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El Greco is a timeless painter, his use of color, his flat colors that almost border on monochromatism, the mannerist and destructured figures continue to question us. The “El Greco” exhibition curated by Juan Antonio García Castro, Palma Martínez – Burgos García and Thomas Clement Salomon is at the Royal Palace of Milan, until 11 February 2024. Domínikos Theotokópoulos, known as El Greco (1541-1614) was born in Candia, Crete, under Venetian rule, the painter was trained in an artistic world which intertwines the traditions of the Greek East and those of the West.
In search of light and classicism
It was 1567 when El Greco moved to Venice, then to Rome: the exhibition underlines the influence that the great Italian artists, including Michelangelo, Parmigianino, Correggio, Titian, Tintoretto, the Bassanos, had on his painting, with their teachings which are found, above all, in his idea of Mannerism. On Italian soil, the artist painted small-format works such as the Adoration of the Magi in the Làzaro Galdiano Museum in Madrid or the moving Modena Triptych, painted in tempera on wood, revealing some characteristics that the master would develop over the course of his artistic life: a powerful expressiveness, the triumph of color and absolute rigor in the composition. A surprising change of scale is found in works such as the version of El Expolio from the Church of Santa Locadia in Toledo or The Baptism of Christ from the Ducal de Medinaceli Foundation.
El Greco left the Serenissima in 1570 to reach Rome where he lived under the protection of the miniaturist Giulio Clovio, a friend of Titian and collaborator of Alessandro Farnese; from the Farnese family he acquired knowledge of Latin statuary. On display “Laocoön”, the painting is a free interpretation of the famous sculptural group in the Vatican Museums; El Greco breaks up the homogeneous group, the characters are lying on the ground or standing, the snakes clasped in their hands form sinuous arches.
El Greco on display at the Royal Palace in Milan
The reason why Domínikos Theotokópoulos, the wandering painter, abandoned Rome is not known, it is known that he arrived in Spain in 1577 at the age of 41 perhaps with the hope of being appointed painter of the Cathedral of Toledo or, better yet, of becoming painter at the court of King Felipe. He does not realize any of his dreams but in Toledo he experiences the most fruitful and happiest period of his long artistic career with sincere friends and faithful clients. In the city of Castile he received some important commissions such as that of the Entierro del Senõr de Orgaz; the chapel of San José or the sanctuary of Nuestra Seňora de la Caridad in Illescas; at the same time he created a workshop like he had seen in Venice where some versions of his most sought-after works were created, such as those of Saint Francis or those of the Maddalena in tears. The exhibition itinerary offers fundamental moments in the Maestro’s career and life. The first section “The crossroads” recounts the painter’s beginnings in Cretan production, his Venetian and Roman apprenticeship. In the second “Dialogues with Italy” a series of works created under the influence of Italian painters are exhibited. The third “Painting holiness” reveals the arrival in Toledo, the discovery of the spirituality of Teresa of Avila.
The context of the Counter-Reformation
“The icon, again” illustrates how the artist, in the last phase of his life, returns to the compositional system of the Byzantine icons of his native Crete by developing a frontal and direct approach. Domínikos Theotokópoulos, known as El Greco with his perennial research, his pictorial language, his shocking originality becomes the point of reference for many artists of the 20th century; painters such as Cezanne, Picasso, Kandiskij, Chagall, Bacon, Giacometti find in him the father they are looking for.