El Greco
(Doménikos Theotokópoulos)

(Greek, 1541–1614)


El Greco

Doménikos Theotokópoulos, called El Greco (the Greek), was born on the island of Crete, then a Venetian territory, where he trained as a painter of icons. In 1567, at the age of twenty-six, he moved to Venice to study the art of Venetian masters such as Titian and Tintoretto. In 1570, he traveled to Rome, where he painted portraits and small-scale devotional works. Though he did not receive major commissions in Italy, this period had a transformative impact on his style, resulting in the vibrant palette, twisting forms, and radical foreshortening that characterize his later works. He also wrote treatises on painting, sculpture, and architecture, none of which survives today. His extensive library included his annotated copy of Vasari’s Lives. In 1577, after an unsuccessful attempt to become a court painter under King Phillip II in Madrid, El Greco settled in Toledo, a small, fervently religious center in Spain. He produced paintings, altarpieces, and sculpture for private patrons and for churches and monasteries. The imaginative nature of El Greco’s art—which increasingly included elongated figures, swathed in sweeping drapery and unnatural light—prompted nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists to appreciate him as a modern painter. At the time of his death, in 1614, however, El Greco’s aesthetic was falling out of favor and his reputation started to wane.


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