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El Greco

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El Greco

El Greco is a Spanish painter whose career was the second half of 16th century. Domenikos Theotokopoulos was originally from Crete and was first trained as an icon painter in the Byzantine style. After living in Italy for nearly ten years he moved to Spain where he came to be known simply as ‘El Greco’. The name suck and that is the title which he is most known as today.

El Greco is a Spanish painter whose career was the second half of 16th century. Domenikos Theotokopoulos was originally from Crete and was first trained as an icon painter in the Byzantine style. After living in Italy for nearly ten years he moved to Spain where he came to be known simply as ‘El Greco’. The name suck and that is the title which he is most known as today.

One of his best pieces was a very large altarpiece that was commissioned by a family, the Orgaz’s, in honor of an ancestor. The Count Orgaz was said to have a been a great man and donated greatly to the church. When he died the Saint’s Stephen and Augustine were said to have appeared in order to lay him into his tomb. It is this scene that El Greco depicts on his altarpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. The dead count is in his finest armor or black and gold with a white cloth draped about him. The two saints stand on either side of him in illustrious golden robes of finest detail. The funeral train watches in awe. Some eyes are trained on the saints as they lower Count Orgaz seemingly to the bottom edge of the painting. Others look up, watching as an angel carries the tiny soul into heaven.

There is no real setting visible in the painting, true to the Mannerist style that El Greco was using. The bottom half of the scene is so crowded with figures that there is no indication of where they are standing. Indeed, there isn’t even a sky, just the heavens. Light emanates not from the sun but from Christ at the very top of the painting, shining down on the saints, angels and figures below. This painting not only fulfilled its purpose as an homage to the great Count Orgaz but also was true to the Mannerist method of painting. Mannerist painting, though perhaps not as long lived as other styles of the Renaissance, was just as influential as the rest on the art of the Baroque, which can be seen in another of El Greco’s paintings titled View of Toldedo.

El Greco produced virtually no landscape painting, vastly preferring that of figure painting. However there is one great landscape which he did complete, the of the View of Toledo. The naturalistic setting that depicts life exactly as it is viewed cannot be found here as in most landscapes of the time. Instead it is a mystical scene where the power of nature distorts the real world into a haunting scene. Dark clouds swirl overhead threatening to storm with just a patch of light shining down on Toledo. This isn’t done in the typical Renaissance style. The painting is early example of the mystical, surreal painting which would begin to appear during the Baroque period.