Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Domenico Theotocopuli

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 14
Domenico Theotocopuli

by George Charles Williamson


One of the most remarkable Spanish artists, b. in Crete, between 1545 and 1550; d. at Toledo, 7 April, 1614. On 15 Nov., 1570, the miniature-painter Giulio Clovio wrote to Cardinal N. Farnese, recommending El Greco to his patron, describing him as a Cretan, who was then in Rome and had been a pupil of Titian. El Greco, however, derived very little influence from his master, for his works, beyond a certain influence of Bassano, Baroccio, Veronese, or Tintoretto, are individual and distinct. El Greco came to Spain in 1577. He signed his name in Greek characters, using the Latin form of his Christian name, and repeatedly declaring himself as a native of Crete. He appeared before the tribunal of the Inquisition at Toledo in 1582, as interpreter for one of his compatriots who was accused of being a Moor; he then definitely announced that he had settled in Toledo. Nothing is known of his parentage or early history, nor why he went to Spain; but in time he became typically Spanish, and his paintings exhibit all the characteristics of the people amongst whom he resided. From very early days he struck out a definite line for himself, glorying in cold tones with blue, in the use of grey and many varied tones of white, and in impressionistic work which foreshadowed ideas in art that were introduced one hundred and fifty years later. His first authenticated portrait is that of his patron and fellow-countryman, Clovio, now at Naples; his last, that of a cardinal, in the National Gallery. His first important commission in Spain was to paint the reredos of the Church of Santo Domingo of Diego at Toledo. He may have been drawn to Spain in connexion with the work in the Escorial, but he made Toledo his home. The house where he lived is now a museum of his works, saved to Spain by one of her nobles.

His earliest important work is "El Espolio", which adorns the high altar in Toledo, but by far his greatest painting is the famous "Burial of the Count of Orgaz" in the Church of Santo Tomé. The line of portraits in the rear of the burial scene represents with infinite skill almost every phase of the Spanish character, while one or two of the faces in the immediate background have seldom, if ever, been equalled in beauty. It is one of the masterpieces of the world. The influence of El Greco in the world of art was for a long time lost sight of, but it was very real, and very far-reaching. Velasquez owed much to him, and, in modern days, Sargent attributes his skill as an arist to a profound study of El Greco's works. El Greco's separate portraits are marvels of discernment; few men have exhibited the complexities of mental emotion with equal success. The largest collection of his works outside of Spain belongs to the King of Rumania, some of the paintings being at Sinaia, others in Bukarest. In the National Gallery of London, in the collections of Sir John Sterling-Maxwell, the Countess of Yarborough, and Sir Frederick Cook, in the galleries of Dresden, Parma, and Naples, and in the possession of several eminent French collectors are fine examples of his work. But to study El Greco's work to perfection one must visit Toledo, Illescas, Madrid, the Escorial, and many of the private collections of Spain, and his extraordinary work will be found worthy of the closest study. He was a man of eccentric habits and ideas, of tremendous determination, extraordinary reticence, and extreme devoutness. He was a constant attendant at the sacraments, made complete arrangements for his funeral before he died, and was buried in the Church of Santo Tomé.

COSSIO, Memoir of El Greco (3 vols., Madrid, 1908); BARRES AND LAFOND, Domenico Theotocopuli (Paris, 1911).

GEORGE CHARLES WILLIAMSON.