El Greco y la pintura moderna / El Greco and Modern Painting
(24 de junio – 5 octubre 2014)
The Museo del Prado commemorated the 4th centenary of the death of the artist known as El Greco (real name Doménikos Theotokópoulos) with a brilliantly conceived exhibition ‘El Greco y la pintura moderna’, that juxtaposed twenty-five of El Greco’s works with those of various different artists from the 20th and late 19th centuries (Manet, Cézanne, Giacometti, Lovis Corinth, Soutine and Modigliani among others). El Greco was rescued from obscurity by an avid group of nineteenth-century collectors, critics, and artists and became one of the select members of the modern pantheon of great painters. It was as a painter who "felt the mystical inner construction" of life that El Greco was admired. For Picasso, as for so many later admirers, El Greco was both the quintessential Spaniard and a proto-modern—a painter of the spirit.
El Greco (1541-1614) was born in Crete and began his life an icon painter. At the age of twenty-six he left Greece and travelled first to Venice and subsequently Spain, settling in Toledo where he lived for the rest of his life. The decision to move west brought about a radical change in his painting technique. If one compares one of his early works (fig.1) with one of his later paintings (fig.3), the development in style is phenomenal. Once in Italy, he set about transforming himself into a disciple of Titian and an avid student of Tintoretto, Veronese and Jacopo Bassano. In his Italian period (fig.2) we can see how he mastered the elements of Renaissance painting, including perspective, figural construction and the ability to stage elaborate narratives.
However, Toledo is where he truly blossomed as an artist. Striving towards a deeply expressive effect, he rejected naturalism and began painting elongated, twisting forms, using radical foreshortening, and unreal colors as the basis of his art. His unique approach was worlds apart from his contemporaries and it was not until the 18th century that his genius began to be appreciated. No other great Western artist moved mentally—as El Greco did—from the flat symbolic world of Byzantine icons to the world-embracing, humanistic vision of Renaissance painting, and then on to a predominantly conceptual kind of art. Those worlds had one thing in common: a respect for Neo-Platonic theory about art embodying a higher realm of the spirit. El Greco's modernism is based on his repudiation of the world of mere appearances in favor of the realm of the intellect and the spirit.
Drawings and colour studies of the Paintings in the Exhibition