- Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco)
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Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco)

In the year 1541, on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean, was born an artist, Domeniko Theotokopoulos. In Italy, the Renaissance was past its prime, but still vibrant. Michelangelo was still a force to be reckoned with in art. And throughout Europe, the arts were flourishing as never before. For an artist, it was a great time to be born. As a young man, he travelled through Italy and was briefly a part of Titian's workshop of apprentices. His work picked up Venetian and Mannerist influences.

His most famous work, an oil painting for the church of Santo Tome in his adopted hometown, Toledo, Spain, is an enormous 16' x 11' mural-size canvas bridging the gulf between the realism and mysticism of the Mannerist era. Created in 1586, and entitled The Burial of Count Orgaz, the painting, on its lower level, depicts the title event in a group portrait encompassing some 27 life-size figures, dressed in the contemporary finery of the time. If the painting were nothing more than this funerary scene, it would still be remarkable, but above it, on a second level, under an arch shape, we see the deceased pleading on behalf of his soul before Christ on his throne, St. Peter, Mary, numerous angels, and a multitude of heavenly hosts.

The figures below are slightly attenuated, those above, more obviously so. Some experts believe the artist suffered from astigmatism. Others see it merely as a matter of style. The influence of Michelangelo's Last Judgement is noticeable. Recently, a reader told me she keeps an "art book" near her computer to read further regarding some of the artists mentioned here. So before you go looking in your art history books for the tongue-curdling name Domeniko Theotokopoulos, perhaps you might want to know that his "professional name" was El Greco.

contributed by Lane, Jim

15 December 1997

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