El Greco

El Greco was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. He usually signed his paintings in Greek letters with his full name, Doménicos Theotokópoulos, showing his Greek origin. El Greco was born in Crete, which was the center of Post-Byzantine art at that time. El Greco received his initial training as an icon painter of the Cretan school, the leading center of post-Byzantine art.

In 1563, at the age of twenty-two, El Greco was already a master. It was natural for El Greco to pursue his career in Venice, Crete having been a possession of the Republic of Venice since 1211, he went there around 1567. Knowledge of El Greco's years in Italy is limited. He lived in Venice until 1570 then moved to Rome and was received as a guest at the Palazzo Farnese, which Cardinal Alessandro Farnese had made a center of the artistic and intellectual life of the city.

El Greco was determined to make his own mark in Rome defending his personal artistic views, even if he also added elements of Mannerism and of the Venetian Renaissance to his style. He did not hesitate to dismiss Masters such as Michelangelo even Michelangelo's influence can be seen in later El Greco works such as the Allegory of the Holy League. He earned the respect of some intellectuals, but was also facing the hostility of certain art critics due to his unconventional artistic beliefs. In 1572, El Greco paid his dues to the Guild of Saint Luke in Rome as a miniature painter.

In 1577, El Greco migrated to Madrid, then to Toledo, where he produced his mature works, lived and worked until his death in 1614. During the 1570s the huge monastery-palace of El Escorial was still under construction and Philip II of Spain was experiencing difficulties in finding good artists for the many large paintings required to decorate it. El Greco became friend with Luis de Castilla who secured his first large commissions for a group of paintings that was to adorn the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo.

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. However, the king did not like these works and, because of the lacking of the favor of the king, El Greco was obliged to remain in Toledo. 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.

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. 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.

El Greco's dramatic and expressionist style puzzled other painters at the time, but came to be appreciated in the 20th century. El Greco is considered to have influenced both the Expressionist and Cubist styles. His personality and works inspired poets and writers like Rainer Maria Rilke and Nikos Kazantzakis. Many modern scholars think that El Greco belongs to no conventional school. He is best known for long figures and often fantastic or dramatic coloring, combining Byzantine traditions with Western painting traditions. His paintings generally have very bright parts contrasting with very dark parts.

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