El Greco

El Greco

The nickname “El Greco” refers both to his Greek origin and Spanish citizenship. The artist normally signed his paintings with his full birth name in Greek letters, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), often adding the word Κρής (Krēs, “Cretan”).

There aren’t so many information on the painter’s years of youth. But in a notarial deed, dated on 6 June 1566, it was found out that his signature was kept intact, “Master Menegos Theotokópulos” and the word “zgurafos” was added by himself, which in the Greek local dialect of Crete meant painter. In this manner, we know that at the age of 25 years old, El Greco was a painter who specialized in miniatures on wood and frescoes.

He probably apprenticed in the studio of the famous painter, Tiziano or worked for another painture. Two years later, he met Tintoretto in Rome, which will become his next master. Giulio Clovio, miniaturist and Enlightenment philosopher, protector of the painter, recommended him to the influential and rich Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.

The conditions for him are favorable and the young Greek begins to receive commands. In 1572, Doménikos Theotokópulos became a member of the corporation of painters in Rome, known as the “Saint Luke Academy.” Relationships with the painters in Rome weren’t the best, and shortly he would leave Italy for Spain, where King Philip II began building a huge palace-monastery at Escurial, an opportunity for many artists to find themselves something to work.

In 1577, after arriving in Toledo, El Greco receives from Diego de Castilla the order to execute three altars for the church of the monastery of Santo Domingo el Antiguo and from the cleric’s group, he gained the opportunity to make the paintings for the city’s cathedral sacristy. Therefore, the painter made in this period “El Expolio” (“The Disrobing of Christ”, 1577-1579) and the altar paintings. Thanks to these masterpieces, his success would become resounding. After years of wanderings, the Cretan immigrant would finally find his place where he will remain until his death, in Toledo. The Spaniards called him “El Greco”, using the Italian form for “Greek” and not the Castilian expression of “Griego” as it was expected. However, the painter continued to sign his works with his real name, using the Greek alphabet. He often added “Cretan” or “executed by a Cretan”. Among his favourite books were the classics: Homer, Euripides, Plutarch and Lucian Vitruvius, as well as Italian writers such as Petrarca, Ariosto and Tasso.

Even today, El Greco continues to surprise. The price he paid for his originality was forgetfulness, which would last until the 19th century. El Greco had a few disciples, but no one was worthy enough to continue his art. Only Velázquez, who has never hidden his admiration for El Greco’s painting, can be considered a true successor of his art. Rejected by the classicism of the 18th century, El Greco would later be recognized as one of the greatest creators in history. In France, admirers of El Greco would be Delacroix, Millet and Manet. Picasso will foster a real fascination for the works of the master of Toledo, a fact reflected in many of the paintings of his blue period. El Greco’s creation became the benchmark of the German Expressionist avant-garde. The 20th century reactivated the greatest mystic painter of all time.

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