Called El Greco (The Greek), Theotokópoulos’ masterpieces are often regarded as the work genius. With this classification comes the association, or assumption, that his brilliance was also madness, as is often the case with genius. Historical rumors aside, El Greco was the forerunning master of the Spanish Renaissance, although he was born in Crete and also worked in Venice and Rome.
His elaborate expressiveness was a style that bridged ancient Byzantine traditions to an abstracted precursor to the movement of cubism almost four centuries later. As a defiant artist, El Greco often came at odds with his patrons and critics of the time, making him an intuitive painter who did not appease anyone in his creations. Of one of his commissions, the artist himself even proclaimed, “As surely as the rate of payment is inferior to the value of my sublime work, so will my name go down to posterity as one of the greatest geniuses of Spanish painting.” (Getty Museum)
His style is one not easily classified, mixing that of Italy’s Mannerism and the Venetians of the Renaissance, atop his origin of Byzantine tradition from Crete. His strongest Venetian influences were that of Titian (1485 – 1576) and Tintoretto (1518 – 1594), evoking their use of vivid colors and expressive figures. While living in Rome, after his time in Venice, El Greco sought to capture the brilliance of Titan, Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) and Raphael’s (1483 – 1520) influence, but by his own distinct hand behind the brush. Even at this early phase of his career, he started to cause friction in his rebellious aspirations as a painter, developing what is sometimes called Antinaturalism.
This changed some when he relocated to Madrid and Toledo in Spain, gaining more reception as an innovative artist. Though his distinct elongated figures and, as far as conventional expectations of the time, un-structured compositions, caused more confusion than praise in critics. His legacy would not be appreciated until almost two centuries later in the Romantic Era, and again in the early 20th century Cubist painters like Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906) and Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973). It is said that El Greco’s masterful work The Opening of the Fifth Seal was an essential influence on the morphed figures of Picasso’s 1907 masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon.
EL Greco’s influence expands well beyond Picasso into modern painters, as well as in poets and musicians throughout the years. The artist created a great deal of paintings in his life between 1565 and 1614, also working in sculpture and architecture. His most remembered works are usually El Espolio (The Disrobing of Christ) from 1579, The Assumption of the Virgin from 1579, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz from 1588, the View of Toledo from 1600 and The Opening of the Fifth Seal (Vision of Saint John) from 1608. He painted a number of works depicting Saint John including his work now in the Uffizi Gallery, Saint John the Evangelist and Francis