For Z, I give you El Greco

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Do click on the artwork to see it’s beauty!

Whew, here we are with Z, and I couldn’t find a renaissance artist with a name beginning with Z.  So I give you instead one of the best: EL Greco!

El Greco, Self Portrait as Knight with his Hand on his Breast

El Greco, Self Portrait as Knight with his Hand on his Breast

El Greco (1541 –1614) was born Doménikos Theotokópoulos and was a painter, sculptor and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. El Greco (the Greek) was his nickname. He was born in Crete, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice and he trained as an icon painter. Dormition of the Virgin is one of his paintings during this period, and it combines post-Byzantine and Italian mannerist styles with iconographic elements. He was a master painter in Crete before moving to Venice at age 26.

While El Greco was in Italy, he opened his own workshop and studied

El Greco, Self Portrait, 1595-1600

El Greco, Self Portrait, 1595-1600

painters of the Renaissance movement in art in Venice and Rome, where he moved in 1570. There he learned perspective and the staging of narratives, the use of atmospheric light and also the elements of Mannerism: extreme perspective, the twisting and turning of the figures and tempestuous gestures. He was a disciple and student of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese, one of the few artists who substantially altered his style and invented new interpretations of traditional religious themes. His View of Mount Sinai is a good example of the change in his style during this time. See also his Portrait of Klovio, which I showed you earlier under K.

View of Mt. Sinai, 1570

View of Mt. Sinai, 1570

 

Portrait of Clovio, Pointing to his Farmese Hours

Portrait of Clovio, Pointing to his Farmese Hours

By the time El Greco arrived in Rome, both Michelangelo and Raphael were dead, but their influence remained strong. El Greco did not like Michelangelo’s painting, but he couldn’t resist his influence, which can be seen in a later El Greco works, such as the Allegory of the Holy League (Adoration of the Name of Jesus). It was apparently painted for Phillip II. The figures of the King, Pope,

Adoration of the Name of Jesus, Allegory of the Holy League

Adoration of the Name of Jesus, Allegory of the Holy League

Doge and Don Juan of Austria are depicted at the bottom, with the figure of Don Juan inspired by Michelangelo. The jaws of hell and purgatory are also represented in El Greco’s unique way. His Purification of the Temple shows elements of Raphael.

Purification of the Temple

Purification of the Temple

In 1577, El Greco migrated to Spain, first to Madrid, then to Toledo, where he lived until his death and were he produced his mature works. He signed a contract for a group of paintings for the Church of Santo Domingo and by 1579 had completed nine paintings, including The Trinity and Assumption of the Virgin, which established his reputation. He also managed to obtain two commissions from Phillip II: Allegory of the Holy League and Martyrdom of St. Maurice. However, the king didn’t like these paintings and gave El Greco no further commissions.

Martyrdom of St. Maurice

Martyrdom of St. Maurice

Trinity, 1577

Trinity, 1577

In 1586 he was obtained the commission for The Burial of the count of Orgaz, probably his best-known work, in which he portrays a supernatural event occurring at the Count’s funeral. His trademark exaggerated Mannerist figures are evident as well as tiered composition. Each horizontal half of the painting is so composed that it could be an independent painting.

Burial of Count Orgaz 1586-88, oil on canvas

Burial of Count Orgaz 1586-88, oil on canvas

St. Ildefonso

St. Ildefonso

Between 1597 to 1607 El Greco several major commissions for a variety of

The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception

The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception

religious institutions. An example is the painting of St. Ildefonso for the Hospital de la Caridad and The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. In this painting, which is one of El Greco’s so-called ‘visions,’ pace, proportion, gravity, anatomical accuracy, light, day and night, logic— have been abandoned to transport the viewer into a state of spiritual ecstasy.

Legal disputes contributed to the economic difficulties consuming El Greco toward the end of his life. In 1608, he received his last major commission, for the Hospital of Saint John the Baptist in Toledo. This painting is one of my favorites, perhaps because of the wistful look on the face of the Saint. The attenuated figure, the agitated movement of the sky and the scintillating light on the landscape is characteristic of El Greco at that time.

Saint John the Baptist

Saint John the Baptist

During the course of the execution of a commission for the Hospital Tavera, El Greco fell seriously ill and died a month later in 1614, he died. He was 73.

 

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4 thoughts on “For Z, I give you El Greco

    • Turned out to be an auspicious choice, since his work lead into Mannerism and Baroque painting. Also the Wall Street Journal had a one page article on a huge exhibit of his work in the Musea de Prado in Toledo in today’s edition. Check it out!

  1. Wow. I absolutely love his use of highlights and shadows. Coupled with the darker palette it gives his work a feeling of urgency. It almost got my heart rate up. 😀

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