• gerard van weyenbergh

El Greco, celebrated in several museums, short biography.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco (1541 - 1614), was born in Creta, famous for his elongated figures in the Byzantine style.

After a long period of neglect, El Greco regained interest in the XIX century.

He remains one of the great names associated with the Mannerist tradition. He cultivates a taste for the expressiveness of forms and a lively, almost supernatural palette. Many artists of the XX century, such as Pablo Picasso, have considered Greco as one of the major Renaissance artists in Europe, and perhaps one of the precursors of modern art.

We know nothing of Greco's childhood and family, except that he studied in his hometown of Candia (present-day Heraklion) in Crete, which then belonged to the Republic of Venice. He began as an icon painter, nourished by many influences: Italian, Byzantine and Arabic.

The information becomes clear during Greco's stay in Venice, from 1568 to 1570, while he lives in Titian's orbit. The artist, inhabited by powerful religious feelings, learns a new profession, that of the religious painter, and feeds on Italian influence. They visit several cities, which allows him to discover the works of Correggio and Parmigianino, and to work for powerful families of sponsors.

The opposition between Michelangelo and Greco in Rome is well known. The Greek artist was indeed refractory to the vision of the Italian painter regarding the decorations of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, whose indecent nudes he judged. Greco would have wanted to destroy the works of Michelangelo! In 1572, still in Rome, he was admitted to the Academy of Saint-Luc, but, surprisingly, in the genre of miniatures.

Greco's career takes a significant turn in Spain. The period is prosperous, the arts flourishing. Also, Greco settles in Madrid near the court and receives prestigious orders, in particular for the cathedral of Toledo.

The artist, however, has difficulties in complying with the expectations of the king. Anxious to respect the Council of Trent, which has brought to the forefront the mystical aspects of religious experience. Moreover, Philip II also considers excessive the rates charged by Greco, who does not hesitate to use rare pigments such as lapis lazuli. Living in Toledo for his work orders, he moves away from the courtyard.

In Toledo, El Greco gives free rein to his very personal mannerist style (elongated bodies, acid colors, refusal of naturalism). He is not alone in having cultivated this very expressive style: Berruguete in Spain, Tintoretto, Parmigianino, Bronzino in Italy.

In the Mannerist tradition, which emerges after the death of Raphael in 1520, by questioning the realism classic and humanistic ideal, Greco is, without a doubt, one of the most original artists.

At the head of a real small business, he does not hesitate to market reproductions of his paintings. His assistants and his son surround him but also trick him to the point of falsifying his signature.

He ended up ruined, and died in Toledo in 1614, at the age of 73 years. The XIX century who rediscovered the painter also saw the proliferation of many legends about him, especially that of his supposed madness.

El Greco influenced Paul Cézanne, but also Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock.

Beaux-Arts, article