El Greco: Life and Work – A New History by Fernando Marías - review by Tim Hilton

Tim Hilton

Agony & Ecstasy

El Greco: Life and Work – A New History


Thames & Hudson 352pp £60

What manner of man was Doménikos Theotokópoulos, born in Crete in 1541, the dramatic, difficult and not quite loveable painter we know as El Greco? First, he was a great voyager, both geographically and culturally. From his native Crete (then a part of the Venetian empire) Doménikos went to Venice in 1567, to Rome in 1570, and then to Toledo in 1577, where he flourished until his death in 1614. Secondly, we know how he grew from his apprenticeship in the traditions of Byzantine art to have a role in the elevated painting of the Italian High Renaissance. He competed with great masters, including Titian and Tintoretto, before, in the second half of his life, he became a strangely individual artist connected – not always comfortably – with the court of Spain.

The nature of El Greco’s proud unhappiness – or alienation, or spiritual unease – is the underlying theme of Fernando Marías’s book. It is a work of didactic and also tantalising interest, quite the most competent account of El Greco ever written. Marías achieves the goal of all serious art

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