El Greco

El Greco - Domenicos Theotokopoulos

Portrait of An Old Man (so called self-portrait of El Greco), circa 1595–1600, oil on canvasEl Greco ("The Greek", 1541 – April 7, 1614) was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance.

He usually signed his paintings in Greek letters with his full name, Domenicos Theotokopoulos, underscoring his Greek descent.

El Greco was born in either the village of Fodele or Candia Heraklion (the Venetian name of Chandax, present day) in Crete, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice.

El Greco was descended from a prosperous urban family, which had probably been driven out of Chania to Candia after an uprising against the Venetians between 1526 and 1528.El Greco's father, Georgios Theotokopoulos (d. 1556), was a merchant and tax collector. Nothing is known about his mother or his first wife, a Greek woman.

El Greco received his initial training as an icon painter. In addition to painting, he studied the classics, ancient Greek, and Latin — this is confirmed by the large library he left after his death.

He received a humanistic education in Candia, a center for artistic activity and a melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures.

The Disrobing of Jesus ChristThe Opening of the fifth sealAltar El Greco

Around two hundred painters were active in Candia in the 16th century, and had organized guilds, 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 officially practicing the profession of painting.

Three years later, in June 1566, as a witness to a contract, he signed his name as Master Menegos Theotokopoulos.

El Greco - View Of Mount Sinai And The Monastery 1750

At the age of 26 he traveled to Venice itself to study, then a common practice of young Greek men who wished to pursue a wider education.

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 and of the Venetian Renaissance.

In 1576-77 he immigrated to Toledo, Spain, where he settled permanently until his death.

El Greco lived for years with his common-law wife, Jeronima de las Cuevas (it is believed that she is depicted in the portrait Woman with Ermine) and had a son by her, Jorge Manuel, who also went on to become a very well-respected artist.

In Toledo, El Greco received several major commissions and produced his best known paintings.

El Greco - The Baptism Of Christ 1567

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 and Cubism, while his personality and works were a source of inspiration for poets and writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Nikos Kazantzakis.

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 traditions with those of Western civilization.

It is an open question whether El Greco was given a Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox rite at birth.

Because of the lack of Orthodox archival baptismal records on Crete and of a relaxed interchange between Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic rites during his youth, El Greco's birth rite remains a matter of controversy.

Based on the assessment that his art reflects the religious spirit of Roman Catholic Spain, and on a reference in his last will and testament, where he described himself as a "devout Catholic", some scholars assume that El Greco was part of the vibrant Catholic Cretan minority or that he converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism before leaving the island.

On the other hand, based on the extensive archival research that they conducted since the early 1960s, other scholars, such as Nikolaos Panayotakis, Pandelis Prevelakis and Maria Constantoudaki, insist that El Greco's family and ancestors were Greek Orthodox.

They underscore that one of his uncles was an Orthodox priest, and that 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.

The only two paintings on Crete by El Greco, "View of Mount Sinai and the Monastery" (1570) and "The Baptism Of Christ" (1567) are on display at the Historical Museum in Heraklion.

Also the village of Fodele houses a small museum which contains many copies of his better-known works, as well as a reconstruction of his studio.