At the age of twenty, El Greco travelled to Venice where he studied under the most prominent artist of his day- Titian. Here, he perfected his skill in constructing figures, his perspective and the art of staging detailed narrative scenes. He later moved to Spain at the age of 35 where he worked until his death in April 1614. Regarded as a pivotal influence in expressionism and a major contributor to the Catholic counter-reformation art, El Greco is fondly remembered for his landmark works that were mostly religious in nature. His paintings appeared longer and taller than would be the case in real life and a key characteristic was seen in the level and amount of light applied. Most of his work such as the Adoration of the Kings appeared to reflect light from an unidentified source.
Born in 1541 in Crete, El Greco was not just a painter but sculptor and architect. In his active days to date- over 500 years after his death, he remains one of the most influential artists. This is because he was considered an artist of the spirit and his style, which defined the Spanish Renaissance was obscure in that he set the groundwork for many to follow. The members of the Blue Rider School, for instance, fell in love with his work and adopted it after his career ended.
El Greco’s Most Ambitious Masterpieces
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz - This painting gives an illustration of a popular legend, a long-dead benefactor. It shows Saints Stephen and Augustine descending from heaven to help in the burial of a Toledo native- Don Gonzalo Ruiz. The lower part of the image portrays the phenomenal burial, and the top part brings out the spiritual world in the urge of receiving the man into heaven. When seen by believers, it gives an arresting character of vision. This is considered one of the most famous paintings of the old painter and is universally regarded as the greatest masterpiece. It was commissioned to him by the priest of Santo Tome Toledo in 1586.
View of Toledo - This is a landscape painting, and during his time, such works of art were rare. The view of Toledo is regarded for its mysterious symbolism and the bold contrast between the greenery and the sky above.
The Vision of St. John - In his later years, The Vision of St. John became the most famous artwork he ever created. In it are martyrs crying to God for deliverance, and on another side, the fifth seal is being opened. This is borrowed from the Christian Bible in the book of Revelation during the end times.
The Disrobing of Christ - This brings out an extraordinary originality, depicting the Disrobing of Christ before he was crucified. It brings out a powerful effect as a result of the use of forceful colours and the oppression of Christ by his tormentors.
Assumption of the Virgin - The assumption of the Virgin was one of the first major commissions of this terrific painter. It was designed purposely for the high altar of the Catholic church of Santo Domingo. El Greco used intense colours and manipulated contrasts that later became a hallmark of his great artwork. This artistry work marked a new era for him, bringing out the full extent of genius.
The Adoration of the Shepherds - In this painting, one notices angels and shepherds celebrating the birth of Jesus. In it are strange poses, inharmonious colours and rhythmic motions that give a sense of joy and wonder.
The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind - This was one of the paintings created before El Greco moved to Spain. It is a dramatic image that illustrates the account of Christ anointing the eyes of a blind man. At the time, healing of blindness was a revelation of true faith. The painting is considered as one of his finest artwork.
The Holy Trinity - This one portrays a level of brilliance used with colour. It is one of the images that brought great fame to him in Toledo. It was later revered by the generation of artists that followed, including Edouard Manet, the famous French painter.
Portraiture, Architecture and Sculpture - El Greco was also highly skilled in creating portraits, sculptures and architecture. He began by capturing the characteristics and features of his sisters in portraits, which were as outstanding as his religious paintings. The artist went ahead to produce several altar compositions and carried out artwork for various buildings. He believed in the invention and defended complexity and novelty.