El Greco (1541-1614)
EL GRECO - Doménikos Theotokópoulos (1541-1614)
'View of Toledo', 1597 (oil on canvas)
Known as El Greco (the Greek) because he was born in Crete, Doménikos Theotokópoulos was one of the great masters of Spanish painting. He was proud of his national heritage, so much so that he signed his work using characters from the Greek alphabet. During his formative artistic years in Venice and Rome, he was influenced by Tintoretto and Michelangelo respectively. In 1577 he moved to Spain where he finally settled in Toledo until his death in 1614.
El Greco has a style which is quite unique in European painting: a strange combination of the expressive power of Italian Mannerism but illuminated by a mystical light and colour that reflects the artist's intense spiritual fervour.
Toledo was the religious capital of Spain and El Greco's 'View of Toledo' is a landscape painting with a spiritual dimension. He chooses to portray the scene just at that moment before a storm bursts. The heavens are at war, with the sun just holding out against the impending thunderstorm and the atmosphere is electric. The spire of Toledo Cathedral seems to conduct this energy to the surrounding buildings while the landscape bristles with static charge. At this portentous moment the voice of God speaks through the forces of nature. It is an apocalyptic scene which recalls St. John's vision of the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelations, 'He showed me Jerusalem, the Holy City, coming out of Heaven from God and shining with the glory of God. The city shone like a precious stone, like a jasper, clear as crystal.'
This is a landscape of unearthly power and drama: a dialogue between heaven and earth conducted appropriately by the cathedral spire. In fact, El Greco has changed the actual positions of the cathedral and the Alcázar palace to increase the effectiveness of his composition.