Virtual Travels with El Greco

The National Herald

Christ Healing the Blind by El Greco, circa 1570. El Greco painted this masterpiece of dramatic storytelling either in Venice or in Rome, where he worked after leaving Crete in 1567 and before moving to Spain in 1576. (Photo: Public Domain/ Metropolitan Museum of Art)

NEW YORK – A native of Heraklion, Crete, Domenikos Theotokopoulos (1541-1614), the painter who became known as El Greco, was featured in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article helping armchair travelers focus their virtual travel through the artist’s own remarkable journey from painting icons in the Byzantine style in Crete to Italy where he learned from Renaissance masters, and finally to Spain where he painted his most iconic masterpieces.

Besides offering a brief synopsis of El Greco’s remarkable life story, the WSJ article suggests documentaries available online for viewers to enjoy the artist’s work and also feast their eyes on the beautiful places where he traveled. The first documentary mentioned is El Greco: an Artist’s Odyssey, available on Vimeo, “traces the painter’s brilliant, transformative career,” WSJ reported, noting that Theotokopoulos “became a successful icon painter at an early age” in his native Crete.

Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody narrates the documentary which “underscores the huge turn El Greco’s career took when he moved to Venice in 1567, encountering there the lush, naturalistic painting of the aging Titian and the more emotional work of the younger artist Tintoretto,” WSJ reported.

El Greco’s paintings from his time in Italy show how quickly he absorbed the late Renaissance style as well as the themes and atmosphere in the time of the Counter Reformation, the Roman Catholic reaction to the Protestant Reformation.

“Failing to prosper in Venice (and famously difficult to deal with), El Greco traveled to Rome in 1570 and joined the court of Cardinal Farnese,” WSJ reported, adding that “the documentary’s quick survey of works by his fellow artists, especially Michelangelo, and of the resplendent Palazzo Farnese suggests the elite company he now kept.”

Among the works from El Greco’s time in Rome, the portrait of Vincenzo Anastagi circa 1575 is in the Frick Collection in New York and is explored in the exhibition video, titled Men in Armor: El Greco and Pulzone Face to Face, WSJ reported, noting that it is available on YouTube.

The Italian Mannerists with their “elegant, elongated figures, unorthodox palettes and shallow compositions” also influenced El Greco’s later work, WSJ reported. 

“When commissions again proved unforthcoming, El Greco moved to Spain and by 1577 was in Toledo, which, until recently, had been the seat of Spanish power,” WSJ reported, adding that “it remained a center of wealth, learning and Iberian Catholicism, and in time offered a sympathetic audience for his increasingly erudite, idiosyncratic painting.”

El Greco’s View of Toledo circa 1599-1600, perhaps his best known work, is in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Armchair travelers can watch the Toledo Tourist Guide from the Travel and Discover channel on YouTube, WSJ reported, noting that the “ancient bridges, arched gateways and narrow, cobblestone streets draw us to the city center, where spectacular civic and sacred monuments chart its chronology and medieval tradition of religious tolerance.”

Also available on YouTube, El Greco: Lost in Time, part of the Raiders of the Lost Art series, explores how Picasso and his contemporaries “rediscovered” El Greco’s art and “incorporated some of its most expressive aspects into their radical new painting,” WSJ reported.