Do you like art and history? If you feel attracted by these two disciplines, you should visit Toledo, where both are united in one. Apart from being the home of El Greco, Toledo houses his magnificent work.
Once, the most splendid capital of the Spanish Empire, Toledo is now considered a museum city.
El Greco Toledo paintings have been declared most wonderful pieces of art in the world and it remain one of the most popular tourist spots. El Greco and Toledo have become now a single entity: El Greco Toledo paintings.
But this city is not only well known for El Greco Toledo paintings because this old town, built on a rock, overflows with historic landmarks in each of its corners. Founded by the Roman Empire, after the Romans left it, became the capital of the Visigothic kingdoms.
For many centuries the cultural features of Jews, Arabs and Christians converged in Toledo to form as well an unparalleled architectural ensemble that reflects the amazing legacy of those 3 cultures. Toledo became later the capital of Spain during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs. Do you think you can live without knowing this historic city? Keep reading on to discover the secrets of El Greco Toledo paintings.
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, was an artist of Cretan origin known as El Greco, who ended up being the foremost representative and symbol of Toledo mannerism art of painting. He lived in Crete for the first 26 years of his life where he developed the typical Byzantine art of the island, moving later to Venice and for a while to Rome. In Venice, he underwent a great artistic evolution that contributed to a revaluation of second Renaissance painting art, with Titian being his source of inspiration first, and Tintoretto afterwards.
His next stage was spent in Rome, where he studied the mannerist style of Michelangelo. It was in 1577 when he moved to Spain, settling in Toledo where he lived the rest of his life developing his work.
At that time the Monastery of El Escorial was being built near Madrid, and King Philip II invited the most reputable Italian artists to decorate his palace. This is how El Greco arrived in Spain, spending a season in Madrid and moving lateto Toledo, where he received some of his first commissions.
Toledo was important as it was considered the religious capital of Spain and one of the largest and most renowned cities in Europe. Quickly, El Greco received his first artistic assignments: he was commissioned to decorate the main altarpiece and two lateral hallways of the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo in Toledo.
The altarpieces include The Assumption of the Virgin (preserved in the Art Institute of Chicago) and La Trinidad (preserved in the Prado Museum in Madrid). Around the same time he was commissioned The Plunder (El Expolio), for the Cathedral of Toledo.
El Greco Toledo paintings were a source of great prestige for the painter in Toledo. Nevertheless, his intention was to go to Madrid to try to become a Court painter. However, after receiving two commissions from King Philip II, the painter decided to stay in Toledo when he was informed that his second work did not pleased the king at all.
Thus, in 1586 he obtained the commission of what is today his best-known work, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz), the best representation of El Greco Toledo paintings. This painting was made for the church of Santo Tomé in Toledo and remains today in its place to delight visitors from all over the world.
Another work which is considered one of his best is The Knight of the Hand in the Chest (El Caballero de la Mano en el Pecho), dated 1577-1584 (Museum of the Prado of Madrid).
El Greco is an artistic personality of the utmost importance in the artistic heritage of Toledo and the history of the city.
When he arrived in Toledo, he soon mixed with its people, fully assuming the Toledan culture, entering the most intellectual circles, rubbing shoulders with important political, religious and cultural personalities.
Of Greek origin, specifically from the island of Crete, Doménikos Theotokópoulos is his birth name. Linked to the Spanish Counter Reformation, he made important assignments for Spanish ecclesiastical buildings.
These commissions were received in Toledo, both for the Cathedral of Toledo and for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo or the church of Santo Tomé.
El Greco developed his own artistic style in his maturity, receiving great influence from the Italian Renaissance and Mannerism. His artistic upbringing in Italy allowed him to intertwine the mannerist design with the Venetian color.
The Italian artists were divided between the Roman and Florentine Mannerists, who praised Michelangelo and the importance of drawing in painting, denigrating Titian. The Venetians, on the other hand, praised Titian and criticized Michelangelo’s mastery of color.
El Greco, who allowed himself to be influenced by both schools, recognized Titian as an artist of color and Michelangelo as master of drawing.
El Greco’s artistic style was profoundly transformed during the thirty-seven years he spent in Toledo. From the style he brought from Italy upon his arrival in 1577, he evolved to his own original one in 1600.
The artificial and unreal elements flooded his painting: small heads in long bodies, strong and strident light, shallow spaces with many figures, projecting the appearance of a flat surface. This sense of abstraction in his painting style became more acute as time went by.
El Greco’s Byzantine artistic roots can be traced to the time he spent in Crete, where a sense of space and Byzantine figures were cultivated.
There are different opinions on the existence of these eastern features in his paintings in their final stage, but there are experts who argue that these features can be seen in some of his works. In its Toledan stage there are two works that are considered to have Byzantine features owing to the artist’s Cretan period.
First of all we must mention his work Crucified Christ (Cristo Crucificado) of the Museum of Santa Cruz, dated in the final years of his life, in 1610, painted in his personal workshop which include features that have been attributed to his son Jorge Manuel.
His second work including Byzantine features is found in the El Greco Museum in Toledo, dated between 1610 and 1614, and refers to the set of paintings portraying the twelve apostles. It is known as the Apostolate (Apostolado).
On the other hand, there are works from the author’s first stage, which resembled the characteristic oriental features of Byzantine art, such as The Adoration of the Kings (La Adoración de los Reyes) or Transit of the Virgin (Tránsito de la Virgen), both dated in 1565 and which are not to be found in the Spanish territory.
The most characteristic works of El Greco’s Toledo stage were accomplished under religious orders and, in the case of the Monastery of El Escorial, commissioned by the monarch Philip II. These works are still preserved in the Monastery, and can be admired by visitors of the famous building.
El Greco Toledo paintings were developed from 1577 onward, when the Greek painter arrived to the Spanish city directly from Italy.
The Healing of the Blind (La Curación del Ciego) is not characteristic of the artist’s Toledo stage, but it is important to mention it given the fact that it is considered the first work of his Venetian period dated in 1567. It shows the characteristic features of the Venetian school, showing a complete mastery of light and color with quick brushstrokes.
Despite this, it can be said that the Greek master was not able to accomplish an adequate point of view, since the lighting includes somewhat contradictory elements.
The scene depicts Christ and the blind in the foreground, presiding over the group that appears to the left of the work. On the right are the Christ’s disciples. The whole scene takes place in a wide square surrounded by classical buildings.
The painting conveys a sense of movement that can be attributed to the eclecticism of the time.
The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest (El Caballero con la Mano en el Pecho) is dated between 1578 and 1580 and it is an oil on canvas of his early Spanish stage. It can be credited to the artist’s Mannerist style, and it is considered one of the best known Spanish works in the world.
A nobleman with his hand on his chest is depicted looking at the viewer as if they were engaged in a moment of dealmaking. The nobleman exhibits an elegant attire and he carries a golden sword and a medallion of the same material.
Madonna and child with Saint Martina and Saint Agnes (La Virgen con el Niño con Santa Martina y Santa Inés), is considered to belong to the master’s late Toledan period, dated between 1597 and 1599. It is an oil on canvas in Mannerist style. This work was commissioned for the decoration of the Chapel of San José in Toledo.
The harmony of the colors reminds us of the Venetian school. The scene is presided by the Virgin with the Child in her arms. She is represented sitting on a throne of clouds accompanied by two angels and numerous cherubs above her.
In the lower part of the painting Saint Agnes can be seen dressed in a red cloak and carrying a lamb in her hands, as well as Saint Martina dressed in blue and yellow exhibiting the palm of martyrdom and the lion.
View of Toledo (Vista de Toledo), dated between 1598 and 1599, is an oil on canvas of 121×106 cm in Mannerist composition. The painting is preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, where it is exhibited with the title of View of Toledo or Toledo in a Storm.
It represents the city of Toledo with dark tones as the author has taken the liberty of changing positions of some buildings.
Another landscape by the painter which remains in Toledo in the museum that bears his name is View and Map of Toledo (Vista y Plano de Toledo).
The Adoration of the Shepherds (La Adoración de los Pastores), dated between 1612 and 1614, is an oil on canvas of 320×180 cm in Mannerist style. This painting was made for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo and was meant to hang over his own grave.
The work is placed at the Prado Museum in Madrid.
The masterpiece represents the birth of the Child Jesus, and is composed in a spiral, which creates a sense of ascension. Strange shapes and bright colors flood the painting, which is composed of the Child Jesus in the center surrounded by the shepherds who adore him and the Virgin.
The clothes of the newborn irradiates a white light that illuminates the other characters. In the upper part of the picture the angels hover over the heads of the rest of the characters.
If your curiosity has been aroused by El Greco Toledo paintings and you want to visit Toledo, you should be aware that what you have read in this piece conveys only a few random strokes about the Greek Master’ work and the enchanted city he lived in. If you decide to visit Toledo you will learn many more details about the history of this magical town and the life of the Greek Master, as well as an in-depth account of his life. Be sure that walking through the streets of Toledo you will be enlightened by the presence of history as it unveils in front of you.
Get in contact with us through our website and visit the great cultural heritage of Toledo . We have at your disposal the best private tours available in order to enjoy the secrets of this magnificent city. Do not think twice and get in touch with us to receive all the information that you may require about our private El Greco Toledo paintings Tour.
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