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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Painted around 1571-1576 the artwork is a painted rendition of Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Pietà in Florence Cathedral.

He tried to express and evoke the same feelings as what Michelangelo captured in the iconic aforesaid sculpture, and with true intrepid realism depicted the forlorn and lifeless body of Christ, his mother – Mary and Saint Mary Magdalene and lastly that of Joseph of Arimathea making up one close group of figures. El Greco deployed broad uses of colour and palette to accurately and vividly depict the expressions of the subjects. And not only did El Greco draw upon Michelangelo’s group figurine to capture the true essence and dramatism of the piece, he arranged the legs of Christ and his arms outspread in the same fashion.

Often El Greco is widely regarded as a forerunner to both Expressionism and Cubism. Moreover, many modern scholars have characterised him as an artist so unique that he does not conform to any conventional school. His work is easily distinguishable by his portrayal of figures with deviously drawn out features.

He was born in 1541 in one of two villages that being either Fodele or Candia in Crete. And it is claimed that his family to which he was descended was very prosperous and successful. Nevertheless, they had been ousted from Chania to Candia due to the Venetian uprising of 1526 or 1528. His father was called Georgios Theotokopoulos (d. 1556), and his profession was that of a wealthy merchant and tax collector. Conversely, not much is known about either his mother or his first wife, though than she was of Greek nationality. His eldest brother - Manoussos Theotokopoulos (1531-1604) – like his father was also a wealthy merchant and towards the latter part of his life (1603-1604) spent his passing years in El Greco’s home in Toledo.

He began his career in Crete as a young painter in his twenties of icons, and arrived in Venice towards the end of the 1560s. Although he was more receptive to the approach employed by Tintoretto, in 1570 Giulio Clovio introduced him to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese as ‘a young man from Candia, a disciple of Titan.’ It was during this period that he produced different versions of Christ Restoring Sight to the Blind Man and Christ Driving the Merchants from the Temple, and an early nocturnal work, Youth Blowing on a Burning Coal.

He is recorded as being in Toledo from 1577 and tried unsuccessfully to enter the service of Philip II. Despite the sovereign’s refusal, El Greco still included an image of the king among the blessed in his masterpiece. The Burial of Count Orgaz (1568-88). El Greco’s career in Spain was spent entirely in the religious capital, Toledo, where he carried out a number of commissions for the clergy and local humanists, including devotional paintings and portraits executed in an astounding and incomparable visionary style.

His later years' works are often characterised as being rather exaggerated and stretched reality of the human form. The Adoration of the Shepherds (1599), Concert of Angels (1610) and the Opening of the Fifth Steal (1614) are synonymous with such distorted reality of the human body. He passed away on April 7 1614 and was largely unappreciated at the time, and it has taken it is proclaimed to be somewhat a further 250 years before the art world, embraced his works.