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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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Doménikos Theotokópoulos (El Greco) was a Spanish master painter who created some of the most outstanding Christian art of his time.

Unlike the works of other painters of his time that were realistic and detailed, El Greco’s imprecise brush strokes and elongated figures were seen as eccentric.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that El Greco was liberated from obscuration by a group of art enthusiasts (collectors, artists, and critics). He gained a newfound appreciation and became a select member of the modern pantheon of great painters.

El Greco's work is divided into three main periods:

His time in Crete (b. 1567), his time in Venice and Rome ((1567-1577) and his time in Toledo (1577-1614).

At the time of his death (April 7, 1614), he had 115 paintings, 150 drawings and 15 sketches. One of the most famous paintings which El Greco drew was The Resurrection. This late creation by El Greco looks more like a piece of art from the twenty-first century rather than the sixteenth century. The theme of the artwork, witnessing of the body's levitation, provides the sole tangible attestation of the spirit's victory over matter.

The style of the painting is somewhat unique compared to works from other painters in the period. The elongated figures, bold colours and ecstatically free brush strokes were not highly regarded in the period of the painting (Baroque period). However, El Greco used the style to bring out spiritual aspects in his paintings paying less attention to public opinion. And it was this way that he came up with his own unique style that people came to love.

The painting stands slightly above nine feet tall. Lambent forms are flickering upwards in parabolic curves. Colours are used expressively with the white flag in Christ’s hands being balanced by a red drapery. Beneath the figure of Christ is squirming figures of several guards, who appear to be awestricken.

Whirling drapery, vivid colours and elongated figures with arms dislocated by emphatic gestures add to the drama of the picture. Broad brush strokes, high contrast lighting and violent foreshortening of the figures create energy as well as tension. This style of painting (foreshortening of figures) is often viewed as Byzantine which is not a surprise since El Greco himself was born in Crete and attended the Cretan school where he trained as an icon painter.

El Greco was a visionary; many art historians believe that his style prepared the way for the modernism of the early twentieth century. From El Greco’s work, it’s evident that his angularity and effusive lighting directly influenced Cubism. Pablo Picasso, one of the most prominent figures of the 20th century (when it comes to arts) may also have been influenced by El Greco’s ascetic bodies and cool tones.

The Expressionist movement that originated in Austria and Germany seem closely related to his distorted bodies. The distorted figures also seem to be related to Abstract Expressionism that developed in New York City. This spectacular and unique religious work now resides in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.