Painter, Sculptor, Architect (1541 – 1614)
Domenikos Theotokopoulos is renowned as the greatest Greek painter of the post-Byzantine era. As a chief representative of the Renaissance, he occupies a special position in the history of world art not only because of his extraordinary paintings and his tremendous influence in the world of art but for his role among the wisest Hellenists of the West. He is best known as El Greco (“The Greek”).
He was born in Crete. His parents had fled there from Constantinople. Crete belonged to the Kingdom of Venice at the time. From a young age he was introduced to art, literature and religion by the monks of the monastery of St. Panteleemon. He continued his studies in Herakleion and in Venice. There, he was initiated into the art of the Renaissance by prominent artists such as Tiziano Vecelli, Andrea Schiavone and Tintoretto. His love for classicism and the wisdom of the ancient philosophers led him to the circles of the most well-known Hellenists of Venice and Rome, with whom he interacted.
While in Rome, Domenikos was met with vehement opposition upon saying that were the paintings of Michelangelo destroyed in the Cappella Sistina, he himself would be able to replace them with even better ones, not lacking in anything from the previous ones. This caused him to leave Rome and settle in Toledo in Spain. By the time Domenikos Theotokopoulos went to Toledo, people had already begun calling him El Greco.
In Spain, Theotokopoulos lived for 37 years and was where he reached the peak of his career. He was a restless man who felt that nothing in art satisfied him. This made him to always seek out new ways of improvement. A deeply spiritual person with great knowledge and influence from both Byzantine and Renaissance art, Domenikos’ primary source of influence was the Hellenic flame that burned within him and which never stopped burning. All these factors led him to become a painter and an intellectual who stood out from all the others in a foreign land.
His first major works were the paintings at the church of Santo Dominguo el Antiguo in Toledo, most notably The Assumption of the Virgin. Paintings such as The Holy Trinity and Resurrection of Christ had already garnered significant attention from spectators when Theotokopoulos painted the famous Exspolium depicting the passions of Christ, one of his greatest paintings. 1586 marked one of the most important years for him as he painted The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. The painting is unanimously considered by scholars to be El Greco’s greatest painting ever produced as well as one of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance. With this painting, El Greco proved his spiritual magnificence over all Europe.
In the following years, El Greco’s fame became widespread as numerous students visited his workshop to follow his footsteps. As his name became known to the spiritual circles of Toledo, Theotokopoulos met some of the most important Hellenists of his era, including writers, philosophers, scholars and painters whom he frequently amazed with his knowledge during their philosophical conversations. Antonio de Covarrubias and Miguel de Cervantes were some of his admirers.
El Greco continued to produce paintings of insuperable craftsmanship and beauty as well as portraits until late in his life. His last major painting, the Pentecost, characterized by his philosophical thought and technique, was made when Theotokopoulos had reached the apogee of his spiritual reasoning. He had succeeded through courts for artists to not pay taxes to the state.
He died in Toledo in 1614 and his name fell into obscurity for hundreds of years, until the beginning of the 20th century, when his paintings, then believed to be the works of a madman, surfaced into the public eye. Nowadays, his paintings adorn some of the grandest museums and art collections in Europe. El Greco, the name he had been given by the Hellenists of the Renaissance he kept until the end of his life. Revered by many for his commitment to his beliefs and his love for a free Greek nation, which he never ceased struggling for, Domenikos Theotokopoulos achieved worldwide recognition, being called by Hortensio Paravicino “Divine Greco”.
- Kyrou, Achilleus A.. “Theotokopoulos, Domenikos”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
- Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος. Σαν Σήμερα. gr. Jan 4, 2019. Web.
- Ο καλλιτέχνης που αρνήθηκε να πληρώνει φόρους. Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος, γιατί έγινε καθολικός και πως προκάλεσε τον Μιχαήλ Άγγελο εξαγριώνοντας τη Ρώμη. Δεν προσυμφωνούσε ποτέ την αξία των έργων του. Μηχανή του Χρόνου. gr. Jan 4, 2019. Web.