Birthday: October 1, 1541
Nationality: Greek, Spanish
Died At Age: 72
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: Doménikos Theotokópoulos
Born Country: Greece
Born in: Heraklion, Crete
Famous as: Painter
Spouse/Ex-: Jerónima de Las Cuevas
father: Geórgios Theotokópoulos
siblings: Manoússos Theotokópoulos
children: Jorge Manuel Theotocopoulos
Died on: April 7, 1614
place of death: Toledo
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known by his nickname, “El Greco,” was a painter, architect, and sculptor who worked during the Spanish Renaissance in the middle ages. Born and raised in Candia (present-day Greece), Greco hailed from a prosperous business family. He received his early training in art from a post-Byzantine art school, and at the age of 26, he moved to Venice to pursue a career in art. In 1570, he settled in Rome, where he set up a workshop. He later moved to Toledo, Spain, where he stayed until his death. He created the most famous works of his life while he was in Spain and earned national and international acclaim as he got commissioned to make art-pieces for many hospitals and religious institutions. Some of his work included elements of expressionism and dramatics. This made some of his contemporaries become critical of him. In the 20th century, his work was met with humongous appreciation. He is remembered as a supremely unique artist who was not bound by any conventional school of art and had his own style of work. He passed away at the age of 70, in Toledo, Spain.
Childhood & Early Life
El Greco was born Doménikos Theotokópoulos, on October 1, 1541, on the island of Crete, in the city of Candia (present-day Greece). His father, Geórgios Theotokópoulos, was driven out of Chania, Greece, and was then exiled in Candia, during an uprising against Catholic Venetians. Not much is known about his mother.
Greco was born into a prosperous merchant family. His father managed his family business and dealt in tax collections. Greco grew up with an older brother, who eventually became a rich man after inheriting the family business.
Greco was trained in the Cretan School of art and quickly mastered post-Byzantine art. Apart from learning the basics of painting, Greco also learned a lot about Greek history through books.
Candia, Greco’s home city, was famous for its artists. It was a place where different schools of art co-existed in harmony. There was also a painters’ guild in the city. Living among such strong artistic vibes further interested Greco to pursue a career in art.
By the time he was 22 years old, Greco had started painting and was already being hailed as a “master.” Many historians also believe that by the time he was in his early 20s, he already had his own fully functioning workshop.
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The Travels & Fame
Venice was the artistic hub during that time, and it was natural for Greco to move to the city. He arrived in the city at the age of 26 and worked in the workshop of Titian, one of the most popular Italian painters, as his disciple.
In 1570, he moved to Rome, where he came in touch with the artistic community of the city and met scholars such as Fulvio Orsini. Greco’s work ethics separated him from other artists of his era, and he never quite followed a conventional route. He, however, drew strong inspirations from artists such as Tintoretto and Titian, which reflected in his works.
El Greco was also critical of many great painters. When he was asked about Michelangelo, Greco replied by saying, “he was a good man, but he did not know how to paint.” Despite this open condemnation, many scholars believed that Michelangelo works had inspired many of Greco’s paintings, such as the ‘Allegory of the Holy League’.
Due to his open condemnation of artists such as Michelangelo and his disregard for the conventional style of paintings, Greco made several enemies in Rome.
In 1577, Greco arrived in Spain, which was the actual beginning of his most important professional phase. He arrived in Madrid first to find work. He came to know about King Philip II’s project, the building of the monastery of San Lorenzo. He made friends with Diego de Castilla, who helped Greco get work in Spain.
Castilla urged Greco to come to Toledo and helped him find good work there. Greco’s first major contract in Toledo required him to make paintings for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo. He made paintings such as ‘The Trinity’ and ‘The Assumption of the Virgin’ and became a famous artist in Toledo.
Although he was earning good money in Toledo, Greco’s aims where far bigger. He wanted to impress King Philip II, and soon, the monarch commissioned him to make two paintings for his royal court. The two paintings were called the ‘Allegory of the Holy League’ and the ‘Martyrdom of St. Maurice.’ The king, however, did not like these paintings and did not put them up in the chapel that he had originally intended to put them in.
He was known as one of the best painters in Toledo by the late 1570s. In the 1580s, he established a workshop and created many paintings, statues, and altar-frames. He also hired an assistant named Francisco Preboste. In March 1586, Greco was commissioned to make one of his most famous paintings, ‘The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.’
For the next 2 decades, Greco remained one of the most sought-after artists of the entire country and created some of the best works of his life. He was commissioned to paint and to make statues for many famous religious establishments, such as the ‘Chapel of San José’ and an Augustinian monastery in Madrid.
The minutes of the commission of ‘The Virgin of The Immaculate Conception’ describe him as “one of the greatest men in both kingdom and outside it.”
However, in the 1600s, Greco faced a lot of financial distress owing to disputes with the authorities of the ‘Hospital of Charity’ in Illescas. Greco filed a lawsuit against the management, accusing them of not paying him his dues for the paintings, statues, and sculptures that he had created for them. Despite these issues, Greco lived quite comfortably. He stayed in Toledo for the remainder of his life and continued to work till the very end.
Family, Personal Life & Death
In Toledo, El Greco lived in a huge mansion. His complex had three apartments and 24 rooms. He painted in these apartments, which also contained a workshop. Greco spent most of his time painting and studying.
He was also a music lover and employed many musicians, over the years, to play for him.
Doña Jeronima de Las Cuevas was one his companions. Greco is believed to have lived with her for a long time, arguably till the very end. However, whether they were married or not is not confirmed. She became the mother of Greco’s only son, Jorge Manuel, who also became a painter like his father.
In April 1614, Greco was commissioned to make a painting for ‘Hospital de Tavera,’ and in the middle of the project, he fell seriously ill. He passed away on April 7, 1614, at the age of 72.
El Greco was considered to be a very controversial personality while he lived. His painting style did not follow any conventions. This did not sit well with many painters of his generation. Even after his demise, Greco was disdained for his style, as it was in no way similar to the baroque style, which was quite in vogue during the early 17th century.
In the early 20th century, however, a Spanish art historian named Manuel Bartolomé Cossío published a catalogue of Greco’s works and presented him as the founder of the Spanish School. Many scholars followed suit, and Greco somehow ended up gaining a lot more respect for his works after his death than when he was alive. He also served as an inspiration to popular artists such as Pablo Picasso.