Western painting
The history of Western painting represents a continuous, though disrupted, tradition from antiquity. Until the mid-19th century it was primarily concerned with representational and Classical modes of production, after which time more modern, abstract and conceptual forms gained favor.Developments...

.

Early years and family


Born in 1541, in either the village of Fodele or Candia (the Venetian name of Chandax, present day Heraklion
Heraklion
Heraklion, or Heraclion is the largest city and the administrative capital of the island of Crete, Greece. It is the 4th largest city in Greece....

) on Crete, El Greco was descended from a prosperous urban family, which had probably been driven out of Chania
Chania
Chaniá , , also transliterated Chania, Hania, and Xania, older form Chanea and Venetian Canea, Ottoman Turkish خانيه Hanya) is the second largest city of Crete and the capital of the Chania peripheral unit...

 to Candia after an uprising against the Venetian
Republic of Venice
The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic was a state originating from the city of Venice in Northeastern Italy. It existed for over a millennium, from the late 7th century until 1797. It was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice and is often referred to as La Serenissima, in...

s between 1526 and 1528. El Greco's father, Geórgios Theotokópoulos (d. 1556), was a merchant and tax collector
Tax collector
A tax collector is a person who collects unpaid taxes from other people or corporations. Tax collectors are often portrayed in fiction as being evil, and in the modern world share a somewhat similar stereotype to that of lawyers....

. Nothing is known about his mother or his first wife, also Greek. El Greco's older brother, Manoússos Theotokópoulos (1531 – 13 December 1604), was a wealthy merchant and spent the last years of his life (1603–1604) in El Greco's Toledo home.

El Greco received his initial training as an icon
Icon
An icon is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, from Eastern Christianity and in certain Eastern Catholic churches...

 painter of the Cretan school
Cretan School
The term Cretan School describes an important school of icon painting, also known as Post-Byzantine art, which flourished while Crete was under Venetian rule during the late Middle Ages, reaching its climax after the Fall of Constantinople, becoming the central force in Greek painting during the...

, the leading centre of post-Byzantine art. In addition to painting, he probably studied the classics
Classics
Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

 of ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, and perhaps the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 classics also; he left a "working library" of 130 books at his death, including the Bible in Greek and an annotated Vasari. Candia was a center for artistic activity where Eastern and Western cultures co-existed harmoniously, where around two hundred painters were active during the 16th century, and had organized a painters' guild, based on the Italian model. In 1563, at the age of twenty-two, El Greco was described in a document as a "master" ("maestro Domenigo"), meaning he was already a master of the guild and presumably operating his own workshop. Three years later, in June 1566, as a witness to a contract, he signed his name as (Master Menégos Theotokópoulos, painter).

Most scholars believe that the Theotokópoulos "family was almost certainly Greek Orthodox", although some Catholic sources still claim him from birth. Like many Orthodox emigrants to Europe, he apparently transferred to Catholicism after his arrival, and certainly practiced as a Catholic in Spain, where he described himself as a "devout Catholic" in his will. The extensive archival research conducted since the early 1960s by scholars, such as Nikolaos Panayotakis, Pandelis Prevelakis and Maria Constantoudaki, indicates strongly that El Greco's family and ancestors were Greek Orthodox. One of his uncles was an Orthodox priest, and his name is not mentioned in the Catholic archival baptismal records on Crete. Prevelakis goes even further, expressing his doubt that El Greco was ever a practicing Roman Catholic.

Italy


It was natural for the young El Greco to pursue his career in Venice, Crete having been a possession of the Republic of Venice since 1211. Though the exact year is not clear, most scholars agree that El Greco went to Venice around 1567. Knowledge of El Greco's years in Italy is limited. He lived in Venice until 1570 and, according to a letter written by his much older friend, the greatest miniaturist of the age, the Croatian Giulio Clovio, was a "disciple" of Titian
Titian
Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1488/1490 – 27 August 1576 better known as Titian was an Italian painter, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, near...

, who was by then in his eighties but still vigorous. This may mean he worked in Titian's large studio, or not. Clovio characterized El Greco as "a rare talent in painting".

In 1570, El Greco moved to Rome, where he executed a series of works strongly marked by his Venetian apprenticeship. It is unknown how long he remained in Rome, though he may have returned to Venice (c. 1575–1576) before he left for Spain. In Rome, on the recommendation of Giulio Clovio, El Greco was received as a guest at the Palazzo Farnese, which Cardinal Alessandro Farnese had made a centre of the artistic and intellectual life of the city. There he came into contact with the intellectual elite of the city, including the Roman scholar Fulvio Orsini
Fulvio Orsini
Fulvio Orsini was an Italian humanist, historian, and archaeologist. He was a scion of the Orsini family, one of the oldest, most illustrious, and for centuries most powerful of the Roman princely families, whose origins, when stripped of legend, can be traced back to a certain Ursus de Paro,...

, whose collection would later include seven paintings by the artist (View of Mt. Sinai
Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai , also known as Mount Horeb, Mount Musa, Gabal Musa , Jabal Musa meaning "Moses' Mountain", is a mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. A mountain called Mount Sinai is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible as well as the Quran...

and a portrait of Clovio are among them).

Unlike other Cretan artists who had moved to Venice, El Greco substantially altered his style and sought to distinguish himself by inventing new and unusual interpretations of traditional religious subject matter. His works painted in Italy were influenced by the Venetian Renaissance style of the period, with agile, elongated figures reminiscent of Tintoretto
Tintoretto
Tintoretto , real name Jacopo Comin, was a Venetian painter and a notable exponent of the Renaissance school. For his phenomenal energy in painting he was termed Il Furioso...

 and a chromatic framework that connects him to Titian. The Venetian painters also taught him to organize his multi-figured compositions in landscapes vibrant with atmospheric light. Clovio reports visiting El Greco on a summer's day while the artist was still in Rome. El Greco was sitting in a darkened room, because he found the darkness more conducive to thought than the light of the day, which disturbed his "inner light". As a result of his stay in Rome, his works were enriched with elements such as violent perspective
Perspective (graphical)
Perspective in the graphic arts, such as drawing, is an approximate representation, on a flat surface , of an image as it is seen by the eye...

 vanishing points or strange attitudes struck by the figures with their repeated twisting and turning and tempestuous gestures; all elements of Mannerism.

By the time El Greco arrived in Rome, Michelangelo
Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni , commonly known as Michelangelo, was an Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer who exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art...

 and Raphael
Raphael
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino , better known simply as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form and ease of composition and for its visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur...

 were dead, but their example continued to be paramount, and somewhat overwhelming for young painters. El Greco was determined to make his own mark in Rome defending his personal artistic views, ideas and style. He singled out Correggio and Parmigianino
Parmigianino
Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola , also known as Francesco Mazzola or more commonly as Parmigianino or sometimes "Parmigiano", was an Italian Mannerist painter and printmaker active in Florence, Rome, Bologna, and his native city of Parma...

 for particular praise, but he did not hesitate to dismiss Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel is the best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City. It is famous for its architecture and its decoration that was frescoed throughout by Renaissance artists including Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio...

; he extended an offer to Pope Pius V
Pope Pius V
Pope Saint Pius V , born Antonio Ghislieri , was Pope from 1566 to 1572 and is a saint of the Catholic Church. He is chiefly notable for his role in the Council of Trent, the Counter-Reformation, and the standardization of the Roman liturgy within the Latin Church...

 to paint over the whole work in accord with the new and stricter Catholic thinking. When he was later asked what he thought about Michelangelo, El Greco replied that "he was a good man, but he did not know how to paint". And thus we are confronted by a paradox: El Greco is said to have reacted most strongly or even condemned Michelangelo, but he had found it impossible to withstand his influence. Michelangelo's influence can be seen in later El Greco works such as the Allegory of the Holy League. By painting portraits of Michelangelo, Titian, Clovio and, presumably, Raphael in one of his works (The Purification of the Temple), El Greco not only expressed his gratitude but advanced the claim to rival these masters. As his own commentaries indicate, El Greco viewed Titian, Michelangelo and Raphael as models to emulate. In his 17th century Chronicles, Giulio Mancini included El Greco among the painters who had initiated, in various ways, a re-evaluation of Michelangelo's teachings.

Because of his unconventional artistic beliefs (such as his dismissal of Michelangelo's technique) and personality, El Greco soon acquired enemies in Rome. Architect and writer Pirro Ligorio
Pirro Ligorio
Pirro Ligorio was an Italian architect, painter, antiquarian and garden designer.-Biography:Ligorio was born in Naples. In 1534 he moved to Rome, where he developed his interest in antiquities, and was named superintendent to the ancient monuments by the Popes Pius IV and Paul IV...

 called him a "foolish foreigner", and newly discovered archival material reveals a skirmish with Farnese, who obliged the young artist to leave his palace. On 6 July 1572, El Greco officially complained about this event. A few months later, on 18 September 1572, El Greco paid his dues to the Guild of Saint Luke
Guild of Saint Luke
The Guild of Saint Luke was the most common name for a city guild for painters and other artists in early modern Europe, especially in the Low Countries. They were named in honor of the Evangelist Luke, the patron saint of artists, who was identified by John of Damascus as having painted the...

 in Rome as a miniature
Portrait miniature
A portrait miniature is a miniature portrait painting, usually executed in gouache, watercolour, or enamel.Portrait miniatures began to flourish in 16th century Europe and the art was practiced during the 17th century and 18th century...

 painter. At the end of that year, El Greco opened his own workshop and hired as assistants the painters Lattanzio Bonastri de Lucignano and Francisco Preboste.

Immigration to Toledo


In 1577, El Greco emigrated first to Madrid
Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

, then to Toledo, where he produced his mature works. At the time, Toledo was the religious capital of Spain and a populous city with "an illustrious past, a prosperous present and an uncertain future". In Rome, El Greco had earned the respect of some intellectuals, but was also facing the hostility of certain art critics
Art criticism
Art criticism is the discussion or evaluation of visual art.Art critics usually criticize art in the context of aesthetics or the theory of beauty...

. During the 1570s the huge monastery-palace of El Escorial
El Escorial
The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a historical residence of the king of Spain, in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 45 kilometres northwest of the capital, Madrid, in Spain. It is one of the Spanish royal sites and functions as a monastery, royal palace, museum, and...

 was still under construction and Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

 was experiencing difficulties in finding good artists for the many large paintings required to decorate it. Titian was dead, and Tintoretto
Tintoretto
Tintoretto , real name Jacopo Comin, was a Venetian painter and a notable exponent of the Renaissance school. For his phenomenal energy in painting he was termed Il Furioso...

, Veronese
Paolo Veronese
Paolo Veronese was an Italian painter of the Renaissance in Venice, famous for paintings such as The Wedding at Cana and The Feast in the House of Levi...

 and Anthonis Mor all refused to come to Spain. Philip had to rely on the lesser talent of Juan Fernándes de Navarrete, whose gravedad y decoro ("seriousness and decorum") the king approved. However, he had just died in 1579; the moment should have been ideal for El Greco. Through Clovio and Orsini, El Greco met Benito Arias Montano
Benito Arias Montano
Benito Arias Montano , Spanish orientalist and editor of the Antwerp Polyglot, was born at Fregenal de la Sierra, in Extremadura, in 1527. After studying at the universities of Seville and Alcalá, he took orders about the year 1559. He became a clerical member of the Military Order of St...

, a Spanish humanist and agent of Philip; Pedro Chacón
Pedro Chacón
Pedro Chacón was a Spanish mathematician and theologian.-Life:He worked as professor of Greek at the University of Salamanca, whose history, consulting ancient documents in the library, he published in 1569...

, a clergyman; and Luis de Castilla, son of Diego de Castilla
Diego de Castilla
Diego de Castilla , dean of Toledo Cathedral. Castilla was of Jewish blood, and this was a major issue, since in 1547, the then-archbishop of Toledo had passed a statute of cleanliness of blood, excluding from ecclesiastical office and benefices anyone with a trace of Jewish lineage over four...

, the dean of the Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo
The Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Toledo, Spain, seat of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Toledo....

. El Greco's friendship with Castilla would secure his first large commissions in Toledo. He arrived in Toledo by July 1577, and signed contracts for a group of paintings that was to adorn the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo
Monastery of Saint Dominic of Silos (the Old)
The Monastery of Saint Dominic of Silos is a Cistercian monastery in Toledo. It was first founded in 1085 by Pedro Alcocer during the reign of Alfonso VI of Leon and Castille. It underwent major rebuilding work in the second half of the 16th century, in which the mudéjar church was demolished...

 in Toledo and for the renowned . By September 1579 he had completed nine paintings for Santo Domingo, including The Trinity and The Assumption of the Virgin. These works would establish the painter's reputation in Toledo.

El Greco did not plan to settle permanently in Toledo, since his final aim was to win the favor of Philip and make his mark in his court. Indeed, he did manage to secure two important commissions from the monarch: Allegory of the Holy League and Martyrdom of St. Maurice
Saint Maurice
Saint Maurice was the leader of the legendary Roman Theban Legion in the 3rd century, and one of the favorite and most widely venerated saints of that group. He was the patron saint of several professions, locales, and kingdoms...

. However, the king did not like these works and placed the St Maurice altarpiece in the chapter-house rather than the intended chapel. He gave no further commissions to El Greco. The exact reasons for the king's dissatisfaction remain unclear. Some scholars have suggested that Philip did not like the inclusion of living persons in a religious scene; some others that El Greco's works violated a basic rule of the Counter-Reformation
Counter-Reformation
The Counter-Reformation was the period of Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent and ending at the close of the Thirty Years' War, 1648 as a response to the Protestant Reformation.The Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort, composed of four major elements:#Ecclesiastical or...

, namely that in the image the content was paramount rather than the style. Philip took a close interest in his artistic commissions, and had very decided tastes; a long sought-after sculpted Crucifixion by Benvenuto Cellini
Benvenuto Cellini
Benvenuto Cellini was an Italian goldsmith, sculptor, painter, soldier and musician, who also wrote a famous autobiography. He was one of the most important artists of Mannerism.-Youth:...

 also failed to please when it arrived, and was likewise exiled to a less prominent place. Philip's next experiment, with Federico Zuccari
Federico Zuccari
Federico Zuccari, also known as Federigo Zuccaro , was an Italian Mannerist painter and architect, active both in Italy and abroad.-Biography:Zuccari was born at Sant'Angelo in Vado, near Urbino ....

 was even less successful. In any case, Philip's dissatisfaction ended any hopes of royal patronage El Greco may have had.

Mature works and later years


Lacking the favor of the king, El Greco was obliged to remain in Toledo, where he had been received in 1577 as a great painter. According to Hortensio Félix Paravicino
Hortensio Félix Paravicino
Hortensio Félix Paravicino y Arteaga was a Spanish preacher and poet from the noble house of Pallavicini....

, a 17th-century Spanish preacher and poet, "Crete gave him life and the painter's craft, Toledo a better homeland, where through Death he began to achieve eternal life." In 1585, he appears to have hired an assistant, Italian painter Francisco Preboste, and to have established a workshop capable of producing altar
Altar
An altar is any structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes. Altars are usually found at shrines, and they can be located in temples, churches and other places of worship...

 frames and statues as well as paintings. On 12 March 1586 he obtained the commission for The Burial of the Count of Orgaz
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is a painting by El Greco, a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. Widely considered among his finest works, it illustrates a popular local legend of his time. An exceptionally large painting, it is very clearly divided into two sections,...

, now his best-known work. The decade 1597 to 1607 was a period of intense activity for El Greco. During these years he received several major commissions, and his workshop created pictorial and sculptural ensembles for a variety of religious institutions. Among his major commissions of this period were three altars for the Chapel of San José in Toledo (1597–1599); three paintings (1596–1600) for the Colegio de Doña María de Aragon, an Augustinian
Augustinians
The term Augustinians, named after Saint Augustine of Hippo , applies to two separate and unrelated types of Catholic religious orders:...

 monastery in Madrid, and the high altar, four lateral altars, and the painting St. Ildefonso for the Capilla Mayor of the Hospital de la Caridad (Hospital of Charity) at Illescas
Illescas, Toledo
Illescas is a municipality located in the province of Toledo, Castile-La Mancha, Spain. According to the 2006 census , the municipality has a population of 15830 inhabitants.- History :...

 (1603–1605). The minutes of the commission of The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (1607–1613), which were composed by the personnel of the municipality, describe El Greco as "one of the greatest men in both this kingdom and outside it".

Between 1607 and 1608 El Greco was involved in a protracted legal dispute with the authorities of the Hospital of Charity at Illescas concerning payment for his work, which included painting, sculpture and architecture; this and other legal disputes contributed to the economic difficulties he experienced towards the end of his life. In 1608, he received his last major commission: for the Hospital of Saint John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 in Toledo.

El Greco made Toledo his home. Surviving contracts mention him as the tenant from 1585 onwards of a complex consisting of three apartments and twenty-four rooms which belonged to the Marquis de Villena. It was in these apartments, which also served as his workshop, that he passed the rest of his life, painting and studying. He lived in considerable style, sometimes employing musicians to play whilst he dined. It is not confirmed whether he lived with his Spanish female companion, Jerónima de Las Cuevas, whom he probably never married. She was the mother of his only son, Jorge Manuel, born in 1578, who also became a painter, assisted his father, and continued to repeat his compositions for many years after he inherited the studio. In 1604, Jorge Manuel and Alfonsa de los Morales gave birth to El Greco's grandson, Gabriel, who was baptized by Gregorio Angulo, governor of Toledo and a personal friend of the artist.

During the course of the execution of a commission for the Hospital Tavera, El Greco fell seriously ill, and a month later, on 7 April 1614, he died. A few days earlier, on 31 March, he had directed that his son should have the power to make his will. Two Greeks, friends of the painter, witnessed this last will and testament
Will (law)
A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his/her estate and provides for the transfer of his/her property at death...

 (El Greco never lost touch with his Greek origins). He was buried in the Church of Santo Domingo el Antigua, aged 73.

Technique and style



The primacy of imagination and intuition over the subjective character of creation was a fundamental principle of El Greco's style. El Greco discarded classicist criteria such as measure and proportion. He believed that grace is the supreme quest of art, but the painter achieves grace only if he manages to solve the most complex problems with obvious ease.
El Greco regarded color as the most important and the most ungovernable element of painting, and declared that color had primacy over form. Francisco Pacheco
Francisco Pacheco
Francisco Pacheco was a Spanish painter, best known as the teacher of Diego Velázquez and Alonso Cano, and for his textbook on painting that is an important source for the study of 17th-century practice in Spain...

, a painter and theoretician who visited El Greco in 1611, wrote that the painter liked "the colors crude and unmixed in great blots as a boastful display of his dexterity" and that "he believed in constant repainting and retouching in order to make the broad masses tell flat as in nature".

Art historian Max Dvořák
Max Dvorák
Max Dvořák was a Czech-born Austrian art historian...

 was the first scholar to connect El Greco's art with Mannerism and Antinaturalism
Antinaturalism (sociology)
Antinaturalism is a view in sociology which states that the natural world and the social world are different. It is closely related to antipositivism, and is the opposite of sociological naturalism....

. Modern scholars characterize El Greco's theory as "typically Mannerist" and pinpoint its sources in the Neoplatonism of the Renaissance
Platonism in the Renaissance
Platonism underwent a revival in the Renaissance, as part of a general revival of interest in Classical antiquity. Interest in Platonism was especially strong in Florence under the Medici....

. Jonathan Brown believes that El Greco endeavored to create a sophisticated form of art; according to Nicholas Penny
Nicholas Penny
Nicholas Penny, FSA is a British art historian. Since Spring 2008 he has been director of the National Gallery in London....

 "once in Spain, El Greco was able to create a style of his own—one that disavowed most of the descriptive ambitions of painting".

In his mature works El Greco demonstrated a characteristic tendency to dramatize rather than to describe. The strong spiritual emotion transfers from painting directly to the audience. According to Pacheco, El Greco's perturbed, violent and at times seemingly careless-in-execution art was due to a studied effort to acquire a freedom of style. El Greco's preference for exceptionally tall and slender figures and elongated compositions, which served both his expressive purposes and aesthetic principles, led him to disregard the laws of nature and elongate his compositions to ever greater extents, particularly when they were destined for altarpieces. The anatomy of the human body becomes even more otherworldly in El Greco's mature works; for The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception El Greco asked to lengthen the altarpiece itself by another 1.5 foot (0.4572 m) "because in this way the form will be perfect and not reduced, which is the worst thing that can happen to a figure'". A significant innovation of El Greco's mature works is the interweaving between form and space; a reciprocal relationship is developed between the two which completely unifies the painting surface. This interweaving would re-emerge three centuries later in the works of Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th...

 and Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso known as Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish expatriate painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the...

.

Another characteristic of El Greco's mature style is the use of light. As Jonathan Brown notes, "each figure seems to carry its own light within or reflects the light that emanates from an unseen source". Fernando Marias and Agustín Bustamante García, the scholars who transcribed El Greco's handwritten notes, connect the power that the painter gives to light with the ideas underlying Christian Neo-Platonism
Neoplatonism and Christianity
Neoplatonism was a major influence on Christian theology throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the West notably due to St. Augustine of Hippo, who was influenced by the early Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry, and the works of the Christian writer Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, who...

.

Modern scholarly research emphasizes the importance of Toledo for the complete development of El Greco's mature style and stresses the painter's ability to adjust his style in accordance with his surroundings. Harold Wethey
Harold Wethey
Harold Edwin Wethey was a prominent art historian. Wethey received a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and his doctorate from Harvard. He taught at Bryn Mawr College and Washington University in St...

 asserts that "although Greek by descent and Italian by artistic preparation, the artist became so immersed in the religious environment of Spain that he became the most vital visual representative of Spanish mysticism
Mysticism
Mysticism is the knowledge of, and especially the personal experience of, states of consciousness, i.e. levels of being, beyond normal human perception, including experience and even communion with a supreme being.-Classical origins:...

". He believes that in El Greco's mature works "the devotional intensity of mood reflects the religious spirit of Roman Catholic Spain in the period of the Counter-Reformation".

El Greco also excelled as a portraitist, able not only to record a sitter's features but also to convey their character. His portraits are fewer in number than his religious paintings, but are of equally high quality. Wethey says that "by such simple means, the artist created a memorable characterization that places him in the highest rank as a portraitist, along with Titian
Titian
Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio (c. 1488/1490 – 27 August 1576 better known as Titian was an Italian painter, the most important member of the 16th-century Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, near...

 and Rembrandt".

Suggested Byzantine affinities


Since the beginning of the 20th century, scholars have debated whether El Greco's style had Byzantine origins. Certain art historians had asserted that El Greco's roots were firmly in the Byzantine tradition, and that his most individual characteristics derive directly from the art of his ancestors, while others had argued that Byzantine art could not be related to El Greco's later work.

The discovery of the Dormition of the Virgin
Dormition of the Virgin (El Greco)
El Greco painted his Dormition of the Virgin near the end of his Cretan period, probably before 1567. El Greco' signature on the base of the central candelabrum was discovered in 1983. The discovery of the Dormition led to the attribution of three other signed works of "Doménicos" to El Greco El...

on Syros
Syros
Syros , or Siros or Syra is a Greek island in the Cyclades, in the Aegean Sea. It is located south-east of Athens. The area of the island is . The largest towns are Ermoupoli, Ano Syros, and Vari. Ermoupoli is the capital of the island and the Cyclades...

, an authentic and signed work from the painter's Cretan period, and the extensive archival research in the early 1960s, contributed to the rekindling and reassessment of these theories. Although following many conventions of the Byzantine icon, aspects of the style certainly show Venetian influence, and the composition, showing the death of Mary, combines the different doctrines of the Orthodox Dormition of the Virgin and the Catholic Assumption of the Virgin. Significant scholarly works of the second half of the 20th century devoted to El Greco reappraise many of the interpretations of his work, including his supposed Byzantinism. Based on the notes written in El Greco's own hand, on his unique style, and on the fact that El Greco signed his name in Greek characters, they see an organic continuity between Byzantine painting and his art. According to Marina Lambraki-Plaka "far from the influence of Italy, in a neutral place which was intellectually similar to his birthplace, Candia, the Byzantine elements of his education emerged and played a catalytic role in the new conception of the image which is presented to us in his mature work". In making this judgement, Lambraki-Plaka disagrees with Oxford University
Oxford
The city of Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire, England. The city, made prominent by its medieval university, has a population of just under 165,000, with 153,900 living within the district boundary. It lies about 50 miles north-west of London. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through...

 professors Cyril Mango
Cyril Mango
Cyril Alexander Mango is a British scholar in the history, art, and architecture of the Byzantine Empire. He is a former King's College London and Oxford professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Language and Literature. He is the brother of Andrew Mango.One of his major works The Mosaics of St...

 and Elizabeth Jeffreys
Elizabeth Jeffreys
Elizabeth Jeffreys is the former Bywater and Sotheby Professor of Byzantine and Modern Greek Literature at the University of Oxford. She was a Professorial Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford from 1996 to 2006, and a Professor Emerita from 2006 to present....

, who assert that "despite claims to the contrary, the only Byzantine element of his famous paintings
Works of El Greco
El Greco was a Cretan-born painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. El Greco left his birthplace for Venice in 1567 never to return. El Greco's three years in Venice profoundly influenced his style...

 was his signature in Greek lettering". Nikos Hadjinikolaou states that from 1570 El Greco's painting is "neither Byzantine nor post-Byzantine but Western European. The works he produced in Italy belong to the history of the Italian art
Art of Italy
The history of Italian art is in many ways also the history of Western art. After Etruscan civilization and especially the Roman Republic and Empire that dominated this part of the world for many centuries, Italy was central to European art during the Renaissance. Italy also saw European artistic...

, and those he produced in Spain to the history of Spanish art".

The English art historian David Davies seeks the roots of El Greco's style in the intellectual sources of his Greek-Christian education and in the world of his recollections from the liturgical and ceremonial aspect of the Orthodox Church. Davies believes that the religious climate of the Counter-Reformation and the aesthetics of mannerism acted as catalysts to activate his individual technique. He asserts that the philosophies of Platonism
Platonism
Platonism is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In a narrower sense the term might indicate the doctrine of Platonic realism...

 and ancient Neo-Platonism, the works of Plotinus
Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

 and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Pseudo-Denys, was a Christian theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century, the author of the Corpus Areopagiticum . The author is identified as "Dionysos" in the corpus, which later incorrectly came to be attributed to Dionysius...

, the texts of the Church fathers and the liturgy offer the keys to the understanding of El Greco's style. Summarizing the ensuing scholarly debate on this issue, José Álvarez Lopera, curator at the Museo del Prado
Museo del Prado
The Museo del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world's finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of...

, Madrid, concludes that the presence of "Byzantine memories" is obvious in El Greco's mature works, though there are still some obscure issues concerning his Byzantine origins needing further illumination.

Architecture and sculpture


El Greco was highly esteemed as an architect and sculptor during his lifetime. He usually designed complete altar compositions, working as architect and sculptor as well as painter – at, for instance, the Hospital de la Caridad. There he decorated the chapel of the hospital, but the wooden altar and the sculptures he created have in all probability perished. For the master designed the original altar of gilded
Gilding
The term gilding covers a number of decorative techniques for applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal to give a thin coating of gold. A gilded object is described as "gilt"...

 wood which has been destroyed, but his small sculptured group of the Miracle of St. Ildefonso still survives on the lower centre of the frame.
His most important architectural achievement was the church and Monastery of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, for which he also executed sculptures and paintings. El Greco is regarded as a painter who incorporated architecture in his painting. He is also credited with the architectural frames to his own paintings in Toledo. Pacheco characterized him as "a writer of painting, sculpture and architecture".

In the marginalia
Marginalia
Marginalia are scribbles, comments, and illuminations in the margins of a book.- Biblical manuscripts :Biblical manuscripts have liturgical notes at the margin, for liturgical use. Numbers of texts' divisions are given at the margin...

 that El Greco inscribed in his copy of Daniele Barbaro
Daniele Barbaro
Daniele Matteo Alvise Barbaro was an Italian translator of, and commentator on, Vitruvius. He also had a significant ecclesiastical career, reaching the rank of Cardinal....

's translation of Vitruvius
Vitruvius
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a Roman writer, architect and engineer, active in the 1st century BC. He is best known as the author of the multi-volume work De Architectura ....

' , he refuted Vitruvius' attachment to archaeological remains, canonical proportions, perspective and mathematics. He also saw Vitruvius' manner of distorting proportions in order to compensate for distance from the eye as responsible for creating monstrous forms. El Greco was averse to the very idea of rules in architecture; he believed above all in the freedom of invention and defended novelty, variety, and complexity. These ideas were, however, far too extreme for the architectural circles of his era and had no immediate resonance.

Posthumous critical reputation


El Greco was disdained by the immediate generations after his death because his work was opposed in many respects to the principles of the early baroque
Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 style which came to the fore near the beginning of the 17th century and soon supplanted the last surviving traits of the 16th-century Mannerism. El Greco was deemed incomprehensible and had no important followers. Only his son and a few unknown painters produced weak copies of his works. Late 17th- and early 18th-century Spanish commentators praised his skill but criticized his antinaturalistic style and his complex iconography
Iconography
Iconography is the branch of art history which studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images. The word iconography literally means "image writing", and comes from the Greek "image" and "to write". A secondary meaning is the painting of icons in the...

. Some of these commentators, such as Acislo Antonio Palomino de Castro y Velasco
Acislo Antonio Palomino de Castro y Velasco
Acislo Antonio Palomino de Castro y Velasco was a Spanish painter of the Baroque period, best known for his writings on art theory and biographies of artists.He was born of good family at Bujalance, near Córdoba in 1653...

 and Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez
Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez
Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez was a Spanish writer on art.Bermúdez was born in Gijón, Asturias. Also in relation to Clara M. Bermudez of the Miami Bermudezs. He founded an art academy at Seville, and was given responsibility to order the Archivo General de Indias or the repository of documents...

, described his mature work as "contemptible", "ridiculous" and "worthy of scorn". The views of Palomino and Bermúdez were frequently repeated in Spanish historiography
Historiography
Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic...

, adorned with terms such as "strange", "queer", "original", "eccentric" and "odd". The phrase "sunk in eccentricity", often encountered in such texts, in time developed into "madness".

With the arrival of Romantic
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 sentiments in the late 18th century, El Greco's works were examined anew. To French writer Théophile Gautier
Théophile Gautier
Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, art critic and literary critic....

, El Greco was the precursor of the European Romantic movement in all its craving for the strange and the extreme. Gautier regarded El Greco as the ideal romantic hero (the "gifted", the "misunderstood", the "mad"), and was the first who explicitly expressed his admiration for El Greco's later technique. French art critics Zacharie Astruc
Zacharie Astruc
Zacharie Astruc was a sculptor, painter, poet, and art critic. He was an important figure in the cultural life of France in the second half of the 19th century, and participated in the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874 and also in the Exposition Universelle of 1900...

 and Paul Lefort helped to promote a widespread revival of interest in his painting. In the 1890s, Spanish painters living in Paris adopted him as their guide and mentor. However, in the popular English-speaking imagination he remained the man who "painted horrors in the Escorial" in the words of Ephraim Chambers
Ephraim Chambers
Ephraim Chambers was an English writer and encyclopaedist, who is primarily known for producing the Cyclopaedia, or a Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences.-Early life:...

' Cyclopaedia
Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences
Cyclopaedia: or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences was an encyclopedia published by Ephraim Chambers in London in 1728, and reprinted in numerous editions in the eighteenth century...

in 1899.

In 1908, Spanish art historian Manuel Bartolomé Cossío published the first comprehensive catalogue of El Greco's works; in this book El Greco was presented as the founder of the Spanish School. The same year Julius Meier-Graefe
Julius Meier-Graefe
Julius Meier-Graefe was a German art critic and novelist. His writings on Impressionism, Post-Impressionism as well as on art of earlier and more recent generations, with his most important contributions translated into French, Russian and English, are considered to have been instrumental for the...

, a scholar of French Impressionism
Impressionism
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists whose independent exhibitions brought them to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s...

, travelled in Spain, expecting to study Velásquez, but instead becoming fascinated by El Greco; he recorded his experiences in Spanische Reise (Spanish Journey, published in English in 1926), the book which widely established El Greco as a great painter of the past "outside a somewhat narrow circle". In El Greco's work, Meier-Graefe found foreshadowing of modernity. These are the words Meier-Graefe used to describe El Greco's impact on the artistic movements
Art movement
An art movement is a tendency or style in art with a specific common philosophy or goal, followed by a group of artists during a restricted period of time, or, at least, with the heyday of the movement defined within a number of years...

 of his time:

To the English artist and critic Roger Fry
Roger Fry
Roger Eliot Fry was an English artist and art critic, and a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Establishing his reputation as a scholar of the Old Masters, he became an advocate of more recent developments in French painting, to which he gave the name Post-Impressionism...

 in 1920, El Greco was the archetypal genius who did as he thought best "with complete indifference to what effect the right expression might have on the public". Fry described El Greco as "an old master
Old Master
"Old Master" is a term for a European painter of skill who worked before about 1800, or a painting by such an artist. An "old master print" is an original print made by an artist in the same period...

 who is not merely modern, but actually appears a good many steps ahead of us, turning back to show us the way".

During the same period, other researchers developed alternative, more radical theories. The physicians August Goldschmidt and Germán Beritens argued that El Greco painted such elongated human figures because he had vision problems (possibly progressive astigmatism
Astigmatism
An optical system with astigmatism is one where rays that propagate in two perpendicular planes have different foci. If an optical system with astigmatism is used to form an image of a cross, the vertical and horizontal lines will be in sharp focus at two different distances...

 or strabismus
Strabismus
Strabismus is a condition in which the eyes are not properly aligned with each other. It typically involves a lack of coordination between the extraocular muscles, which prevents bringing the gaze of each eye to the same point in space and preventing proper binocular vision, which may adversely...

) that made him see bodies longer than they were, and at an angle to the perpendicular; the physician Arturo Perera, however, attributed this style to the use of marijuana
Cannabis (drug)
Cannabis, also known as marijuana among many other names, refers to any number of preparations of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or for medicinal purposes. The English term marijuana comes from the Mexican Spanish word marihuana...

. Michael Kimmelman, a reviewer for The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

, stated that "to Greeks [El Greco] became the quintessential Greek painter; to the Spanish, the quintessential Spaniard".

As was proved by the campaign of the National Art Gallery in Athens to raise the funds for the purchase of Saint Peter in 1995, El Greco is loved not just by experts and art lovers but also by ordinary people; thanks to the donations mainly of individuals and public benefit foundations the National Art Gallery raised 1.2 million dollars and purchased the painting. Epitomizing the consensus of El Greco's impact, Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

, the 39th President of the United States, said in April 1980 that El Greco was "the most extraordinary painter that ever came along back then" and that he was "maybe three or four centuries ahead of his time".

Influence on other artists


El Greco's re-evaluation was not limited to scholars. According to Efi Foundoulaki, "painters and theoreticians from the beginning of the 20th century 'discovered' a new El Greco but in process they also discovered and revealed their own selves". His expressiveness and colors influenced Eugène Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix
Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix was a French Romantic artist regarded from the outset of his career as the leader of the French Romantic school...

 and Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet
Édouard Manet was a French painter. One of the first 19th-century artists to approach modern-life subjects, he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism....

. To the Blaue Reiter group in Munich in 1912, El Greco typified that mystical inner construction that it was the task of their generation to rediscover. The first painter who appears to have noticed the structural code in the morphology of the mature El Greco was Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century. Cézanne can be said to form the bridge between late 19th...

, one of the forerunners of cubism
Cubism
Cubism was a 20th century avant-garde art movement, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture...

. Comparative morphological analyses of the two painters revealed their common elements, such as the distortion of the human body, the reddish and (in appearance only) unworked backgrounds and the similarities in the rendering of space. According to Brown, "Cézanne and El Greco are spiritual brothers despite the centuries which separate them". Fry observed that Cézanne drew from "his great discovery of the permeation of every part of the design with a uniform and continuous plastic theme".

The Symbolists
Symbolism (arts)
Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style had its beginnings with the publication Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire...

, and Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso known as Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish expatriate painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the...

 during his Blue Period
Blue Period
The Blue Period is a term used to define to the works produced by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso between 1901 and 1904, when he painted essentially monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors...

, drew on the cold tonality of El Greco, utilizing the anatomy of his ascetic figures. While Picasso was working on , he visited his friend Ignacio Zuloaga
Ignacio Zuloaga
Ignacio Zuloaga y Zabaleta was a Basque Spanish painter, born in Eibar, near the monastery of Loyola. He was the son of metalworker and damascener Plácido Zuloaga and grandson of the organizer and director of the royal armoury in Madrid.-Biography:In his youth, he drew and worked in his father's...

 in his studio in Paris and studied El Greco's Opening of the Fifth Seal
Opening of the Fifth Seal
The Opening of the Fifth Seal 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...

(owned by Zuloaga since 1897). The relation between and the Opening of the Fifth Seal was pinpointed in the early 1980s, when the stylistic similarities and the relationship between the motifs of both works were analysed.
The early cubist explorations of Picasso were to uncover other aspects in the work of El Greco: structural analysis of his compositions, multi-faced refraction of form, interweaving of form and space, and special effects of highlights. Several traits of cubism, such as distortions and the materialistic rendering of time, have their analogies in El Greco's work. According to Picasso, El Greco's structure is cubist. On 22 February 1950, Picasso began his series of "paraphrases" of other painters' works with The Portrait of a Painter after El Greco. Foundoulaki asserts that Picasso "completed ... the process for the activation of the painterly values of El Greco which had been started by Manet and carried on by Cézanne".

The expressionists focused on the expressive distortions of El Greco. According to Franz Marc
Franz Marc
Franz Marc was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of the German Expressionist movement...

, one of the principal painters of the German expressionist
German Expressionism
German Expressionism refers to a number of related creative movements beginning in Germany before the First World War that reached a peak in Berlin, during the 1920s...

 movement, "we refer with pleasure and with steadfastness to the case of El Greco, because the glory of this painter is closely tied to the evolution of our new perceptions on art". Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Paul Jackson Pollock , known as Jackson Pollock, was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety. He was regarded as a mostly reclusive artist. He had a volatile personality, and...

, a major force in the abstract expressionist
Abstract expressionism
Abstract expressionism was an American post–World War II art movement. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve worldwide influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris...

 movement, was also influenced by El Greco. By 1943, Pollock had completed sixty drawing compositions after El Greco and owned three books on the Cretan master.

Contemporary painters are also inspired by El Greco's art. Kysa Johnson
Kysa Johnson
Kysa Johnson is a modern painter, drawing from scientific sources and theories, such as string theory and the mapping of the subatomic decay of particles. She was born in Evanston, Illinois in 1974, schooled in Glasgow, Scotland,and is currently a resident of Brooklyn, NY...

 used El Greco's paintings of the Immaculate Conception
Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, according to which the Virgin Mary was conceived without any stain of original sin. It is one of the four dogmata in Roman Catholic Mariology...

 as the compositional framework for some of her works, and the master's anatomical distortions are somewhat reflected in Fritz Chesnut's portraits.

El Greco's personality and work were a source of inspiration for poet Rainer Maria Rilke. One set of Rilke's poems (Himmelfahrt Mariae I.II., 1913) was based directly on El Greco's Immaculate Conception. Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis, who felt a great spiritual affinity for El Greco, called his autobiography Report to Greco and wrote a tribute to the Cretan-born artist.

In 1998, the Greek electronic composer and artist Vangelis
Vangelis
Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou is a Greek composer of electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, pop rock and orchestral music, under the artist name Vangelis...

 published El Greco
El Greco (album)
El Greco is a 1998 classical album by Greek electronic composer and artist Vangelis . The title is an a reference to the man who inspired the composition, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος , the Cretan-born painter and sculptor better known as El Greco.This album is an expansion of an earlier album by...

, a symphonic
Symphony
A symphony is an extended musical composition in Western classical music, scored almost always for orchestra. A symphony usually contains at least one movement or episode composed according to the sonata principle...

 album inspired by the artist. This album is an expansion of an earlier album by Vangelis, (A Tribute to El Greco). The life of the Cretan-born artist is the subject of the film El Greco of Greek, Spanish and British production. Directed by Ioannis Smaragdis
Yannis Smaragdis
Yannis Smaragdis is a Greek film director.He was born in Crete in 1946 and studied film in Greece and Paris, France. He appeared in 1972 with his short film Two Three Things... which received the first prize in the Athens Festival as well as a Special Mention in the Montreal Film Festival...

, the film began shooting in October 2006 on the island of Crete and debuted on the screen one year later; British actor Nick Ashdon has been cast to play El Greco.

Debates on attribution


The exact number of El Greco's works has been a hotly contested issue. In 1937, a highly influential study by art historian Rodolfo Pallucchini had the effect of greatly increasing the number of works accepted to be by El Greco. Pallucchini attributed to El Greco a small triptych
Triptych
A triptych , from tri-= "three" + ptysso= "to fold") is a work of art which is divided into three sections, or three carved panels which are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. It is therefore a type of polyptych, the term for all multi-panel works...

 in the Galleria Estense
Galleria Estense
The Galleria Estense or Estense Gallery is an art museum in Modena, with mainly Italian and Spanish paintings from the 14th to the 18th century, formed around the collection of the House of Este, rulers of Modena . It is located on the upper floor of the Palazzo dei Musei, on the St. Augustine...

 at Modena
Modena
Modena is a city and comune on the south side of the Po Valley, in the Province of Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy....

 on the basis of a signature on the painting on the back of the central panel on the Modena triptych ("", Created by the hand of Doménikos). There was consensus that the triptych was indeed an early work of El Greco and, therefore, Pallucchini's publication became the yardstick for attributions to the artist. Nevertheless, Wethey denied that the Modena triptych had any connection at all with the artist and, in 1962, produced a reactive catalogue with a greatly reduced corpus of materials. Whereas art historian José Camón Aznar had attributed between 787 and 829 paintings to the Cretan master, Wethey reduced the number to 285 authentic works and Halldor Sœhner, a German researcher of Spanish art
Spanish art
Spanish art is the visual art of Spain, and that of Spanish artists worldwide. Whilst an important contributor to Western art and producing many famous and influential artists Spanish art has often had distinctive characteristics and been assessed...

, recognized only 137. Wethey and other scholars rejected the notion that Crete took any part in his formation and supported the elimination of a series of works from El Greco's .

Since 1962, the discovery of the Dormition and the extensive archival research has gradually convinced scholars that Wethey's assessments were not entirely correct, and that his catalogue decisions may have distorted the perception of the whole nature of El Greco's origins, development and . The discovery of the Dormition led to the attribution of three other signed works of "Doménicos" to El Greco (Modena Triptych, St. Luke Painting the Virgin and Child, and The Adoration of the Magi) and then to the acceptance of more works as authentic – some signed, some not (such as The Passion of Christ (Pietà with Angels) painted in 1566), – which were brought into the group of early works of El Greco. El Greco is now seen as an artist with a formative training on Crete; a series of works illuminate his early style, some painted while he was still on Crete, some from his period in Venice, and some from his subsequent stay in Rome. Even Wethey accepted that "he [El Greco] probably had painted the little and much disputed triptych in the Galleria Estense at Modena before he left Crete". Nevertheless, disputes over the exact number of El Greco's authentic works remain unresolved, and the status of Wethey's catalogue is at the centre of these disagreements.

A few sculptures, including Epimetheus and Pandora, have been attributed to El Greco. This doubtful attribution is based on the testimony of Pacheco (he saw in El Greco's studio a series of figurines, but these may have been merely models). There are also four drawings among the surviving works of El Greco; three of them are preparatory works for the altarpiece of Santo Domingo el Antiguo and the fourth is a study for one of his paintings, The Crucifixion.

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