El Greco

Annie Lee | Oct 9, 2022

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Domenikos Theotokopoulos (Candia, October 1, 1541-Toledo, April 7, 1614), known as El Greco ("the Greek"), was a painter of the late Renaissance who developed a very personal style in his mature works.

Until the age of 26 he lived in Crete, where he was an appreciated master of icons in the post-Byzantine style in force on the island. He then resided ten years in Italy, where he came into contact with Renaissance painters, first in Venice, fully assuming the style of Titian and Tintoretto, and then in Rome, studying the mannerism of Michelangelo. In 1577 he settled in Toledo (Spain), where he lived and worked for the rest of his life.

His pictorial training was complex, obtained from three very different cultural sources: his first Byzantine training was the cause of important aspects of his style that flourished in his maturity; the second he obtained in Venice from the painters of the High Renaissance, especially Titian, learning oil painting and its range of colors -he always considered himself part of the Venetian school-; finally, his stay in Rome allowed him to get to know the work of Michelangelo and Mannerism, which became his vital style, interpreted in an autonomous way.

His work consists of large canvases for church altarpieces, numerous devotional paintings for religious institutions, in which his workshop often participated, and a group of portraits considered to be of the highest level. In his early Spanish masterpieces, the influence of his Italian masters is evident. However, he soon evolved towards a personal style characterized by his extraordinarily elongated mannerist figures with their own lighting, thin, ghostly, very expressive, in indefinite environments and a range of colors looking for contrasts. This style was identified with the spirit of the Counter-Reformation and became more extreme in his later years.

He is currently considered one of the greatest artists of Western civilization. This high consideration is recent and was formed throughout the twentieth century, changing the appreciation of his painting formed in the two and a half centuries following his death, in which he came to be considered an eccentric and marginal painter in the history of art.


Domenikos Theotokopoulos was born on October 1, 1541 in Candia (present-day Heraklion) on the island of Crete, then a possession of the Republic of Venice. His father, Geórgios Theotokópoulos, was a merchant and tax collector and his older brother, Manoússos Theotokópoulos, was also a merchant.

Domenikos studied painting on his native island, becoming an icon painter in the post-Byzantine style prevalent in Crete at the time. At the age of twenty-two, he was described in a document as "master Domenigo", which means that he was already officially a painter. In June 1566, he signed as a witness on a contract under the name Master Ménegos Theotokópoulos, painter (μαΐστρος Μένεγος Θεοτοκόπουλος σγουράφος). Ménegos was the Venetian dialect form of Domenicos.

The post-Byzantine style was a continuation of traditional Orthodox and Greek icon painting from the Middle Ages. They were devotional paintings that followed fixed rules. Their characters were copied from well-established artificial models, which were not at all natural and did not penetrate into psychological analysis, with gold as the background of the paintings. These icons were not influenced by the new naturalism of the Renaissance.

At the age of twenty-six he still resided in Candia, and his works must have been highly esteemed. In December 1566, El Greco asked the Venetian authorities for permission to sell a "panel of the Passion of Christ executed on a gold ground" at auction. This Byzantine icon by the young Domenikos was sold for the price of 70 gold ducats, equal in value to a work by Titian or Tintoretto of the same period.

Among the works of this period is the Death of the Virgin (Dormitio Virginis), preserved in the Church of the Dormition, in Syros. Also from this period two other icons have been identified, only with the signature of "Domenikos": St. Luke painting the Virgin and The Adoration of the Magi, both in the Benaki Museum in Athens. In these works we can see an incipient interest of the artist in introducing the formal motifs of Western art, all familiar from the Italian prints and paintings arriving in Crete. The Modena Triptych in the Galleria Estense in Modena, located between the Crete and Venice periods, represents the artist's gradual abandonment of the codes of Eastern art and the progressive mastery of the resources of Western art.

Some historians accept that his religion was Orthodox, although other scholars believe that he was part of the Cretan Catholic minority or that he converted to Catholicism before leaving the island.


He must have moved to Venice around 1567. As a Venetian citizen it was natural for the young artist to continue his training in that city. Venice, at that time, was the major artistic center of Italy. Titian's supreme genius was working intensely there, and he was in the last years of his life in the midst of universal recognition. Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and Jacopo Bassano were also working in the city, and it seems that El Greco studied the work of all of them.

The brilliant and colorful Venetian painting must have produced a strong impact on the young painter, trained until then in the artisan and routine technique of Crete. El Greco did not do as other Cretan artists who had moved to Venice, the madoneros, painting in the Byzantine style with Italian elements. From the beginning he assumed and painted with the new pictorial language learned in Venice, becoming a Venetian painter. He may have learned in Titian's workshop the secrets of Venetian painting, so different from Byzantine painting: the architectural backgrounds that give depth to the compositions, the drawing, the naturalistic color and the way of illuminating from specific sources.

In this city he learned the basic principles of his pictorial art that were present throughout his artistic career. Painting without previous drawing, fixing the composition on the canvas with synthetic brushstrokes with black pigment, and turning color into one of the most important resources of his artistic style. In this period, El Greco used engravings to solve his compositions.

Among the best known works of his Venetian period is the Healing of the Blind Born (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden), in which the influence of Titian in the treatment of color and that of Tintoretto in the composition of figures and the use of space can be perceived.

The painter then set out for Rome. On his way he must have stopped in Parma to get to know the work of Correggio, for his complimentary remarks about this painter (he called him "a unique figure in painting") demonstrate a direct knowledge of his art.

His arrival in Rome is documented in a letter of introduction from the miniaturist Giulio Clovio to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, dated November 16, 1570, in which he asked him to receive the painter in his palace for a short time until he could find another place to stay, beginning the letter: "A young Candiota has arrived in Rome, a disciple of Titian, who in my opinion is among the excellent painters. This is how the letter began: "A young Candiote has arrived in Rome, a disciple of Titian, who in my opinion is among the excellent painters". Historians seem to accept that the term "disciple of Titian" does not mean that he was in his workshop, but rather that he was an admirer of his painting.

Through the cardinal's librarian, the scholar Fulvio Orsini, he came into contact with the city's intellectual elite. Orsini came into possession of seven paintings by the artist (View of Mount Sinai and a portrait of Clovio are among them).

El Greco was expelled from the Farnese Palace by the cardinal's butler. The only known information about this incident is a letter from El Greco sent to Alexander Farnese on July 6, 1572, denouncing the falsehood of the accusations made against him, in which he said: "I in no way deserved, through no fault of mine, to be expelled and cast out like this. In that letter he said: "I in no way deserved without my fault to be then expelled and thrown into this fate". On September 18 of that same year, he paid his dues to the Academy of St. Luke as a painter of miniatures. 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. The latter worked with him until the last years of his life.

By the time El Greco lived in Rome, Michelangelo and Raphael were dead, but their enormous influence was still alive and well, and the legacy of these great masters dominated the art scene in Rome. The legacy of these great masters dominated the artistic scene in Rome. Roman painters of the 1550s had established a style called full mannerism or maniera based on the works of Raphael and Michelangelo, where figures were exaggerated and complicated until they became artificial, seeking a precious virtuosity. On the other hand, the reforms of Catholic doctrine and practices initiated at the Council of Trent began to condition religious art.

Julius Mancini wrote years later, around 1621, in His Considerations, among many other biographies, the biography of El Greco, being the first one written about him. Mancini wrote that "the painter was commonly called Il Greco (The Greek), that he had worked with Titian in Venice and that when he arrived in Rome his works were much admired and some were confused with those painted by the Venetian master. He also said that they were thinking of covering some naked figures of Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel that Pope Pius V considered indecent, and he (El Greco) burst out saying that if the whole work were to be destroyed, he could do it with honesty and decency and not inferior to it in pictorial execution.... All the painters and lovers of painting were indignant, and he had to leave for Spain...". The scholar De Salas, referring to this comment by El Greco, emphasizes the enormous manifestation of pride that it meant to consider himself on the same level as Michelangelo, who at that time was the most distinguished artist in art. To understand this manifestation, it must be pointed out that there were two schools in Italy with very different criteria: the one of Michelangelo's followers advocated the primacy of drawing in the painting; and the Venetian school of Titian pointed out the superiority of color. The latter was defended by El Greco.

This contrary opinion about Michelangelo is misleading, because the aesthetics of El Greco was deeply influenced by Michelangelo's artistic thought, dominated by a capital aspect: the primacy of imagination over imitation in artistic creation. In El Greco's writings, we can see that he fully shared the belief in an artificial art and the mannerist criteria of beauty.

Nowadays, his Italian nickname Il Greco has been transformed and he is universally known as El Greco, changing the Italian article Il for the Spanish el. However, he always signed his paintings in Greek, usually with his full name Domenikos Theotokopoulos.

The Italian period is considered a time of study and preparation, for his genius did not emerge until his first works in Toledo in 1577. In Italy, he received no major commissions, as he was a foreigner, and Rome was dominated by painters such as Federico Zuccaro, Scipione Pulzone and Girolamo Siciolante, of lesser artistic quality but better known and better placed. In Venice it was much more difficult, because the three great Venetian painters, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, were at their peak.

Among the main works of his Roman period are: the Purification of the Temple; several portraits - such as the Portrait of Giulio Clovio (1570-1575, Naples) or of the governor of Malta Vincentio Anastagi (he also executed a series of works deeply marked by his Venetian learning, such as The Informer (ca. 1570, Naples, Museo de Capodimonte) and the Annunciation (ca. 1575, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza).

It is not known how much longer he stayed in Rome. Some scholars argue for a second stay in Venice (ca. 1575-1576), before leaving for Spain.

In Spain

At that time the monastery of El Escorial, near Madrid, was being completed and Philip II had invited the artistic world of Italy to come and decorate it. Through Clovio and Orsini, El Greco met Benito Arias Montano, a Spanish humanist and delegate of Philip II, the cleric Pedro Chacon and Luis de Castilla, son of Diego de Castilla, dean of the cathedral of Toledo. El Greco's friendship with Castilla would secure his first important commissions in Toledo.

In 1576 the artist left Rome and after passing through Madrid he arrived in Toledo in the spring or perhaps July of 1577, where he produced his mature works. It was in this city that he produced his mature works. Toledo, besides being the religious capital of Spain, was at that time also one of the largest cities in Europe. In 1571 the population of the city was about 62,000.

The first important commissions in Toledo came immediately: the main altarpiece and two side altarpieces for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo. To these altarpieces belong The Assumption of the Virgin (Art Institute of Chicago) and The Trinity (Museo del Prado). He was also simultaneously contracted for El expolio, for the sacristy of the cathedral.

In the Assumption, based on the composition of Titian's Assumption (church of Santa Maria dei Frari, Venice), the painter's personal style appears, but the approach is fully Italian. There are also references to Michelangelo's sculptural style in The Trinity, with Italian Renaissance tints and a marked Mannerist style. The figures are elongated and dynamic, arranged in zigzag. The anatomical and human treatment of figures of divine character, such as Christ or the angels, is surprising. The colors are acidic, incandescent and morbid and, together with a contrasting play of light, give the work a mystical and dynamic air. The turn towards a personal style, differentiating himself from his masters, begins to emerge in his work, using less conventional colors, more heterodox groupings of characters and unique anatomical proportions.

These works would establish the painter's reputation in Toledo and gave him great prestige. From the beginning, he had the confidence of Diego de Castilla, as well as clergymen and intellectuals of Toledo who recognized his worth. But on the other hand, his commercial relations with his clients were complicated from the beginning because of the lawsuit over the value of El expolio, since the cathedral chapter valued it at much less than what the painter intended.

El Greco did not plan to settle in Toledo, as his goal was to gain the favor of Philip II and make a career at court. In fact, he obtained two important commissions from the monarch: Adoration of the Name of Jesus (also known as the Allegory of the Holy League or Dream of Philip II) and The Martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion (1578-1582), both still in the monastery of El Escorial. In the Allegory he showed his ability to combine complex political iconography with orthodox medieval motifs. Neither of these two works pleased the king, so he did not commission any more. According to Fray José de Sigüenza, a witness to the events, "the painting of St. Maurice and his soldiers... did not satisfy his majesty".

Lacking royal favor, El Greco decided to remain in Toledo, where he had been received in 1577 as a great painter.

In 1578 his only son, Jorge Manuel, was born. His mother was Jerónima de las Cuevas, whom he never married and who is believed to have been portrayed in the painting The Lady in Ermine.

On September 10, 1585, he rented three rooms in a palace belonging to the Marquis of Villena, which was subdivided into apartments. He lived there, except for the period between 1590 and 1604, for the rest of his life.

In 1585 the presence of his assistant in the Roman period, the Italian painter Francisco Preboste, is documented, and he had established a workshop capable of producing complete altarpieces, i.e. paintings, polychrome sculpture and architectural frames in gilded wood.

On March 12, 1586, he was commissioned to paint The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, today his best known work. The painting, made for the church of Santo Tomé in Toledo, is still in place. It shows the burial of a nobleman from Toledo in 1323, who according to local legend was buried by Saints Esteban and Agustín. The painter anachronistically represented in the retinue local characters of his time, including also his son. In the upper part, the soul of the dead ascends to heaven, densely populated by angels and saints. The Burial of the Count of Orgaz already shows his characteristic longitudinal elongation of the figures, as well as the horror vacui (fear of emptiness), aspects that would become more and more pronounced as El Greco grew older. These features came from Mannerism, and persisted in El Greco's work although they had been abandoned by international painting some years earlier.

The payment of this painting also motivated another lawsuit: the price at which it was appraised, 1200 ducats, seemed excessive to the parish priest of Santo Tomé, who requested a second appraisal, which was established at 1600 ducats. The parish priest then requested that this second appraisal be disregarded, and Greco agreed to charge only 1200 ducats. Disputes over the price of his important works were a constant feature of El Greco's professional life and have given rise to numerous theories to explain it.

The period of his life between 1588 and 1595 is poorly documented. From 1580 onwards he painted religious subjects, among which his canvases of saints stand out: Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Francis (ca. 1590-1595, Madrid, private collection), The Tears of Saint Peter, The Holy Family (1595, Toledo, Hospital Tavera), Saint Andrew and Saint Francis (1595, Madrid, Museo del Prado) and Saint Jerome (early 17th century AD, Madrid, private collection) Another Saint Jerome dated 1600 of great quality is preserved in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, comparable only with the one preserved in the National Gallery of Scotland. He also painted portraits such as El caballero de la mano en el pecho (1585, Madrid, Museo del Prado).

From 1596 there was a great increase in the number of commissions that continued until his death. The reasons are various: the reputation achieved by the artist in the previous years, the prestige and friendship with a group of local patrons who regularly provided him with important commissions and also, from 1600, the participation in the workshop of his son Jorge Manuel, who obtained commissions in the towns near Toledo. The last decade of the 16th century A.D. was a crucial period in his art since his late style was developed there.

Although the patrons he had initially sought, King Philip II and the cathedral, which would have provided him with a secure and lucrative position, had failed him, in the end he found his patrons in a group of churchmen whose objective was to propagate the doctrine of the Counter-Reformation, since El Greco's career coincided with the moment of Catholic reaffirmation against Protestantism propitiated by the Council of Trent, the official center of Spanish Catholicism being the Archdiocese of Toledo. Thus, El Greco illustrated the ideas of the Counter-Reformation, as can be seen in his repertoire of themes: representations of saints, as defended by the Church as intercessors of men before Christ; penitents that emphasized the value of the confession rejected by the Protestants; the glorification of the Virgin Mary, also questioned by the Protestants; for the same reason the paintings on the Holy Family were highlighted. El Greco was an artist who served the ideals of the Counter-Reformation through the design of altarpieces that exposed and highlighted the main Catholic devotions.

The painter's fame attracted many clients who requested replicas of his most famous works. These copies, made in large quantities by his workshop, still create confusion today in his catalog of authentic works.

In 1596 he signed the first important commission of this period, the altarpiece for the church of an Augustinian seminary in Madrid, the Colegio de doña María de Aragón, paid with funds that this lady specified in her will. In 1597 he undertook another important work, three altarpieces for a private chapel in Toledo dedicated to Saint Joseph. To these altarpieces belong the paintings Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus, Saint Martin and the beggar and the Virgin with the Child and Saints Agnes and Martina. His figures are more and more elongated and twisted, his paintings narrower and higher, his very personal interpretation of Mannerism reaches its culmination.

Through his son, in 1603 he obtained a new contract to make the altarpiece for the Hospital de la Caridad de Illescas. For unknown reasons he accepted that the final appraisal would be carried out by appraisers appointed by the Hospital. These fixed a very reduced price of 2410 ducats, which caused a long lawsuit that reached the Royal Chancellery of Valladolid and the Papal Nuncio in Madrid. The litigation ended in 1607 and, although intermediate appraisals were made around 4000 ducats, in the end a similar amount to that initially established was paid. The setback of Illescas seriously affected the economy of El Greco, who had to resort to a loan of 2000 ducats from his friend Gregorio de Angulo.

At the end of 1607, El Greco offered to finish the chapel of Isabella d'Oballe, which had been left unfinished due to the death of the painter Alessandro Semini. The artist, already 66 years old, undertook without additional costs to correct the proportions of the altarpiece and to replace a Visitation. The Immaculate Conception for this chapel is one of his great late works, the elongations and twists had never before been so exaggerated or so violent, the elongated shape of the painting matches the figures rising towards the sky, far from the natural forms.

His last important altarpieces included a main altarpiece and two side altarpieces for the chapel of the Hospital Tavera, and he was contracted on November 16, 1608 with a five-year completion period. The fifth seal of the Apocalypse, a canvas for one of the side altarpieces, shows the genius of El Greco in his last years.

In August 1612, El Greco and his son agreed with the nuns of Santo Domingo el Antiguo to have a chapel for the burial of their family, for which the artist created The Adoration of the Shepherds. The Adoration of the Shepherds is a masterpiece in every detail: the two shepherds on the right are very elongated, the figures show their stupor and adoration in a touching way. The light stands out giving each character importance in the composition. The night colors are bright and with strong contrasts between orange red, yellow, green, blue and pink.

On April 7, 1614, he died at the age of seventy-three and was buried in Santo Domingo el Antiguo. A few days later, Jorge Manuel made a first inventory of his father's few possessions, including the finished works and works in progress that were in the workshop. Later, on the occasion of his second marriage in 1621, Jorge Manuel made a second inventory which included works not registered in the first one. The pantheon had to be moved before 1619 to San Torcuato, due to a dispute with the nuns of Santo Domingo, and was destroyed when the church was demolished in the XIX century A.D..

His life, full of pride and independence, always tended to the consolidation of his particular and strange style, avoiding imitations. He collected valuable volumes, which formed a wonderful library. A contemporary defined him as a "man of eccentric habits and ideas, tremendous determination, extraordinary reticence and extreme devotion". For these or other characteristics, he was a respected voice and a celebrated man, becoming an unquestionably Spanish artist. Fray Hortensio Felix Paravicino, a 17th century Spanish preacher and poet, wrote of him, in a well-known sonnet: "Crete gave him life, and the paintbrushes

Style and painting technique

El Greco's training allowed him to achieve a conjunction between Mannerist design and Venetian color. However, in Italy the artists were divided: the Roman and Florentine Mannerists defended drawing as primordial in painting and praised Michelangelo, considering color inferior, and denigrated Titian; the Venetians, on the other hand, pointed to Titian as the greatest, and attacked Michelangelo for his imperfect mastery of color. El Greco, as an artist trained in both schools, stood in the middle, recognizing Titian as an artist of color and Michelangelo as a master of design. Even so, he did not hesitate to harshly discredit Michelangelo for his treatment of color. But scholars agree that this was a misleading criticism, for El Greco's aesthetic shared Michelangelo's ideals of the primacy of imagination over imitation in artistic creation. His fragmentary writings in various book margins indicate his adherence to Mannerist theories, and allow us to understand that his painting was not the result of spiritual visions or emotional reactions, but that he was trying to create an artificial and anti-naturalistic art.

But his Venetian apprenticeship also had important consequences on his conception of art. Thus, Venetian artists had developed a way of painting that was clearly different from the Roman Mannerists: the richness and variety of color, the preponderance of naturalism over drawing and the manipulation of pigment as an expressive resource. The Venetians, in contrast to the polished finish of the Romans, modeled figures and objects with a technique like stippling, sketching, which achieved great depth and brilliance in the colors. El Greco's brushwork was also greatly influenced by the Venetian style, as Pacheco pointed out when he visited him in 1611: he retouched his paintings over and over again until he achieved an apparently spontaneous, sketchy finish, which for him signified virtuosity. His paintings show a multitude of brushstrokes not fused on the surface, what observers of the time, like Pacheco, called cruel erasures. But not only did he employ the Venetian color palette and its rich, saturated hues; he also used the strident, arbitrary colors that the painters of the maniera liked, garish green yellows, orangey reds and bluish grays. The admiration he felt for Venetian techniques was expressed as follows in one of his writings: "I have the greatest difficulty in imitating the colors...". It has always been recognized that El Greco overcame this difficulty.

In the thirty-seven years that El Greco lived in Toledo, his style was profoundly transformed. He went from an Italianate style in 1577 to evolve in 1600 to a very dramatic, original style of his own, systematically intensifying the artificial and unreal elements: small heads resting on ever longer bodies; ever stronger and more strident light, whitening the colors of the clothes, and a shallow space with an overcrowding of figures, giving the sensation of a flat surface. In his last fifteen years, El Greco took the abstraction of his style to unsuspected limits. His last works have an extraordinary intensity, to the point that some scholars looked for religious reasons, assigning him the role of visionary and mystic. He managed to give his works a strong spiritual impact, achieving the goal of religious painting: to inspire emotion and also reflection. His dramatic and sometimes theatrical presentation of subjects and figures were vivid reminders of the glories of the Lord, the Virgin and her saints.

El Greco's art was a synthesis between Venice and Rome, between color and drawing, between naturalism and abstraction, and he achieved a style of his own that implanted Venetian techniques in Mannerist style and thought. In his notes to Vitruvius he left a definition of his idea of painting:

The question of the extent to which, in his profound Toledan transformation, El Greco drew on his earlier experience as a painter of Byzantine icons has been debated since the early twentieth century AD. Some art historians have claimed that El Greco's transformation was firmly rooted in the Byzantine tradition and that his most individual characteristics derive directly from the art of his ancestors, while others have argued that Byzantine art cannot be related to El Greco's late work. Alvarez Lopera points out that there is a certain consensus among specialists that in his mature work he occasionally used compositional and iconographic schemes derived from Byzantine painting.

For Brown, the role played by the painter's Toledo patrons, learned men who admired his work, who were able to follow him and finance his incursion into unexplored artistic spheres, is of great importance. Brown recalls that his last, unconventional paintings were painted to adorn religious institutions governed by these men. Finally, he points out that the adherence of these men to the ideals of the Counter-Reformation allowed El Greco to develop an enormously complex style of thought that served to depict religious themes with enormous clarity.

The 17th century A.D. historian Giulio Mancini expressed El Greco's belonging to the two schools, Mannerist and Venetian. He singled out El Greco as one of the artists of Rome who had initiated an "orthodox revision" of Michelangelo's teachings, but also pointed out the differences, stating that as a disciple of Titian he was sought after for his "resolute and fresh" style, as opposed to the static mode then prevailing in Rome.

The treatment of his figures is mannerist: in his evolution he was not only lengthening the figures, but making them more sinuous, looking for twisted and complex postures -the serpentine figure-. It was what the mannerist painters called the "fury" of the figure, and they considered the undulating form of the flame of the fire to be the most appropriate to represent beauty. He himself considered elongated proportions more beautiful than life-size ones, as is evident from his own writings.

Another characteristic of his art is the absence of still life. His treatment of pictorial space avoids the illusion of depth and landscape, he usually developed his subjects in undefined spaces that appear isolated by a curtain of clouds. His large figures are concentrated in a reduced space close to the picture plane, often crowded and superimposed.

His treatment of light is very different from the usual. In his paintings the sun never shines, each character seems to have its own light inside or reflects light from a non-visible source. In his later paintings the light becomes stronger and brighter, to the point of whitening the background of the colors. This use of light is consistent with his anti-naturalism and his increasingly abstract style.

Art historian Max Dvořák was the first to relate El Greco's style to mannerism and anti-naturalism. Today, El Greco's style is characterized as "typically mannerist."

El Greco also excelled as a portraitist, being able to depict the features of the model and to convey his character. His portraits are fewer in number than his religious paintings. Wethey says that "by simple means, the artist created a memorable characterization that places him in the highest rank of portraitists, alongside Titian and Rembrandt".

In the service of the Counter-Reformation

El Greco's patrons were mostly educated ecclesiastics related to the official center of Spanish Catholicism, which was the Archdiocese of Toledo. El Greco's career coincided with the culminating moment of Catholic reaffirmation against Protestantism, so the paintings commissioned by his patrons followed the artistic directives of the Counter-Reformation. The Council of Trent, concluded in 1563, had reinforced the articles of faith. The bishops were responsible for ensuring compliance with orthodoxy, and the successive archbishops of Toledo enforced obedience to the reforms through the Council of the archdiocese. This body, with which El Greco was closely associated, had to approve all the artistic projects of the diocese, which had to adhere faithfully to Catholic theology.

El Greco was at the service of the theses of the Counter-Reformation as is evident in his thematic repertoire: a large part of his work is dedicated to the representation of saints, whose role as intercessors of man before Christ was defended by the Church. He emphasized the value of confession and penance, which Protestants disputed, with multiple representations of penitent saints and also of Mary Magdalene. Another important part of his work praises the Virgin Mary, whose divine maternity was denied by Protestants and defended in Spain, given the great devotion to her in Spanish Catholicism.


As for El Greco's erudition, two inventories of his bookshop, drawn up by his son Jorge Manuel Teotocópuli, have been preserved: the one made a few days after the painter's death and another, more detailed, made on the occasion of his marriage; he owned 130 copies (less than the five hundred that Rubens had, but more than those of the average painter of the time), a not inconsiderable amount that made its owner a philosopher and cosmopolitan painter and, despite the commonplace, less neoplatonic than Aristotelian, since he owned three volumes of the Stagirite and none of Plato or Plotinus. Some of his books are carefully annotated, such as Vitruvius' Treatise on Architecture and Giorgio Vasari's famous Lives of the Best Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors. Naturally, Greek culture dominates and maintained the taste for contemporary Italian readings; after all, the section of religious books is not too extensive (he considered painting a speculative science and had a particular fixation for architectural studies, which refutes the cliché that El Greco forgot perspective when he arrived in Spain: for every treatise on painting he had four treatises on perspective.

The work of the workshop

In addition to the paintings by his own hand, there is an important number of works produced in his workshop by assistants who, under his direction, followed his sketches. It is estimated that there are about three hundred canvases from the workshop, which in some studies are still accepted as autograph works. These works are made with the same materials, with the same procedures and following his models; the artist partially intervened in them, but most of the work was done by his assistants. Logically, this production does not have the same quality as his autograph works. In fact, he had only one disciple of note, Luis Tristán (Toledo, 1585-id. 1624).

The painter organized his production at different levels: the large commissions were entirely by himself, while his assistants produced more modest canvases, with iconographies intended for popular devotion. The organization of the production, contemplating works totally autographed by the master, others with his partial intervention and a last group made entirely by his assistants, allowed him to work with various prices, since the market of the time could not always pay the high rates of the master.

In 1585 he was selecting typologies and iconographies, forming a repertoire in which he worked repeatedly with an increasingly fluid and dynamic style. The popular success of his devotional paintings, highly sought after by his Toledo clientele for chapels and convents, led him to elaborate various themes. Some were of particular interest, and he repeated numerous versions of them: St. Francis in ecstasy or stigmatized, the Magdalene, St. Peter and St. Paul, the Holy Face or the Crucifixion.

In Toledo there were thirteen Franciscan convents, perhaps for this reason one of the most demanded themes is St. Francis. From the workshop of El Greco came out about a hundred paintings of this saint, 25 of them are recognized autographs, the rest are works in collaboration with the workshop or copies of the master. These images, dramatic and simple, very similar, with only small variations in the eyes or hands, were very successful.

The theme of the repentant Magdalene, symbol of the confession of sins and penance in the Counter-Reformation, was also in great demand. The painter developed at least five different typologies of this theme, the first based on Titianesque models and the last completely personal.

Clients from Toledo and other Spanish cities came to the workshop, attracted by the painter's inspiration. Between 1585 and 1600, the workshop produced numerous altar and portrait paintings for churches, convents and private individuals. Some are of great quality, others are simpler works of his collaborators, although almost always signed by the master.

From 1585, El Greco kept his Italian assistant Francisco Preboste, who had been working with him since the Roman period. From 1600, the workshop occupied twenty-four rooms, a garden and a courtyard. In these early years of the century, the presence of his son and new assistant Jorge Manuel Theotocópuli, then in his twenties, became important in his workshop. His disciple Luis Tristán also worked in the workshop, as well as other collaborators.

Francisco Pacheco, painter and father-in-law of Diego Velázquez, described the workshop he visited in 1611: he mentioned a large cabinet, full of clay models made by El Greco and used in his work. He was surprised to see in a storeroom oil copies, in small format, of everything El Greco had painted in his life.

One of the most characteristic productions of the workshop of the last period are the cycles of the Apostles, represented in half or three-quarter bust with their corresponding symbols. Sometimes they were represented in pairs. They are ascetic figures, with elongated, spindle-shaped silhouettes, reminiscent of Greek icons.

Sculpture and architecture

At that time in Spain the main form of decoration in churches were the retablos, which consisted of paintings, polychrome sculptures and an architectural structure of gilded wood. El Greco set up a workshop where all these works were carried out, and participated in the architectural design of several altarpieces. There is evidence of his studies on the architecture of the time, but his work as an architect is reduced to his participation in some altarpieces that he was commissioned.

Pacheco, in his visit to the workshop in 1611, cited the small plaster, clay and wax models made by El Greco, which he used to prepare his compositions. From the study of the contracts signed by El Greco, San Román concluded that he never made the carvings for the altarpieces, although in some cases he provided the sculptor with drawings and models for them. Wethey accepts as sculptures by El Greco The Imposition of the Chasuble on Saint Ildefonso, which formed part of the frame of The Despoilment, and the Risen Christ that crowned the altarpiece of the Hospital de Tavera.

In 1945, the Count of Las Infantas acquired the sculptures of Epimetheus and Pandora in Madrid and demonstrated that they were the work of El Greco, since there are stylistic relationships with his pictorial and sculptural production. Xavier de Salas interpreted these figures as representations of Epimetheus and Pandora, seeing in them a reinterpretation of Michelangelo's David with slight variations: more elongated figures, different position of the head and legs less open. Salas also pointed out that Pandora corresponds to an inversion of the figure of Epimetheus, a characteristic aspect of Mannerism. Puppi considered that they were models to determine the most accurate position of the figures on the right of the Laocoön painting.

Historical recognition of his painting

El Greco's art has been appreciated in very different ways throughout history. Depending on the period, he has been described as a mystic, mannerist, proto-expressionist, proto-modernist, lunatic, astigmatic, quintessential Spanish spirit and Greek painter.

The few contemporaries who wrote about El Greco admitted his technical mastery, but his singular style puzzled them. Francisco Pacheco, a painter and theorist who visited him, could not admit El Greco's disdain for drawing and for Michelangelo, but he did not exclude him from the great painters. Towards the end of the XVII century AD. this ambiguous assessment became negative: the painter Jusepe Martinez, who knew the works of the best Spanish and Italian Baroque painters, considered his style capricious and extravagant; For Antonio Palomino, author of the main treatise on Spanish painters until he was surpassed in 1800, El Greco was a good painter in his early works when he imitated Titian, but in his later style "he tried to change his style with such extravagance that his painting became despicable and ridiculous, both in the disjointedness of the drawing and in the unpleasantness of the color". Palomino coined a phrase that became popular well into the 19th century A.D.: "What he did well, no one did better; and what he did badly, no one did worse". Outside Spain there was no opinion about El Greco because all his work was in Spain.

The poet and critic Théophile Gautier, in his book about his famous trip to Spain in 1840, formulated his important review of the value of El Greco's art. He accepted the widespread opinion of extravagant and a little crazy, but giving it a positive connotation, and not pejorative as before. In the 1860s Eugène Delacroix and Jean-François Millet already owned authentic works by El Greco. Édouard Manet traveled to Toledo in 1865 to study the work of the Greek painter, and although he returned deeply impressed by the work of Diego Velázquez, he also praised the Cretan painter. Paul Lefort, in his influential 1869 history of painting, wrote: "El Greco was neither a madman nor the unbridled flamboyant extravagant he was thought to be. He was a bold and enthusiastic colorist, probably too much given to strange juxtapositions and out-of-the-ordinary tones which, by adding daring, he finally succeeded in first subordinating and then sacrificing everything in his quest for effect. In spite of his mistakes, El Greco can only be considered a great painter". For Jonathan Brown, Lefort's opinion opened the way for the consideration of El Greco's style as the work of a genius, not that of a lunatic who only went through intervals of lucidity.

In 1907 Manuel Bartolomé Cossío published a book about him that represented an important advance in the knowledge of the painter. He compiled and interpreted all that had been published up to that time, made known new documents, made the first outline of the painter's stylistic evolution, distinguishing two Italian and three Spanish periods, and made the first catalog of his works, which included 383 paintings. He showed a Byzantine painter, trained in Italy, but Cossío was not impartial when he stated that El Greco, during his stay in Spain, had assimilated the Castilian culture, affirming that he was the one who most deeply reflected it. Cossío, influenced by the nationalist ideas of Spanish regenerationism at the beginning of the 20th century A.D., showed a Greco imbued and influenced by the Castilian soul. Cossío's book acquired great prestige, has been the reference book for decades, and is the cause of the general consideration of El Greco as an interpreter of Spanish mysticism.

San Román published El Greco en Toledo in 1910, releasing 88 new documents, among them the inventory of the painter's estate at his death, as well as other very important documents on the main works. San Román established the basis of documentary knowledge of the Spanish period.

The fame of El Greco began at the beginning of the 20th century A.D. with the first acknowledgements from European and American organizations, as well as from the artistic avant-garde. The idea of El Greco as a precursor of modern art was especially developed by the German critic Meier-Graefe in his book Spanische Reise, where, analyzing the Cretan's work, he considered that there were similarities with Paul Cézanne, Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, and he also believed to see in El Greco's work that all the inventions of modern art were anticipated. He influenced the work of the Polish painter Władysław Jahl, who was part of the ultraist avant-garde in Madrid; Salvador Viniegra, Azorín and Pío Baroja dedicated several articles to him, and the latter devoted several passages to him in his novel Camino de perfección (pasión mística) (1902), as well as other prominent authors of the generation of '98.

The Portuguese physician Ricardo Jorge pointed out the hypothesis of madness in 1912, as he thought he saw in El Greco a paranoid; while the German Goldschmitt and the Spaniard Beritens defended the hypothesis of astigmatism to justify the anomalies of his painting.

Around 1930, the painter's stay in Spain was already known and the study of the stylistic evolution of the Toledo period began, but little was known about the previous periods.

Between 1920 and 1940 the Venetian and Roman periods were studied. The discovery of the signed Modena Triptych showed the transformation of the Cretan style to the language of the Venetian Renaissance, and during the second post World War II a multitude of Italian paintings were erroneously assigned to him, and up to 800 paintings were considered in his catalog. Gregorio Marañón dedicated his last book, El Greco and Toledo (1956), to him.

In 1962 Harold E. Wethey lowered this figure considerably, and established a convincing corpus amounting to 285 authentic works. The value of Wethey's catalog is confirmed by the fact that during the last few years only a small number of paintings have been added to or removed from his list.

The extensive commentaries on art written by the painter himself, recently discovered and made known by Fernando Marías Franco and Agustín Bustamante, have contributed to demonstrate that the painter was an intellectual artist immersed in the artistic theory and practice of the Italian 16th century.

The influence of the figure and work of El Greco on Spanish and universal literature is, without a doubt, formidable. The very extensive chapter that Rafael Alarcón Sierra devotes to the study of this influence in the first volume of Temas literarios hispánicos (Zaragoza: Universidad de Zaragoza, 2013, pp. 111-142) does not even exhaust the subject. If Goya is discovered by the Romantics and Velázquez is considered a master by the painters of naturalism and impressionism, El Greco is seen as "a precedent of symbolists, modernists, cubists, futurists or expressionists, and as with the previous ones, an inexhaustible source of inspiration and study in the plastic arts, literature and art history, where a new category is created to explain his work, anti-classical and anti-naturalistic: mannerism".

In the 16th century, the praises of poets such as Hortensio Félix Paravicino, Luis de Góngora, Cristóbal de Mesa, José Delitala and Castelví stand out; in the 17th century, those of the poets Giambattista Marino and Manuel de Faria y Sousa, as well as those of the chroniclers Fray José de Sigüenza and Fray Juan de Santa María and those of the treatises on painting by Francisco Pacheco and Jusepe Martínez; in the 18th century, those of the critics Antonio Palomino, Antonio Ponz, Gregorio Mayáns y Siscar and Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez and, in the 19th century, Eugenio Llaguno. When the Spanish Gallery opened in the Louvre in 1838 there were nine works by El Greco, and Eugène Delacroix owned a copy of the Expolio. Jean-François Millet acquired a Saint Dominic and a Saint Ildefonso. Charles Baudelaire admired The Lady with the Ermine (which Théophile Gautier compared to La Gioconda and today some consider to be by Sofonisba Anguissola); Champfleury thought of writing a work about the painter and Gautier praised his paintings in his Voyage en Espagne, where he declares that in his works reigns "a depraved energy, a sickly power, which betrays the great painter and the mad genius". In England, William Stirling-Maxwell vindicated the first period of El Greco in his Annals of the Artists of Spain, 1848, III vols. There are innumerable foreign travelers who stop before his works and comment on them, while Spaniards, in general, forget him or repeat the eighteenth-century clichés about the author, and although Larra or Bécquer mention him in passing, it is with great incomprehension, although the latter had projected a writing, "La locura del genio", which was to be an essay on the painter, according to his friend Rodríguez Correa. The historical novelist Ramón López Soler does appreciate it in the prologue to his novel Los bandos de Castilla. But critics such as Pedro de Madrazo began to revalue his work in 1880 as a very important precedent of the so-called Spanish School, although until 1910 he still appears ascribed to the Venetian School and did not have his own room until 1920. In France, Paul Lefort (1869) includes him in the Spanish School and is one of the idols of the circle of Edouard Manet (Zacharie Astruc, Millet, Degas). Paul Cézanne made a copy of The Lady with the Ermine and Toulouse Lautrec painted his Portrait of Romain Coolus in the manner of El Greco. And the German Carl Justi (1888) also considers it one of the precedents of the Spanish School. The American painter John Singer Sargent owned one of the versions of Saint Martin and the Beggar. The writers of decadentism transformed El Greco into one of their fetishes. The protagonist of Huysmans' Against the grain (1884) decorates his bedroom exclusively with paintings by El Greco. Théodore de Wyzewa, theorist of symbolism, considers El Greco a painter of dreamlike images, the most original painter of the 16th century (1891). Later, the decadentist Jean Lorrain follows this inspiration by describing him in his novel Monsieur de Bougrelon (1897).

The European and Spanish exhibitions follow one after another since the London exhibition of 1901 (Paris, 1908; Madrid, 1910; Cologne, 1912. In 1906 the French magazine Les Arts dedicates a monographic number to him. The II Marquis of Vega-Inclán inaugurates in Toledo the House-museum of El Greco in 1910. Its value was already so high that several Grecos from private Spanish collections were sold and went abroad. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was fully recovered by the Catalan modernist painters: Santiago Rusiñol (who transferred his enthusiasm to the Belgian symbolists Émile Verhaeren and Théo van Rysselberghe), Raimon Casellas, Miquel Utrillo, Ramón Casas, Ramón Pichot or Aleix Clapés, as well as other nearby artists, such as Ignacio Zuloaga (who transmitted his enthusiasm for the Cretan to Maurice Barrès, who wrote Greco or the Secret of Toledo, and to Rainer María Rilke, who dedicated a poem to his Assumption in Ronda, 1913) and Darío de Regoyos. Zuloaga's nocturnal and candlelit visit to the Burial of the Lord of Orgaz is included in chapter XXVIII of Pío Baroja's Camino de Perfección (Passion Mystique), and he also has words for the painter Azorín in La voluntad and in other works and articles. Picasso takes into account the Vision of the Apocalypse in his Les demoiselles d'Avignon. The interest in the candiota also reaches Julio Romero de Torres, José Gutiérrez Solana, Isidro Nonell, Joaquín Sorolla and a long etcetera. Emilia Pardo Bazán wrote in La Vanguardia a "Letter to El Greco". The writers of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza spread their admiration for El Greco, especially Francisco Giner de los Ríos and Manuel Bartolomé Cossío, the latter for his El Greco (1908). The presence of El Greco is important in the Toledo portrayed by Benito Pérez Galdós in his novel Ángel Guerra and it is frequent in his novels to compare his characters with portraits of El Greco. So also Aureliano de Beruete, Jacinto Octavio Picón, Martín Rico, Francisco Alcántara or Francisco Navarro Ledesma. Eugenio d'Ors dedicates space to El Greco in his famous book Tres horas en el Museo del Prado and in Poussin y el Greco (1922). Amado Nervo writes one of his best short stories inspired by one of his paintings, Un sueño (1907). Julius Meier-Graefe dedicates Spanische Reise (1910) and August L. Mayer El Greco (1911) to him. Somerset Maugham describes him with admiration through the main character and the 88th chapter of his novel Human Servitude, 1915; in his essay Don Fernando, 1935, he tempers his admiration and guesses as the origin of his art a presumed homosexuality, as does Ernest Hemingway in chapter XVII of Death in the Afternoon (1932) and Jean Cocteau in his Le Greco (1943).

Kandinsky, Franz Marc (who produced Agony in the Garden under his influence), considered him a proto-expressionist. As Romero Tobar states, the late production of the Cretan painter impressed August Macke, Paul Klee, Max Oppenheimer, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Ludwig Meidner, Jacob Steinhardt, Kees van Dongen, Adriaan Korteveg or Max Beckmann. Hugo Kehrer dedicated his Die Kunst des Greco (1914) to him and finally the Austrian art historian Max Dvorak defined him as the maximum representative of the aesthetic category of Mannerism. Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, after a conference in Buenos Aires in 1910, dedicated to him the chapter "El quietismo estético" of his La lámpara maravillosa. Miguel de Unamuno dedicates several poems of his Cancionero to the candiota and devotes a passionate article to him in 1914. Juan Ramón Jiménez dedicates several aphorisms to him. The critic "Juan de la Encina" (1920) opposes José de Ribera and El Greco as "the two extremes of the character of Spanish art": strength and spirituality, the petrified flame and the living flame, which he completes with the name of Goya. In that same year of 1920 his popularity makes Jean Börlin's Swedish ballet premiere El Greco in Paris, with music by Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht and scenography by Moveau; also in that year Félix Urabayen publishes his novel Toledo: piedad, where he devotes a chapter to it in which he speculates on its possible Jewish origin, a theory advanced by Barrès and that would be taken up again by Ramón Gómez de la Serna -El Greco (the visionary of painting)- and Gregorio Marañón (Elogio y nostalgia de Toledo, only in the 2nd. ed. of 1951, and El Greco y Toledo, 1956, where he also maintains that he was inspired by the madmen of the famous Toledo Asylum for his Apóstoles), among others. And in the first chapters of Don Amor volvió a Toledo (1936) he criticizes the sale of the Grecos de Illescas and the theft of some of his paintings from Santo Domingo el Antiguo. Luis Fernández Ardavín recreates the story of one of his portraits in his most famous verse drama, La dama del armiño (1921), later made into a film by his brother Eusebio Fernández Ardavín in 1947. Jean Cassou writes Le Gréco (1931). Juan de la Encina prints his El Greco in 1944. In exile, Arturo Serrano Plaja, after having protected some of his paintings during the war, writes his El Greco (1945). And Miguel Hernández, Valbuena Prat, Juan Alberto de los Cármenes, Enrique Lafuente Ferrari, Ramón Gaya, Camón Aznar, José García Nieto, Luis Felipe Vivanco, Rafael Alberti, Luis Cernuda, Concha Zardoya, Fina de Calderón also wrote about him, Carlos Murciano, León Felipe, Manuel Manrique de Lara, Blanca Andreu, Hilario Barrero, Pablo García Baena, Diego Jesús Jiménez, José Luis Puerto, Louis Bourne, Luis Javier Moreno, José Luis Rey, Jorge del Arco, José Ángel Valente. .. The Siete sonetos al Greco by Ezequiel González Mas (1944), Conjugación lírica del Greco (1958) by Juan Antonio Villacañas and El entierro del conde de Orgaz (2000) by Félix del Valle Díaz stand out. In addition, Jesús Fernández Santos won the Ateneo de Sevilla award for his historical novel El Griego (1985).

Outside Spain, and apart from those already mentioned, Ezra Pound quotes El Greco in his Notes on Art and Francis Scott Fitzgerald at the end of his The Great Gatsby (1925). Paul Claudel, Paul Morand, Aldous Huxley dealt with the artist, and the German Stefan Andres dedicated his novel El Greco paints the Grand Inquisitor, in which Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara appears as a metaphor for Nazi oppression. An aficionado of El Greco is one of the characters in André Malraux's L'Espoir (1938) and another character in Madrid is in charge of the protection of the Grecos coming from Toledo. In one of the essays of his Las voces del silencio (1951), reviewed by Alejo Carpentier, Malraux plays the painter. The aforementioned Ernest Hemingway considered Vista de Toledo the best painting in the Metropolitan Museum of New York and dedicates a passage to it in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Nikos Kazantzakis, Donald Braider, Jean Louis Schefer...

Part of his best work is included to give an overview of his pictorial style, his artistic evolution and the circumstances that have involved his works both in their execution and in the subsequent vicissitudes. He was a painter of altarpieces, which is why we begin with the altarpiece of Santo Domingo, the first one he conceived. El expolio, one of his masterpieces, shows his first style in Spain, still influenced by his Italian masters. The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is the masterpiece of his second period in Spain, the so-called maturity. The altarpiece of Doña Maria is the beginning of his last style, a radical turn for which he is universally admired. The Illescas painting explains how his late style became more stylized. It then includes two of his well-known portraits. It ends with the Vision of the Apocalypse, which shows the extreme expressionism of his last compositions.

The main altarpiece of Santo Domingo the Ancient

In 1576, a new church was built in Santo Domingo el Antiguo with the property of the deceased Doña María de Silva, destined to be her burial place.

El Greco had just arrived in Spain and during his stay in Rome he had met the brother of the executor of the executor of the will of the builder of Santo Domingo, Luis de Castilla. It was the brother who contacted El Greco and who spoke favorably of the quality of the painter.

In total there were nine canvases, seven on the main altarpiece and another two on two side altars. Of these, only three original paintings remain in the altarpiece. The rest have been sold and replaced by copies.

El Greco had never before been confronted with such an ambitious task; large paintings had to be conceived, each of the respective compositions had to fit together and harmonize them all as a whole. The result was widely recognized and brought him immediate fame.

In the main canvas, The Assumption, he established a pyramidal composition between the two groups of apostles and the Virgin; for this he needed to highlight her and diminish the importance of the angels. There is a tendency to horror vacui: to include the maximum number of figures and the minimum environmental elements. Gestures and attitudes are emphasized. This aspect was always one of his great concerns, to endow his figures with eloquence and expression. He achieved this by incorporating and building throughout his career a repertoire of gestures whose expressiveness he must have known well.

The plundering

The chapter of the cathedral of Toledo must have commissioned El expolio to El Greco on July 2, 1577. It was one of the first works in Toledo, along with the paintings of the altarpiece of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, recently arrived from Italy. The motif of this painting is the initial moment of the Passion in which Jesus is stripped of his clothes. The painter was inspired by a text of St. Bonaventure, but the composition he devised did not satisfy the chapter. In the lower left part he painted the Virgin, Mary Magdalene and Mary Cleophas, although there is no record in the Gospels that they were there, while in the upper part, above Christ's head, he placed a large part of the group that escorted him, inspired by ancient Byzantine iconographies. The chapter considered that both aspects were "improprieties that obscured the story and devalued Christ". This was the reason for the first lawsuit that the painter had in Spain. The appraisers appointed by El Greco asked for 900 ducats, an excessive amount. The painter ended up receiving 350 ducats as payment, but he did not have to change the figures that had generated the conflict.

Cossío made the following analysis of this painting in his famous book on the painter:

El Greco and his workshop painted several versions of this same subject, with variants. Wethey catalogued fifteen paintings with this theme and four other half-length copies. In only five of these works did he see the artist's hand and the other ten he considered them workshop productions or later copies of small size and poor quality.

The burial of the Count of Orgaz

The church of Santo Tomé housed the remains of the Lord of Orgaz, who had died in 1323 after a very generous life of donations to religious institutions in Toledo. According to a local legend, the charity of the Lord of Orgaz had been rewarded at the moment of his burial, when St. Stephen and St. Augustine miraculously appeared and placed his corpse in the tomb.

The contract for the painting, signed in March 1586, included a description of the elements that the artist was to depict: "In the lower part.... a procession is to be painted of how the priest and the other clergymen who were doing the offices to bury Don Gonzalo de Ruiz de Toledo, Lord of the town of Orgaz, and St. Augustine and St. Stephen came down to bury the body of this gentleman, the one holding his head and the other his feet throwing him into the grave and pretending around many people who were watching and above all this there is to be an open sky of glory ...".

The altarpiece of Doña María de Aragón

In 1596 El Greco was commissioned to paint the altarpiece for the church of the seminary school of the Encarnación in Madrid, better known by the name of his patron Doña María de Aragón. It was to be completed in three years and was valued at more than sixty-three thousand reales, the highest price he received in his lifetime. The college was closed in 1808 or 1809, as two decrees of Joseph Bonaparte reduced the existing convents and later suppressed the religious orders. The building was transformed into the Hall of the Cortes in 1814, now the Spanish Senate, and the altarpiece was dismantled during that period. After several moves (in one of them it was in the house of the Inquisition) it ended up in the Museum of the Trinity, created with works of art requisitioned by the Law of Disentailment. This museum was merged with the Prado Museum in 1872 and therefore five of his canvases are in this one. In these transfers, the sixth canvas, The Adoration of the Shepherds, was sold and is now in the National Museum of Romanian Art in Bucharest.

The lack of documents about it has given rise to different hypotheses about the paintings that make it up. In 1908 Cossío related The Baptism, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection and The Annunciation. August L. Mayer proposed in 1931 the relationship between the previous canvases with The Pentecost and The Adoration of the Shepherds of Bucharest. In 1943 Manuel Gómez Moreno proposed a reticular altarpiece formed by these six paintings without arguing it. But for some specialists The Resurrection and The Pentecost would not be part of it because they corresponded to different stylistic formulations.

In 1985 a document from 1814 appeared with the record of the works deposited in the house of the Inquisition that mentions "seven quadros of original paintings by Domenico Greco that were in the High Altar". This information has strengthened Gómez Moreno's hypothesis of an altarpiece with three lanes on two floors, supposing that the seventh would be on the third floor as an attic.

The themes, except for El Pentecostés, had already been developed previously, some of them in his Italian period. According to Ruiz Gómez, these themes are taken up again with great originality, showing his more expressionist spirituality. From this moment on, his work takes a very personal and disconcerting path, distancing himself from the naturalistic style that began to dominate at that time. The scenes are set in claustrophobic spaces enhancing the verticality of the formats. A spectral light highlights the unreality of the figures, some in very marked foreshortenings. The cold, intense and contrasted color applied with ease to his powerful anatomical constructions shows what would be his late style.

Main Chapel of the Hospital de la Caridad de Illescas

In 1603 he was commissioned to make all the decorative elements of the main chapel of the church of the Hospital de la Caridad in Illescas, which included altarpieces, sculptures and four paintings. El Greco developed an iconographic program that exalted the Virgin Mary. The four paintings have a similar pictorial style, being three of them of circular or elliptical format.

The Annunciation on the right is of circular format and is a reworking of the one he painted for the Colegio de Doña María de Aragón. While maintaining the previous types and gestures of the Colegio de María de Aragón, the painter advances in his late expressionism, his figures are more flaming and agitated with a more disturbing inner strength.


From his beginnings in Italy, El Greco was a great portraitist. The composition and style are learned from Titian, the placement of the figure, usually half-length and neutral backgrounds. His best portraits, already in his maturity in Toledo, follow these criteria.

The knight with his hand on his chest is one of the artist's most important portraits and a symbol of the Spanish Renaissance knight. The rich sword, the hand on the chest carried with a solemn gesture and the relationship that the knight establishes with the viewer looking him in the eyes, turned this portrait into the reference of the considered essences of the Spanish, of the honor of Castile.

This is an early work by El Greco, who had recently arrived in Spain, as its execution is close to Venetian styles. The canvas has been restored on several occasions, in which color faults were retouched, the background was repainted and the figure's clothing had been retouched. The 1996 restoration has been very controversial because it changed the vision of this character that has been projected for a long time, by removing the repainting of the background and the clothing.

For Ruiz Gómez, his honey-colored eyes and good-natured, somewhat lost expression stand out in his wiry face, with his long, thin nose, somewhat deviated to the right, thin lips, and graying mustache and goatee. A sort of aura separates the head from the background, blurring the outline and giving it movement and vivacity. Álvarez Lopera emphasized the accentuation of the traditional asymmetries of El Greco's portraits and described the sinuous line that orders this face from the central tuft passing through the nose and concluding at the tip of the chin. Finaldi sees in the asymmetry a double emotional perception, slightly smiling and vivacious on the right side, focused and pensive on the left.

The vision of the Apocalypse

This canvas, commissioned in 1608, is one of his last works and shows his most extreme style. At the painter's death in 1614, it had not yet been delivered and was to be placed in an altarpiece in the chapel of the Hospital de Tavera in Toledo. In the 1958 restoration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, following its purchase, it was found that it had not only been cut at the top where the edge was frayed but also on its left side. According to Alvarez Lopera, if it had the same measurements as the painting of the other side altarpiece, The Annunciation of 406 x 209 cm, the part cut at the end of the 19th century A.D. would be the top 185 cm high and the left cut 16 cm wide, the original proportions being approximately twice as high as wide.

It represents the moment of the Apocalypse, when God shows St. John in a vision the opening of the seven seals: "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony they had borne. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt thou not do justice, and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" And a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest yet a little while..." (Revelation 6:9-11).

The painting, in its present state after cutting, is dominated by the gigantic figure of St. John. The resurrected are seven, the magic number of the Apocalypse, the same that Dürer and other authors used to represent this same passage.

For Wethey color has a great relevance in this painting. The luminous blue of St. John's dress where white lights are reflected and, as a contrast, at his feet there is a pink mantle. On the left, the naked martyrs have a background with a pale yellow mantle, while the women's bodies are of a great whiteness that contrasts with the yellowish male bodies. Green mantles with yellow reflections are the background of the three nudes on the left. The martyrs form an irregular group in an undefined pale blue space on a reddish ground and all in an atmosphere of dark clouds that produces a dreamy impression.

The personal religious sense of El Greco's work or the reason for his ultimate evolution towards this anti-naturalistic and spiritualistic painting, where, as in this Vision of the Apocalypse, he systematically violated all the established laws of Renaissance rationalism, is unknown. Wethey considered this late mode of expression of Greco to be related to early mannerism. Dvorak, the first to firmly associate the Cretan's anti-naturalism with Mannerism, considered that this anti-naturalism, in the same way as it happened to Michelangelo or Tintoretto in their final works, was a consequence of the world in crisis arising from the collapse of Renaissance optimism and its faith in reason.

General note: Very few data and documents are known from his Byzantine and Italian period.


  1. El Greco
  2. El Greco
  3. Theotokópoulos adquirió el nombre de «el Greco» en Italia, donde era práctica habitual identificar a un hombre designando el país o ciudad de origen (aunque continuó firmando la mayoría de sus obras como Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος en el alfabeto griego. El artículo (El) puede provenir del dialecto veneciano o, más probablemente, del español, aunque en español su nombre sería el Griego. El maestro cretense fue conocido en Italia y España como Dominico Greco, y solo después de su muerte fue conocido como el Greco.
  4. La mayor parte de los investigadores y estudiosos indican Candia como su lugar de nacimiento (Lambraki-Plaka, 1999, pp. 40-41, Scholz-Hansel, 1986, p. 7, Tazartes, 2004, pp. 23)
  5. El contrato estaba en los archivos notariales de Candía y fue publicado en 1962. (K. D. Mertzios, Selections, p. 29)
  6. Nikolaos M. Panagiotakes: El Greco. The Cretan Years. Farnham 2009, S. 47.
  7. Ówczesny czynsz większości mieszkań wahał się pomiędzy 50 a 100 reali rocznie: Vallentin 1958 ↓, s. 189.
  8. En grec moderne Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος. Il signe toute sa vie ses œuvres de son nom complet en caractères grecs. Ses œuvres byzantines sont signées Cheir Domenico (de la main de Domeniko) et plus tard de la formule grecque Domeniko Theotocopoulos epoiei (a peint), à laquelle il ajoute en Italie Kres (« le Crétois »).

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