El Greco: Biography

hand-painted signature in yellow on black background

El Greco was born Domenikos Theotokopoulos in 1541 on the Greek island of Crete, which had been under Venetian rule since 1212. One of the few surviving records from his early years indicates that he was already an established painter of icons by 1566. In 1567, he relocated to Venice, probably dissatisfied with his career. There he absorbed the Venetian Renaissance style of Titian, Tintoretto, and Jacopo Bassano and began his transformation into an Italianate painter.

In 1570, El Greco moved to Rome, where a recommendation written for him by the miniaturist Giulio Clovio led to his acceptance into the household of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. Clovio introduced El Greco as a pupil of Titian and wrote specifically of a marvelous “self-portrait that astonished the painters in Rome.” Although not officially hired by the cardinal, El Greco spent the next year and a half focusing on portraits for the circle of learned men who gathered at the Farnese Palace. In 1572, for unknown reasons, El Greco was expelled from the Farnese household.

He remained in Italy until 1576, when he departed for Madrid before settling in Toledo, where he stayed until his death in 1614. While in Spain, he executed a number of his most celebrated works, obtaining the kind of important commissions he was never able to secure in Italy.

Detail of signature from El Greco, St. Jerome, 1590-1600. Oil on canvas, 43 1/2 x 37 1/2 in. (110.5 x 95.3 cm). The Frick Collection; Henry Clay Frick Bequest (1905.1.67)

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