The Origins of El Greco

What promises to be an interesting look at the work of Old Master painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known by his Spanish nickname “El Greco” (“the Greek”) has opened at the Onassis Cultural Center in Manhattan. The exhibition “The Origins of El Greco” features several representative works by El Greco himself, beginning with his training as a Byzantine icon painter, and concluding with the elongated and highly idiosyncratic Mannerist style he developed in Spain, where he gained the height of his fame during his lifetime. El Greco’s work fell out of fashion for a time, but was later re-discovered and greatly appreciated by other artists, including Delacroix, Manet, and the Post-Impressionist/Expressionist schools.

The show also brings together pieces from El Greco’s native Crete reflective of the art from the time in which he lived, showing how he took what he learned and went in his own direction instead of remaining a copyist of past source material. In this respect I would state (as an armchair art historian) that he reminds me of 20th century Iberians such as Picasso and Dali, both of whom were highly influenced by El Greco, who could paint and draw to the academic standards of their day, but chose in the development of their art to move away from the expected to the personal. Moreover there is something haunting and, for a non-native, very Spanish about his work, perhaps due to temprament, or perhaps simply absorbing and reacting to the environment in which he had settled, that has come for many to be a faithful expression of the Spanish soul, particularly in paintings such as that reproduced below.

I am hoping to catch this exhibition the next time I am in New York, and would encourage my readers who find themselves in Manhattan between now and the close of the show on February 27th to drop in for a visit.

Portrait of a Gentleman with His Hand on His Chest,
Circa 1583-1585
Museo del Prado, Madrid

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