El Greco Biography | Oil Paintings

1-16-1541 Candia, Crete, GRE - 4-7-1614 Toledo, ESP

Greco, El

The nickname El Greco, meaning 'the Greek' in Spanish, is the epithet by which Domenikos Theotokapaulos is better known.

Born in Candia, Crete, which was then ruled by the Venetians, he had worked as a painter of icons in the Byzantine tradition being trained by Michail Damaskinos, and by 1560 was already considered a “master painter” in his homeland. Shortly afterward he traveled to Venice, where he came in contact with Titian, Jacopo Tintoretto, and Jacopo Bassano, acquiring a rich, Flemish sense of color and a taste for elaborate perspective. Around 1572 he moved to Rome, where he studied the works of Michelangelo, and in 1577 he settled in Toledo, Spain, which became his second home. It was here that he was given the nickname El Greco, a reminder of his distant, but never forgotten birthplace.

A Visionary Ulysses in Counter-Reformation Spain.

He sought the favor of the Spanish court, but Phillip II did not appreciate his work and the intricate Martyrdom of St. Maurice and His Legions was a failure. However, he succeeded in becoming a leading exponent of the religious art of the Counter-Reformation and his altarpieces, medium-sized devotional paintings, and intense portraits mark a turning point in Spanish art between the Renaissance and the Baroque. Christ driving the Traders from the Temple, this is one of the artist's favorite subjects and he repeated it several times during his career. A comparison of the different versions allows us to trace his stylistic development. 

His early portraits show the Venetian influence of his early training, but in Spain, he evolved his own highly distinctive, mannered approach to portraiture, characterized by the elongation and distortion of the face and figure, combined with his penchant for somber colors but phosphorescent colors, and dizzying compositions.

These aspects are seen at their most dramatic and solemn in his large religious paintings, but they are also present to a lesser extent in the portraits of his contemporaries. Inevitably, his treatment of his sitters' portraits was considered controversial at the time. Many of his extant works are preserved in the Museo El Greco in Toledo where he spent the last 44 years of his life. For the churches of Toledo, he painted such masterpieces as the Burial of the Count Orgaz and The Disrobing of Christ (El Expolio). Despite that his output was so varied, the “hand” of El Greco is truly unmistakable as in Portrait of Fray Hortensio Felix de Paravicino, with brilliant use of light that creates a vivid impression of movement. As the century drew to a close, El Greco's compositions acquired a vertical movement and an almost unnatural distortion, accentuated by phosphorescent highlights. His color pallet combinations are like no other painters.

El Greco Under the Eye of the Spanish Inquisition.

El Greco lived and painted during a disturbing historic period, the Portrait Of Cardinal Don Fernando Nino De Guevara is a vivid reminder of the particular religious context in which he lived. After the Council of Trent in 1563, painters were asked to produce works that would arouse popular devotion by depicting figures who would serve as examples of virtue for the faithful. Any digression or license was examined by the Spanish Inquisition, who demanded strict doctrinal orthodoxy and faithfulness to the Holy Scriptures. El Greco may have witnessed the famous trial of Paolo Veronese in Venice in 1573. moreover, in Spain, the second half of the sixteenth century was also the age of the great mystic saints, like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, who experienced visions and ecstasy.

The Burial Of The Count Of Orgaz, this great canvas, depicts the miracle that took place at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Upon the death of the devout Knight and Count of Orgaz, Don Gonzalo Ruiz, St. Stephen, and St Augustine are said to have attended personally to the knight's burial. All those present at the funeral saw the skies open up and Christ appear in all his resplendent glory, surrounded by saints and angels. El Greco was scrupulously faithful to his subjects and the final result is outstanding. Now in the fullness of his maturity, he drew on his long and complex experience as a man and as an artist to produce a highly original masterpiece. In various parts of the work we can recognize the influence of the colors of Titian, the Roman compositions of Raphael and Michelangelo, the mystic Byzantine icons, the magic light of Tintoretto and Jacopo Bassano, the distorted gestures of Mannerism, and perhaps even a composition of Durer. Despite this, the Burial is an original work, and by no means merely a patchwork of allusions.

The scene is pervaded by the palpable sense of disquiet, evident in the feverish expressions, trembling hands, and moist eyes. Within a magnificent and superbly controlled composition, El Greco creates unprecedented effects: the contrast between the realistic rendering of the count's gleaming burnished armor and the impalpable transparency of the celestial figures is particularly impressive. When the work was completed, the parish priest of San Tome, who had commissioned the painting, quite rightly noted in his register: “ the painting is one of the most excellent in Spain, and foreigners come to see it with particular admiration”.

Laocoon, now in Washington D.C. Should also be mentioned. It is the only mythological work in his whole vast output, and it marked the dawn of the Siglo De Oro in Spain.

El Greco is regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism and hundreds of years ahead of his time. A significant innovation of El Greco's mature works is the interlacing of shape and space, a proportional relationship is created between the two which brings together the painting surface. This joining would re-emerge three centuries later in the artworks of Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso.

Art Movement History: Mannerism.
Artists Influencing El Greco: Titian, Tintoretto.
He Traveled To Italy, Spain.
Painters El Greco Influenced: Pablo Picasso, Eugène Delacroix, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Franz Marc, Jackson Pollock, Amedeo Modigliani.

The very interesting THEN & NOW photo section. See, the present-day location that inspired the famous artist El Greco. We travel the world to find the exact location where the artist set up his easel to paint. We photograph it as it appears today. Now, you can compare side-by-side photos of the original oil painting and the present-day location.

Artist's Biography compiled by Albert L. Mansour at The World's Artist.

El Greco Hand-Painted Oil Painting Reproductions.

El Greco Museum Art Replicas on Canvas.

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