El Greco

El Greco was a Spanish Renaissance master painter, sculptor, and architect. Born (1541- April 7, 1614) Domenikos Theotokopoulos in Crete Greece, during a time where it was a part of the Republic of Venice. El Greco was his nickname, meaning “The Greek.” He was known to sign his paintings with his full Greek birth name, and often accompanied by
the word “Cretan.”

Baptism of Jesus

Baptism of Jesus

El Greco Signature

El Greco signature

Family and Early Training

El Greco came from a prosperous urban family. He is believed to have grown up Greek Orthodox, yet later in his life claimed to be a Roman Catholic. His father, Georgios Theotokopoulos, was a merchant and a tax collector. Nothing is known about his mother, and it is known that he had a brother, Manoussos Theotokopoulos.

El Greco began his training at Cretan school, believed to have been one of the top schools known for post-Byzantine art. He began as an icon painter. El Greco most likely studied the classics of Ancient Greece, as well as some of the Latin classics.


At the age of 26, El Greco set out to Venice, and would eventually travel to Rome. While there he studied under Giulio Clovio, a disciple of Titian. El Greco did not get many commissions aside from some portraits and devotional paintings.

Portrait of a Cardinal

Portrait of a CardinalChrist Carrying the Cross

During his time in Italy, El Greco mastered the elements of Renaissance paintings: perspective, proportionate figures, and engaging composition.

Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind

Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind

Interestingly, upon his arrival to Italy, Michelangelo and Raphael were dead. Despite their influence in his art, El Greco is known to have thought negatively of Michelangelo as a painter. This would eventually lead to people’s dislike of El Greco in Rome.

“He was a good man, but he did not know how to paint.”

El Greco’s thoughts about Michelangelo

After ten years in Italy, El Greco makes the move to Toledo, Spain, the religious capital of the country. When he arrives, King Philip II is in search of good artists since Titian is dead, and Tintoretto, among other artists refused to travel to Spain. There El Greco is commissioned to paint for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo. El Greco is able to complete nine paintings including El Espolio and Assumption of the Virgin.


El ExpolioThe Assumption of the Virgin

The King would later commission him for yet more work, yet there were two pieces of work that the King did not like. These pieces of work include the Allegory of Holy League, and Martyrdom of St. Maurice. The exact reasons of the Kings discontentment is unknown. It is believed that perhaps Philip II did not like that El Greco included living people in the paintings. Or perhaps the paintings went against the rules of the Counter-Reformation movement.

Allegory Of the Holy League

Allegory Of the Holy League

Martyrdom of St. Maurice

Martyrdom of St. Maurice


El Greco is believed to have influenced Cubism. Much of his work depicts elongated and twisting forms, radical foreshortening, and unreal colors. He is believed to have influenced artists like Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, and Manet.


Manet’s Angels at Christ’s Tomb, inspired by El Greco’s The Trinity

Santisima Trinidad

Holy Trinity, El Greco

The Trinity Study

My study of the Father in El Greco’s Trinity







4 thoughts on “El Greco

  1. It’s refreshing to see a different nationality represented in the Renaissance other than Italian. I’ve heard of this artist but never really learned much about him; great job with your research! It’s funny how he was so critical of Michelangelo and it can first come off as insulting, but Michelangelo himself also hated painting; he felt like he could never portray figures as realistically as with sculpture. I guess they both had something to learn from each other! Also great job on the sketch, you captured his face very well 🙂

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