You are here
Home > News > Unpleasant, arrogant, deadly serious. But unlucky

Unpleasant, arrogant, deadly serious. But unlucky

The director of the Prado Museum had moved the El Greco’s “absurd caricatures” to the basement, as if exhibiting them together with the masterpieces of Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya was an affront to the venerable temple of art.

From the meager source material emerges a picture of a rather unpleasant man. An emigrant from poor Crete, in Spain he posed to be a great lord and lived beyond his means. Instead of taking an ordinary house, he preferred to pay ten times as much to rent 24 rooms in the palace of the Marqués de Villena. The author of poignant images of saints, well acquainted with Bishops and other high-rank clergy members, portrayed the mother of his only son as Mary but did not deign to marry her.

He was already arrogant in his youth. He outraged the Romans by claiming that if the Pope had asked him, he would have created a much better Last Judgment because the divine Michelangelo “didn’t know how to paint.” Showing respect to customers was not in his nature either. He demanded record-breaking fees, and if buyers were late with their payment, he had no problem suing them.

When the parish priest of the Church of Santo Tomé in Toledo refused to pay the exorbitant (in his opinion) sum of money for “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”, the artist wanted to complain straight to the Pope.

Soon, the great El Greco exhibition is coming to an end at the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. Among the nearly 80 works of the title artist, his masters, competitors and imitators, there is “The Ecstasy of St. Francis of Assisi” – found in Poland.

Teary eyes

El Greco – or rather Dominikos Theotokopulos – unlike most Cretans, was a Roman Catholic. When he was born, the island had been under Venetian control for over three centuries, but the growing threat from the Ottoman Empire prompted many people to leave their homeland.

However, Dominikos had another reason to leave his country. Painting religious miniatures popular in Crete did not satisfy his ambitions. Quite naturally, with his first steps, he headed straight for the metropolis.

The Republic of San Marco (or the Venetian Republic) is experiencing a Golden Age in Art at the time, despite a series of political and military defeats. It is believed that the talented Greek was taken under the wing of Titian himself, but there is no evidence for this. What we know for certain is that Theotokopulos quite quickly assimilated the aesthetics of the West and the technique of painting on canvas; He also established many useful connections.

However, wanting to get out of the Venetian masters’ shadow, he had to look for his luck elsewhere. Taking advantage of a favour offered by one of the influential cardinal Alessandro Farnese’s protegees, he moves to Rome and
a few years later to Spain.

King Philip II wants to hire someone other than the newcomer as a decorator for the El Escorial (Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial/ Monasterio del Escorial), which is being built. Still, his works are admired in Toledo – the largest city of Castile – where El Greco will stay for the rest of his life. It is also there where he will develop his individual style, which is recognisable even to non-specialists. In the famous dispute between the Venetian enthusiasts of colour and the Roman-Tuscan supporters of the drawing superiority, he takes the side of the former. Even so, Titian influences will disappear from his paintings gradually.

Their place will be taken by bizarre lighting effects and elongated, ghost-like figures, windswept and bathed in a glow, which source is not natural but supernatural. Jesus and the saints, deprived of their usual attributes, will judge the world with sad looks, given over to evil. The landscape will be reduced to a minimum; Everything will become a movement.

Trendy miracles

Art historians, captivated by this consistent escape from realism and the pursuit of dematerialisation, considered Theotokopulos to be a separate, influence-proof artist. It’s not true; he was the offspring of his time.

At the end of the 16th century, heaven and hell seemed to be close, at hand. Life was intense but short. Men were killed by wars – waged in the name of religion or dynastic ambitions – and more often by famine and epidemics. Women died giving birth to children, who also quickly joined the hosts of angels. The level of medicine was a crying shame, screaming out to heaven for vengeance. It was safer not to listen to the doctors.

The Renaissance optimism and faith in humanity collapsed (which – apart from Italy – spread its wings for a very short time and only in the circles of intellectual elites). In the peripheral countries, such as Spain – despite its impressive colonial conquests – the books of knights and martyrs were read more willingly than the works of ancient sages. The eccentric Don Quixote was the hero of the era.

You can read the entire article by following this link.

– Wieslaw Chełminiak
– Translated by Katarzyna Chocian

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.