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El Greco born in Chania, on Crete: El Greco was a distinguished painter sculptor and was a native of Chania, Crete. This outstanding painter was born in the year 1541. After an eventful career as a painter, El Greco settled down in Spain and he is regarded by the connoisseurs as the first of the genuine artist belonging to the Spanish School. Although he was referred to as El Greco (The Greek), his real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos and it was in this name that he put his signature in all his paintings using Greek letters.
The world of art and painting has very little information about this great artist's formative years. What is more, there are just a few paintings that remain of his youthful period in Chania, notable among which is the recently discovered Dormition of the Virgin. If one refers to a noteworthy Cretan document dating back to 1566, El Greco is referred to as a master painter. He left Chania and migrated to Venice and on to Rome in 1570.
The legendary miniaturist Giulio Clovio, who incidentally came in contact with him was of the opinion that he was a disciple of Titan. But, it has to be admitted that of all the painters, it was Tintoretto who had the utmost influence on him. Even the great Michelangelo had a significant influence on his works.
Among the most noteworthy masterpieces belonging to El Greco's Italian era are the two outstanding works, "Purification of the Temple" which is now in the possession of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and NG, Washington, and of course the magnificent portrait of Giulio Clovio. In the year 1577, El Greco moved to Toledo, where he spent the rest of his life until his passing away. It was in Toledo that he mastered his craft and developed his trademark style wherein the figures take an elongated flame-like shape that is depicted in cold, bluish colors that is symbolic of immense spiritual longing.
The work that took him to Toledo was the high altarpiece that is adorned in the church of S. Domingo el Antiguo materialized through Diego de Castilla, who was the erstwhile Dean of Canons at Toledo Cathedral. El Greco reportedly met him at Rome. The altarpiece is conspicuous by its 4 meters high canvas depicting rather artistically The Assumption of the Virgin which is now showcased at the Art Institute of Chicago, was by far his best work to date.
Nonetheless, there were to be a series of master altarpieces of which mention must be made of the two most significant ones, the El Espolio in which Jesus Christ is depicted of being stripped of his garments while the other one was The Burial of Count Orgaz.
These two outstanding works are symbolic of the heightened spiritual events and they have been projected in a rather mystical manner. Though, never to return to Chania, in the later stages of his life, El Greco went that extra mile to free his figures from the usual earthy limitations. In this regard, mention must be made of "The Adoration of the Shepherds" which was purposely painted for El Greco's own tomb.
El Greco was also a very good portraitist as far as ecclesiastics were concerned. Worth mentioning are the portraits of Felix Paravicino and the Portrait of a Lady. The later in particular is symbolic of his lawful wife and is said to resemble Jeronima de las Cuevas. Apart from these, El Greco also painted two breathtaking spectacles of Toledo. The manner in which he chooses his subjects, which were, to say the least, very unique stems from the popular Toledo folklore that it was brought into existence by the ancestors of the Trojans.
As an artist, El Greco was very proud of his stature as an artist. He carried himself as an artist-philosopher rather than just another craftsperson. He led an extravagant lifestyle but it seems luck eluded him as far as gaining patronage from the rich and the famous were concerned for promoting his outstanding works. It is also true that towards the end of his life, he was beset with financial constraints as well.
His workshops were indeed very intriguing and were replete with numerous replicas his earlier paintings. A characteristic feature of his works was that they were very personal, so much so that his most ardent followers were his own son as well as Luis Tristan.
There was considerable interest in El Greco's artworks particularly towards the later stages of the 19th century. The coming of the age of Expressionism in the 20th century saw El Greco's artworks coming into the limelight. His works are unusual as they are strange to the average art connoisseurs, so much so that, some are of the opinion that he was stark raving mad while another school of thought holds him in very high esteem as a painter particularly in the manner in which he depicted the spiritual renaissance of his country in many of his masterpieces.