Doménikos Theotokópoulos, known as El Greco (“the Greek”), was born on the Greek island of Crete in 1541. His artistic life developed in three important locations. The first of them was Crete, where he started out as a painter and master of iconography with a clear Byzantine influence, creating works such as St. Luke Painting the Virgin, Dormition of the Virgin and Adoration of the Magi.
The second location was Italy. Considered a period of study and preparation, this was where he would be influenced by the Renaissance cannon. Thus, while in Venice, he would come to understand the importance of light and colour through the works of Titian and Tintoretto. From this period, we have the Modena Triptych, The Entombment of Christ and The Last Supper.
During his stay in Rome, he would study the importance of drawing and human anatomy through the works of Rafael, Michelangelo and Veronese.He lived during this period in the palace of Cardinal Farnese, where he would come into contact with the intellectuals of the time.
It is here that he would open his painting workshop and hire Francisco Preboste, who would work with him until the final years of his life. The works Christ Healing the Blind, Boy Blowing on an Ember to Light a Candle, and The Annunciation stand out from this period.
In 1577 he arrived in Spain, specifically, in Toledo, where his religious works would be influenced by the ideas of the Counter-Reformation. His first works in Toledo were The Disrobing of Christ, for the cathedral sacristy, and The Santo Domingo el Antiguo Altarpiece. He also created a great number of paintings of saints, works which are known as the Apostolados.
Another series of works are his portraits, such as The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest, that of his son, Portrait of Jorge Manuel Theotocópuli or that of cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara.
For King Phillip II he painted two works, one was The Martyrdom of St. Maurice and His Legions, in oil on Venetian canvas, that is, double diamond patterned cloth instead of traditional canvas, thus achieving a seamless finish and given the shape of the weave of the canvas, a unique optical effect. Created for one of the altars of the Escorial monastery. The other was The Adoration of the Name of Jesus, but it was not to the king’s liking and thus he never achieved the status of court painter.
After settling in Toledo for good, El Greco would paint The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, depicting the miracle by which Saint Augustine and Saint Stephen descended from heaven to bury Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, lord of the town of Orgaz, as a reward for his charity and exemplary life.
It was also in this city that he set up his painting workshop together with his son Jorge Manuel and Preboste, enabling him to produce large, complete altarpieces. It was here that he reached reaching his artistic peak with the lengthening of his figures, their colours and luminosity, together with his personal style of mannerism.
In 1596 he received commissions including the altarpiece for the school of Doña María de Aragón in Madrid and for the chapel of San José in Toledo.
The last work undertaken by El Greco was for the altarpieces in the chapel of the Hospital of Tavera which, after his death, was continued by his son and other artists. His mythological works include Laocoon and his unique View of Toledo landscape painting.