“Art is not submission and rules, but a demon which smashes the moulds (…). El Greco’s inner-archangel’s breast had thrust him on savage freedom’s single hope, this world’s most excellent garret.” – Nikos Kazantzakis
El Greco means the Greek. The legendary painter El Greco (who died 400 years ago) was indeed born in Greece (Crete), but he is celebrated in Spain as a Spanish artist for several reasons. First, it is claimed that it was in Spain that his talent flourished (not true, because he had already mastered icon painting in Greece and later produced artworks in Venice during the time he spent with Titian). Second, he was commissioned to produce important works by Philip II of Spain, which is true, but it is also true that Philip II did not like his works and gave him no further commissions. Third, it was in Spain that El Greco produced his absolute masterpieces, and it was in Toledo that he died. This, to my understanding, is the strongest justification.
Spanish or Greek, El Greco will always be remembered and celebrated for such great works as The Disrobing of Christ, The Opening of the Fifth Seal and the Knight with his hand on his breast. Moreover, his ‘views of Toledo’ forever immortalized Toledo’s cityscape, and created a classical correlation between the artist and the city where he died.
Just like Goya centuries later, El Greco defies classification. He is generally considered a mannerist (for his elongated figures and twisted bodies), but the unmistakable iconic quality of his figures betrays a Byzantine influence, which comes as no surprise for a painter ‘formed’ in Crete. The Renaissance touch came from Venice and Rome, and the resulting style looks personal and coherent rather than hybrid and invented…with a heavy apocalyptic air.
2014 is the Year of El Greco in Spain, and lots of activities and exhibitions are planned in Toledo, Madrid and Valladolid. You can check the programme of activities and itineraries at the official website:
Off to Toledo very soon!