Greco, El (Domenico Theotocopuli)
GRECO, EL (DOMENICO THEOTOCOPULI)
Great religious painter of a visionary nature; b. Candia, Crete (a Venetian possession), 1541; d. Toledo, Spain, 1614. While popularly known as El Greco (Spanish article with Italian substantive), he signed his paintings Doménikos Theotokópoulos (in Greek letters), and on Spanish documents used the half-Italian, half-Spanish Domenico Theotocopuli.
Probably he went first to Venice (c. 1560) to study with Titian. The triptych in the Modena Gallery combining Cretan-Venetian elements, signed "cheir Domeníkou" (sic) is accepted as El Greco's by some critics, while this writer and others attribute it to another artist with the same forename. The attribution to El Greco of religious panels by hack painters (Madonneri) is now discredited by responsible historians. His Italian works of c. 1560 to 1576 include two signed versions of the "Purification of the Temple" (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., and Minneapolis, Minn., Institute of Arts); those after 1570 display a knowledge of Florentine-Roman art as exemplified in "Christ Healing the Blind" (Parma Museum), and the "Pietà" compositionally dependent on Michelangelo (Philadelphia, Pa., Museum of Art; Hispanic Society of America, New York). The first two subjects are symbolic of the Counter Reformation.
Early in 1577 he departed for Spain, then the dominant world power, and in Toledo he painted his first masterpieces: three altars in Santo Domingo el Antiguo, whose major picture, the "Assumption," is now in the Art Institute, Chicago, Ill.; and "Espolio" (Disrobing of Christ), in the Toledo cathedral sacristy. Although its pictorial sources are Italian, the "Espolio" demonstrates a resurgence of medieval Byzantine iconography. Emotional power is projected by the dominating figure of Christ in a brilliant red tunic, surrounded and oppressed by a massive crowd of revilers. Philip II gave him only two commissions, and was dissatisfied with these: the "Allegory of the Holy League" (oil study, National Gallery of Art, London; large version, Nuevos Museos, Escorial) and the "Martyrdom of St. Maurice" (Escorial); the latter masterpiece combines startling effects of color with the Counter-Reformation ideal of glorifying martyrdom. Henceforth El Greco eliminated time and space in emphasis on spiritual exaltation, as in the "Crucifixion with Two Donors" (Louvre, Paris). His greatest achievement, the "Burial of Count Orgaz" (1586; Santo Tomé, Toledo), displays an earthly funeral with an extraordinary array of portraits of black-garbed Toledo dignitaries; an apparition of SS. Stephen and Augustine in brilliant crimson and gold vestments; and, in the vision of glory above, an assembly of saints suggesting the Last Judgment, with
a white-robed Christ accompanied by the Virgin and St. John the Baptist.
El Greco created a vast new iconography of religious art, fully in the counter reformation spirit. His various interpretations of Francis of Assisi (ten different compositions), Peter in tears, Dominic, Mary Magdalen, and Jerome symbolize miracle and repentance. Other devotional subjects are the Holy Family, the Agony in the garden, Christ carrying the cross, Christ crucified, and the Apostles series. All his late compositions stress the supernatural: the "Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse" (1608–14, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); "Annunciation" (1596–1600; Museum, Villanueva y Geltrú, near Barcelona); and the"Adoration of the Shepherds" (c. 1612–14; Prado, Madrid), in which tall distorted figures, shadowy setting, and sharply contrasted vivid colors create intensity of mood. The last picture was planned for the altar of his tomb in Santo Domingo el Antiguo.
El Greco was equally great as portraitist, beginning in Italy in pure Venetian style with "Giulio Clovio" (Capodimonte Museum, Naples) and "Vincenzo Anastagi" (Frick Collection, New York). Later portraits of Spanish dignitaries and churchmen have remarkable psychological insight and superlative technique, e.g., "Cardinal Niño de Guevara" (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and "Fray Hortensio Paravicino" (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) are surpassingly great in characterization and pictorial beauty. His sculpture includes the "Miracle of St. Ildefonso" (cathedral, Toledo) and "Risen Christ" (Hospital Extramuros, Toledo). His architectural designs begin with altars, Palladian in style, in Santo Domingo. Late Mannerist design appears subsequently in the high altar (1597) of the chapel of St. Joseph, Toledo, high altar at Illescas (1603), and sepulchral retable, Santo Domingo el Antiguo (1612).
Differences of opinion prevail about the importance of his Byzantine heritage in iconography and style. Some critics (as Kelemen) regard it as predominant, whereas others consider his Venetian color and technique and his knowledge of michelangelo and Italian mannerism (precedent for tall figures) as the basis of his art. All agree that El Greco was a unique genius of unparalleled visionary nature, one of the greatest religious painters of all time.
Bibliography: h. e. wethey, El Greco and His School, 2 v. (Princeton 1962), monograph, classified catalogue, bibliog. p. kelemen, El Greco Revisited (New York 1961), supports Byzantine thesis. h. soehner, "Greco in Spanien," Münchener Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 3d ser., 8 (1957) 123–194; 9–10 (1958–59) 147–242; 11 (1960) 73–217, catalogue of pictures in Spain. m. b. cossÍo, El Greco (Madrid 1908). e. arslan, Encyclopedia of World Art (New York 1959–87) 6:835–845.
[h. e. wethey]