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El Greco

Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos)

El Greco

Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos)

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Domenikos Theotokopoulos, other wise known as “El Greco” due to his Greek heritage, was a popular Greek painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. He was a master of post-Byzantine art by the age of 26, when he traveled to Venice, and later Rome, where he opened his first workshop. Unlike other artists, El Greco altered his style in order to distinguish himself from other artists of the time, inventing new and unusual interpretations of religious subject matter. He created agile, elongated figures, and included a vibrant atmospheric light. After the death of Raphael and Michelangelo, he was determined to leave his own artistic mark, and offered to paint over Michelangelo’s Last Supper to Pope Pius V. His unconventional artistic beliefs (his dislike of Michelangelo included), along with his strong personality, led to the development of many enemies in Rome, especially the hostilities of art critics.

In 1577, El Greco Moved to Toledo, where he produced the majority of his mature works. Although he did complete major commissioned works in churches around Toledo, he remained out of favor with the king, and so did not receive the royal patronage he so desired. El Greco made Toledo his home, renting a series of apartments from the Marquis de Villena, which included three apartments and twenty-four rooms. He spent much of time studying, painting, and living in high style, often employing musicians to play for him while he dined.

Although he was a much renowned and prolific painter, near the end of his life he experienced economic difficulties, exacerbated by non-payment for his work for the Hospital of Charities at Illescas. He met his end at the age of 73, due to a sudden illness. After his death, El Greco’s works were largely ignored. His unusual treatment of subject matter and complex iconography led many contemporaries to discredit his works. It was not until the emergence of the Romantic period that his works were newly discovered, sparking a revival of interest in the artist’s works. His works later influenced realist, impressionist, cubist, and abstract painters, including Pablo Picasso and Edouard Manet.

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Doménikos Theotokópoulos (Greek: Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος [ðoˈminikos θeotoˈkopulos]; 1541 – 7 April 1614), most widely known as El Greco ("The Greek"), was a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. "El Greco" was a nickname, a reference to his Greek origin, and the artist normally signed his paintings with his full birth name in Greek letters, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), often adding the word Κρής (Krēs, "Cretan").

El Greco was born in the Kingdom of Candia, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice, and the center of Post-Byzantine art. He trained and became a master within that tradition before traveling at age 26 to Venice, as other Greek artists had done. 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 taken from a number of great artists of the time, notably Tintoretto. In 1577, he moved to Toledo, Spain, where he lived and worked until his death. In Toledo, El Greco received several major commissions and produced his best-known paintings.

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 painting.

Born in 1541, in either the village of Fodele or Candia (the Venetian name of Chandax, present day Heraklion) on Crete, El Greco was descended from a prosperous urban family, which had probably been driven out of Chania to Candia after an uprising against the Catholic Venetians between 1526 and 1528. El Greco's father, Geórgios Theotokópoulos (d. 1556), was a merchant and tax collector. Nothing is known about his mother or his first wife, also Greek. El Greco's older brother, Manoússos Theotokópoulos (1531 – 13 December 1604), was a wealthy merchant and spent the last years of his life (1603–1604) in El Greco's Toledo home.

El Greco received his initial training as an icon painter of the Cretan school, a leading center of post-Byzantine art. In addition to painting, he probably studied the classics of ancient Greece, and perhaps the Latin classics also; he left a "working library" of 130 books at his death, including the Bible in Greek and an annotated Vasari. Candia was a center for artistic activity where Eastern and Western cultures co-existed harmoniously, where around two hundred painters were active during the 16th century, and had organized a painters' guild, 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 a master of the guild and presumably operating his own workshop. Three years later, in June 1566, as a witness to a contract, he signed his name as μαΐστρος Μένεγος Θεοτοκόπουλος σγουράφος ("Master Ménegos Theotokópoulos, painter").

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