El Greco was born Dominikos Theotokopoulos in Crete, 1541. Painting religious icons was not enough for him. The artist went to Venice and Rome, then to Toledo in Spain where he was dubbed El Greco - "The Greek." The painters of the classical modern period found their soulmate in the painter. A new exhibition at the Kunstpalast Düsseldorf explains how this came about. Pictured: Laocoon, 1610-14.
El Greco was fascinated by the theme of religious visions. He never painted a person in a state of religious ecstasy, but let the viewer experience the high themselves. His figures and their surroundings were depicted with wild color, motion and intensity. Pictured: The Opening of the Five Seals, 1608-14.
The exhibition shows El Greco the religious painter as well as the portraitist. His paintings of people are classed as psychological portraits. The man pictured here, Don Antonio, was hearing-impaired and mute. El Greco communicated the man's inability to interact with his environment by painting his eyes looking past the viewer. Pictured: Don Antonio de Covarrubias y Leiva, 1514-1602.
El Greco's painterly style was considered extravagant, scandalously deviating from the canon of classical representation. El Greco was valued as a talented painter, despite the fact that he was often misunderstood. King Philipp II of Spain, however, accused him of creating a mere spectacle rather than works of religious devotion. Pictured: The Disrobement of Christ, 1580-1595.
According to one anecdote, a young El Greco had suggested to the pope that the Sistine Chapel should be newly painted. He could do a better job than Michelangelo, who didn't understand color, he was to have said. El Greco would have most likely turned the Sistine Chapel into a massive cinemascope. Pictured: Adoration of the Herdsmen, ca. 1603-05.
In his choice of color, El Greco freed himself from historical or biblical archetypes. Four centuries ahead of the modern period, he was already encorporating the entire scene into his pictures. His figures were elongated and stretched, and he paid little attention to the standard proportions employed in Renaissance paintings of the time. Pictured: Lamentation of Christ, ca. 1565-70.
Artists of the classical modern period celebrate El Greco as their forerunner. For the Expressionists, he served as an inspiration in the areas of composition and depiction of figures. Representatives of Rhineland Expressionism, like Heinrich Nauen, adopted his motifs and created modern religious paintings. Pictured: Heinrich Nauen's Lamentation of Christ, 1913.
At the beginning of the 20th century, El Greco experienced a renaissance. The painters of the classical modern period identified with the artist. Picasso, too, was inspired by the colorfulness and abstractness of his subjects. Pictured: Pablo Picasso, Portrait of an Unknown Painted Like El Greco, 1899.
Conservative art historians were disparaging of El Greco. But the over-sized hands and distorted proportions were not due to a lack of painterly skill but a conscious part of the composition. German Expressionist Max Beckmann also discovered a new visual language in the Greek painter, which he used in his religious paintings. Pictured: Max Beckmann, Deposition from the Cross, 1917.
The exhibition in Dusseldorf sheds new light on El Greco and his work. It is a unique project examining the influence of 400-year-old paintings on the art of the 20th century. El Greco used religious motifs as a pretense to paint secular themes. That enthused the painters of the classical modern period, as it does visitors today. Pictured: Oskar Kokoschka, Annunciation, 1911.
Painting religious icons was not enough for El Greco, who was born Dominikos Theotokopoulos in Crete in 1541.