Affectionately known as El Greco ('The Greek' - a nod to his birthplace), Doménikos Theotokópoulos was a highly regarded artist in his own life time. A master in Post-Byzantine art by his early twenties, his unique style is often considered unclassifiable into one particular art movement.
Born in Crete in 1541, he moved to Venice (Crete was a Venetian territory in the 16th century) to master the art of Renaissance painting. He subsequently moved to Rome where he ended up ostracized after daring to criticise Michelangelo, an artist much revered in Italy. He subsequently settled in Toledo, central Spain (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), becoming a prominent figure in the Spanish Renaissance art movement. In Toledo, he received numerous major commissions and it is often thought that he produced his best work here.
"The Adoration of the Name of Jesus" is a ‘Mannerism’ oil and tempera on pine allegorical painting, created between 1577–1580. It is believed to have been inspired by a text in the gospel of St Paul and to represent an allegory of the Holy League victory over the Turkish Ottoman fleet at The Battle of Lepanto in the 1570s. It is thought to have been painted to (unsuccessfully) curry favour with King Phillip II of Spain, depicted by the figure in black with a white ruff collar kneeling in the foreground. However, there is no official documentation supporting this. Also kneeling in adoration of Jesus are The Pope and the elected head of the Venetian state; these three figures represent Spain, the Papal States and Venice (The Holy League).
The sword-wielding figure is thought to be the General in charge at Lepanto and heretics are depicted as being devoured by an enormous beast, representing Hell. There is a clear distinction between heaven and earth with overlapping swathes of colour. The monogram at the top is ‘IHS’ which are the first three letters of Jesus in Greek (IHSOUS). This painting conveys the universal adoration the name of Jesus insipires.
Mannerism emerged in the late Italian High Renaissance and was superseded by the Baroque style. Attributes of Mannerism include beauty, proportion and intellectual sophistication. This painting is typical El Greco ‘painter of the spirit’ style with its religious emotion, irrational perspective, inclusion of elongated figures and bold use of a vibrant colour palette. Two versions of this painting are known to exist.
El Greco's melodramatic style was not always appreciated by his contemporaries or in the centuries following his death, but a resurgence of interest in his work was seen during the 20th century. El Greco was also a talented sculptor and architect and his legacy was distributed across the arts as both his paintings and personality were cited as inspiration for writers and poets as well as other artists. He died in April 1614 in Toledo and his individual and unique style paved the foundations for subsequent art movements such as Cubism and Expressionism.