El Greco (Domenico Theotokopoulos)

Dates1541 - 1614

Confident, extravagant and rebellious, El Greco hired musicians to play while he ate and prided himself on his refusal to comply with his clients' demands. Though he settled in Toledo, Spain, the artist known as "The Greek" signed paintings with his Greek name, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, and was forever influenced by his birthplace. Crete was a center for the Byzantine artistic tradition, concerned more with abstraction and pattern than with recording natural appearances. From 1568 to 1577, El Greco lived in Venice and Rome, where Titian's broad brushwork and bright colors, Tintoretto's sweeping movement, and Michelangelo's monumental figures reshaped his Byzantine heritage without replacing it.

According to tales, when Pope Pius proposed covering Michelangelo's Last Judgment nudes, El Greco alienated many by offering to paint another mural, equally good, if they demolished Michelangelo's. He soon left for Spain. Failing to win favor at the Madrid court, he settled in Toledo, Spain's cultural and religious center. There he developed his trademark style-elongated figures, ecstatically free brushwork, expressive lighting, and acid color-a manner so personal that his assistants never attempted to follow his example.

Acclaimed for his penetrating portraits, El Greco also received ecclesiastical commissions throughout Spain, including designing altarpieces. His paintings of Toledo are among Europe's first pure landscapes.