Thursday, March 24, 2011

40 Days of Artists: El Greco

Domenikos Theotokopoulos was a native of Crete was first trained in the post-Byzantine style of painting, so his earliest pieces have a traditional iconic appearance, though few of them survive today. He settled in Spain where he became known by his nickname, El Greco.
Before arriving in Spain, he lived in Rome. El Greco's work during his Italian residence appears to mimic many of the typical Italian Renaissance pieces, and hint toward works by Raphael and Michelangelo. This is most evident in his Purification of the Temple.
In 1577, El Greco arrived in Toledo. Here he mastered his technique that is characteristic of his typical works, where the figures appear elongated in form and the colors - even the reds and yellows - appear strangely cool. His first major commission in Toledo was an altarpiece for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, with the Assumption of the Virgin as the main panel. The Church was certainly pleased with this composition and El Greco was sought after for other altarpieces. Two of his most notable are El Espolio and The Burial of Count Orgaz. El Greco was confronted for his El Espolio, as it deviated from the Church's strict regulations to make art bibically accurate, and theologically traditional. The main issue was that Christ's head was not the highest in the composition, and the rationale was that nothing and no one should separate Christ from the heavens. El Greco's defense of the piece was that Christ, in relation to the proportion of all other figures, was the grandest figure of all.
El Greco's style was incredibly liberal for the time. Even in his commissions that were closely monitored and advised by the Church, he made every effort to make it his own painting. It is a wonder how he managed to dodge authorities of the Inquisition. He intentionally wanted to paint scenes from Christ's life that were imagined scenes from his heart, as opposed to make an effort to make every detail perfectly accurate and traditional to Scripture. His works bring heaven and earth closer together (as seen in The Burial of Count Orgaz), and the odd, elongated figures seem to more closely represent our spiritual bodies rather than our physical ones. This is certainly most evident in his later works.

El Greco
The Burial of Count Orgaz
oil on canvas
480 x 360 cm.

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