"El Greco's Interpretation Of Religious Subjects In Toledo And Their Respond To The Ideas Of His Time?" Essay Samples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Art, Spain, Religion, Artists, Picture, Education, History, City

Pages: 6

Words: 1650

Published: 2020/11/27

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Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the death of El Greco. Probably everyone heard about the great master of the Renaissance with a strange name. His portraits and works on religious themes can be found in all textbooks on the art of the Renaissance. Moreover, today, looking at his brilliant canvases, it is difficult to understand why the world fame came to him only after three centuries after his death. What kind of a man he was? Why did he have such nickname? What was the meaning of his work?
Domenico Theotocopuli (the real name of El Greco) was born in 1541 near Candia (now the city Iraq-Lyon), the capital of the Mediterranean island Crete, located in the South of Mainland Greece. Exact records of date and place of the artist`s birth has not survived up to the present. In 1582, he reported that he was born in Crete, and in 1606 announced about his sixtieth anniversary. By this time, he lived in Spain, where his real name was too difficult to pronounce. Therefore, the painter began to call himself Domenico Greco, or simply El Greco (the Greek). However, the paintings of El Greco had always signed with his real name and Greek letters. Very little is known about the first 25 years of his life. El Greco`s father was a tax-collector, so it can be assumed that his son was able to get a good enough education. The artist had many friends among the scientists, and his personal library described after his death, included 131 books on History, Literature, Philosophy, Painting and Architecture in Greek, Latin, Italian and Spanish. This fact speaks volumes, according to Susan Sinclair.
His creative style was formed mainly under the influence of Tintoretto and Michelangelo. In 1577, El Greco moved to Spain and settled in Toledo, where he worked from 1577 until his death (April 7, 1614), creating a series of remarkable altars. His work can be characterized by means of incredible emotions, unexpected angles and unnaturally elongated proportions, creating the effect of rapid changes in the scale of figures and objects ("The Martyrdom of St. Mauritius' 1580-1582). El Greco’s main motifs had always had a religious implication; he created for churches, monasteries, hospitals, Toledo, Madrid and other cities. Toledo was the city of the Inquisition and the countless monasteries, arrogant aristocrats and fanatical monks; it embodied the spirit of Spain. Toledo of El Greco's time, separated from the present distance of more than three centuries, was immeasurably more complex, contradictive, densely populated and rich. Toledo suffered because of the impact of the decline of Spain, but still, it remained a flourishing city. Toledo was famous for its solemn religious processions, festivals, illuminations, and theater performances. A significant role in the presentation of Toledo played an image created by El Greco. Toledo served as the backdrop for many of his pictures, and in later works, he painted panoramic images. El Greco interpreted the religious implications of this city, portraying not only a fantastic city, not a symbol of the pagan Babylon, but with amazing accuracy of the specific features of appearance of Toledo. El Greco put an intimacy of personal experiences and the full force of his tragic sense of life in a disturbing and dramatic image of the ghost town of the world endowed with almost divine majesty of nature.

The history of Toledo in El Greco’s paintings

In August 1577, El Greco signed a formal agreement with Diego de Castalla (1510 / 15-1584), the dean of the Cathedral of Toledo, under which undertook to write three altarpiece for the church of the Cistercian monastery of Santo Domingo el Antiguo. Nowadays, most of these paintings are placed in the museum of Prado, and the central, most famous painting "The Assumption of the Virgin" is in the Museum of Chicago.
El Greco painted "The Assumption of the Virgin" (The Art Institute of Chicago) for the church of Santo Domingo, this picture became not only the first of his works made on Spanish land, but also his first large painting.
In the first years of his stay in Spain, El Greco was largely affected by the influence of the Venetian school; his female characters were the same as Venetian ones. However, even in this picture there is a strong influence of Titian's work (especially close to the painting by Titian in the Venetian church of the Frari), but El Greco had his own interpretation. In general, the composition is a bit unbalanced; the characters seem to be too closely huddled together at the top and at bottom of the picture. Disproportionately large figure of Mary ascends to heaven, leaning feet on the narrow crescent of the half-moon, surrounded by a host of angels. Most Blessed Virgin soars skyward, as if out of the chalice, the walls of which are formed by the figures of the Apostles, gathered around an empty sarcophagus. Master introduces motifs that are also used in the religious festivals celebrated in Toledo during the Holy Week. Martínez-Lage states that the master reached the impression of unity of Heaven and earth - shapes, gestures, and emotional expressiveness of the figures of the Apostles are also reflected in the group of celestials surrounding the figure of the Virgin. This impression is emphasized not only by the mutual arrangement of colored spots in the picture, but also with the help of the rigid linear folds of the robes of the Apostles that combine with the sharp-edged stone coffin. This period of history of Toledo and Spain can be described as a very religious one, when the economic decline, endless wars and the Price revolution forced people to pray for salvation. El Greco followed the people of Spain and shared their pain and fear of the Inevitable.
After a big success of his paintings and life in Toledo (he had found a family, friends and patrons), El Greco could continue to work quietly in this city. However, a dream to get an order in the Escorial promised him another, more complex and bright future. The artist was probably aware that the field of activity in the ancient Spanish capital was too narrow for his capabilities. His hope was strengthened when he painted "The Adoration of the Name of Jesus" (about 1578-1579).
Graf states, that a tremendous mystical action is illustrated, where all the participants - among them the Emperor Charles V and King Philip II - worship the name of Christ, arising in the sky in a blaze of clouds and surrounded by angels hovering. The imprinted anagram of Jesus serves as a symbol of the Jesuit order. However, El Greco did not think about the glorification of this order, the influence of which he had felt enough in Italy and had felt even more strongly in Spain. Above all, he wanted to please the king. However, the artist did not draw paintings of such an official nature again.
An echo of the "Doomsday" is felt in the image of naked muscular body of sinners - the endless human flow, which is absorbed by a huge mouth of the monster that symbolizes Hell.
However, according to Daniilia, big question that troubled El Greco in the canvas did not find here a worthy realization of artistic expression. There was a sharp contradiction between the image of the grandiose image of otherworldly fantasy world and a small, almost chamber scale paintings. The essence of the conflict was not in the size of the canvas, but in the fact that the master could not satiate his sense of monumentality. The picture seems fractional, petty, and loaded with many details.
Nowadays, when the tastes of the era are moved into the distant past, when the whims and opinions of King Philip II influence the history of painting only with a side interest, it is obvious that this picture was a creative failure that befell El Greco.
El Greco reflected the local traditions associated with the Christian faith and the Christian Church of Toledo in "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz". Paintings on religious themes with a large number of characters are similar to the poetry of the Spanish mystics with their unreality. An example is the solemn and majestic composition "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" (1586-1588)
According to a legend, Castilian nobleman Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, the Count Orgaz, donated to the church, in which he expressed his desire to be buried, a great treasure. After his death in 1312, during the funeral, a miracle happened: St. Augustine and St. Stefan came to earth to bury the body of the Count with their own hands. While making an order to the artist, there was presented a description of what was to be shown in the picture. This curious document shows how closely El Greco followed given to him instructions. Nevertheless, they did not frame his creative freedom. He carried the event of the ancient legend to the his contemporary life. Of course, "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" is the most harmonious work of El Greco. In the future, he achieved a greater expression, greater spiritual burning, perhaps more dazzling beauty of color, but he could never return to such a deep shaped polyphonic, embodied in the forms of striking color and rhythmic unity. A solemn funeral gamma of silvery-gray and golden yellow tones is gorgeous with accents of black, blue, yellow, red, orange, and yellow-green. The picture looks like a giant colorful pattern, all of whose elements are interrelated, each motif has a harmony, themes vary, complicate, merge, and diverge within a closed harmonic whole.


The paintings by El Greco express an exciting force; it is difficult to resist their influence. The art of the master was to capture the Toledo society. During the life of El Greco, the fact of his recognition in the community of Toledo was absolutely indisputable. This fact is even more surprising, because his art in terms of unusual visual forms went not only beyond any national school, but also far ahead of his time. According to Sullivan, the artist had found the connoisseurs of his unusual manner among the Toledo sophisticated intellectuals. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the environment of Toledo, favoring the development of the art of El Greco, at the same time stimulated a binding of the manner that, in some way, had limited his work, closing in captivity more formal tasks.
The quest for spiritualization, sharing an attitude of people of Spain at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, which grew every year in his work, is expressed in particular and very complex system of the artistic images. That is why El Greco became an amazing artist; and disputes about him will never end.


Daniilia, S., et al. "Analytical study into El Greco’s baptism of Christ: clues to the genius of his
palette." Applied Physics A: Materials Science & Processing 90, no. 3 (March 2008): 565-575. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 24, 2015).
SANTA, SAN JUAN DE LA CRUZ'S CÁNTICO ESPIRITUAL, AND CERVANTES'S LA NUMANCIA. (Spanish)." Romance Notes 53, no. 1 (January 2013): 53-64. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 25, 2015).
Jiménez, AS, & Olivares, J 2011, 'Lope de Vega y El Greco: Ut pictura poesis en el Toledo del
siglo XVII', Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (1475-3839), vol. 88, no. 1, pp. 21-42. Available from: 10.3828/bhs.2010.45. [25 February 2015].
Martínez-Lage, Juan, Claudio Piqueras, and Miguel-Angel Pérez-Espejo. 2014. "The human
body through the El Greco's eyes." Child's Nervous System, September. 1471-1474. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 24, 2015).
Sullivan, Edward J., and Rose R. Weil. "El Greco of Toledo." Art Journal 42, no. 3
(September 1982): 239. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 24, 2015).
Susan, Sinclair. "VIEWING EL GRECO." Art History 27, no. 3 (June 2004): 462-
466. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 25, 2015).

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