El Greco

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Greco, El

Greco, El (ĕl grĕkˈō), c.1541–1614, Greek painter in Spain, b. Candia (Iráklion), Crete. His real name was Domenicos Theotocopoulos, of which several Italian and Spanish versions are current.

Trained first in the Byzantine school of icon painting, in 1567 he went to Venice, where he is known to have studied under Titian; thereafter (1570–77) he painted in Rome. By late 1577, El Greco was established in Toledo and at work on the altar of the Church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo. The center painting of this group, the Assumption, now in the Art Institute of Chicago, shows marked Italian influence. His next great works, El espolio de las vestiduras (cathedral, Toledo) and San Mauricio (Escorial) indicate a rapid development. The second was commissioned by Philip II, but he rejected it.

El Greco remained in Toledo, then an abandoned and rapidly dwindling capital whose proud and recalcitrant nobility were driven wholesale into the church as their only remaining vocation. He has left superb portraits of their ascetic faces, and in the foreground of his famous Burial of the Count Orgaz (Church of San Tomé, Toledo) it is they who are assembled at the funeral of the count, whose soul is seen ascending to Christ in the upper part of the painting. This masterpiece, painted in 1586, was followed by many others in which the artist, then mature, brought into play every resource of his dynamic art to express religious ecstasy. Flamelike lines, accentuated by vivid highlights, elongated and distorted figures, and full vibrant color contrasted with subtle grays all combine to produce a unique art.

Among his many great works of this period are the Baptism, Crucifixion, and Resurrection (Prado); a portrait of the inquisitor Cardinal Don Fernando Niño de Guevara (Metropolitan Mus.); two similar versions of St. Jerome (one in the National Gall., London; one in the Frick Coll., New York City); and a long series of paintings of St. Francis. Indeed, many of El Greco's paintings exist in multiple interpretations of the same subject, each with variations that range from the profound to the subtle. To his last period, a time of deepening mysticism, belong such works as the Assumption (Mus. of San Vicente Anejo, Toledo); Adoration and View of Toledo (Metropolitan Mus.); the Pentecost (Prado); a portrait of Hortensio Felix Paravicino (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston); and the Laocoön (National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.).

In his own day his admirers seem to have been intellectuals, such as Fulvio Orsini, the lawyer Lancilotti, and Giulio Clovio. Paravicino, the court preacher, was his friend and apologist. Overshadowed by the more popular masterpieces of Velázquez and Murillo, his work became less and less known, especially outside Spain. At the end of the 19th cent. his paintings started to come under art critical scrutiny, and in the mid-20th cent. El Greco became widely celebrated, largely because his idiosyncratic and intensely expressionistic style (see expressionism), his flickering light and indeterminate space, and his bold and almost abstract use of paint appealed strongly to contemporary tastes. Splendid examples of his vast production exist in many European and American galleries and collections. He is best seen in Toledo, Madrid, and the Escorial. A museum has been devoted to his work in what is said to have been his home in Toledo.


See F. Marías, El Greco: Life and Work (2013); studies by L. Goldscheider (3d ed. 1954), P. Kelemen (1961), H. E. Wethey (1962), L. Bronstein (1967), J. Gudiol (tr. 1973), and D. Davies, ed. (2003).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Greco, El


(real name, Domenikos Theotocopulos). Born 1541 on the island of Crete; died Apr. 7, 1614, in Toledo. Spanish painter; a Greek by origin.

El Greco apparently received his initial training from icon painters on Crete; many of the distinctive qualities of his work have their roots in this formative period. After 1560 he moved to Venice, where he may have studied under Titian. He began working in Rome in 1570. He was influenced by Michelangelo, mannerist painters, and such Venetian masters of the Late Renaissance as Titian, J. Bassano, and Tintoretto. El Greco moved to Spain circa 1577; failing to receive recognition at the court in Madrid, he settled in Toledo. It was in Spain that his talent flourished.

In El Greco’s mature works, which are akin to the religious poetry of such 16th-century Spanish mystics as Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross), the boundaries between earth and heaven are blurred in the illusorily unlimited space of the painting. Drastic foreshortening and exaggeratedly elongated forms create an effect of rapid change in the scale of figures and objects, which sometimes grow larger and sometimes disappear in the distance. Examples of such works include Martyrdom of St. Maurice (1580–82, El Escorial), Entombment of Count Orgaz (1586–88, Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo), and Holy Family With the Magdalen (c. 1590–95, Cleveland Museum of Art). The most important quality of these works is their palette, which is based on an abundance of unexpected reflexes and on a restless play of contrasting colors that at times flash brilliantly and at times fade with a spectral flickering.

El Greco’s portraits are also characterized by an acutely emotional style of presentation. Some portraits, such as Inquisitor Niño de Guevara (1600–01, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), are marked by ruthless psychological expressiveness.

Elements of unreality increase in El Greco’s late works, such as Opening of the Fifth Seal (1610–14, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Laocoön (1610–14, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Figures in the late works resemble tongues of fire moving in ash-gray, whirlwind-like space. A deeply tragic feeling pervades View of Toledo (1610–14, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

El Greco’s paintings are highly subjective; at the same time, they are intensely preoccupied with the noble and dramatic impulses of the human spirit. El Greco’s work was forgotten from the 17th through 19th centuries and was not rediscovered until the early 20th century.


Vallentin, A. El’Greko (Domeniko Teotokopuli). Moscow, 1962. (Translated from French.)
Kaptereva. T. P. El’ Greko. Moscow, 1965.
Malitskaia, K. M. “Istoki tvorchestva El’ Greko.” In the collection Soobshcheniia Muzeia izobrazitel’nykh iskusstv im. A. S. Pushkina, vol. 5. Moscow, 1975.
Wethey, H. E. El Greco and His School, vols. 1–2. Princeton, 1962.
Cossio, M. B. El Greco. Barcelona, 1972.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

El Greco

real name Domenikos Theotocopoulos. 1541--1614, Spanish painter, born in Crete; noted for his elongated human forms and dramatic use of colour
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
My real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos. My nickname means "The Greek".
Born in Crete in 1541, how was the artist Domenikos Theotokopoulos more commonly known?
(9) This article identifies and reviews the key debates: the striking discrepancies in style between his early and late works; his name in his own time (born Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known generally in Italy and Spain as Dominico Greco, and called only after his death El Greco); his 'Greekness'; his 'Spanishness'; his 'Byzantinism'; his insanity; his astigmatism; his mysticism; and his modern image.
In other words there was a Domenikos Theotokopoulos in Crete at this date and he was a master painter.
Born to a Greek family in 1541 in the Venetian outpost of Crete, then known as Candia, and trained as an icon painter, Domenikos Theotokopoulos moved in 1567 to Venice, where he became known as "a disciple of Titian" By the end of 1570, he was in Rome, where he spent the next five or six years, registering as a member of the artists' Guild of San Luca as "Domenico Greco"--not surprisingly, since anyone who has ever dealt with Italian officialdom can easily imagine a sixteenth-century Italian notaio throwing up his hands in despair at hearing a difficult foreign name.
At the Met, we can think about all of this, and more, thanks to a remarkable selection that spans El Greco's entire career, from icons painted before the young Domenikos Theotokopoulos left Crete for Venice to an enormous Adoration of the Shepherds (1612-1614, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid) from the last years of the artist's life.
THE art of El Greco - "The Greek" because he came from Crete and was actually named Domenikos Theotokopoulos - is the subject of the first in a series of Wednesday night lectures beginning tomorrow at the University Gallery at Northumbria University.