VIP Tour of “El Greco” in Toledo
El Greco: Life and Legacy
Among Madrid Experience’s wide variety of bespoke tours, exclusive activities, different visits, and thematic routes, it is worth mentioning the VIP Tour dedicated to El Greco. This bespoke VIP Tour in Toledo will help you understand the painter’s style, whether you see it at the Prado Museum or in Toledo, the city where he took up residence in Spain and where he lived until his death.
The city celebrated in 2014 the fourth centenary anniversary of the Cretan painter with several exceptional exhibitions throughout Toledo, the city where he turned into the master painter we know today.
Our guests were able to visit one of these exhibitions privately, as part of their VIP Toledo Tour, and it turned into a really luxurious experience, given the quality of the paintings being exhibited and the uniqueness of the venue which held it: the ancient Santa Cruz hospital. This institution was created in 1510 by Cardinal Cisneros as part of the program outlined by the Catholic Monarchs and which today can still be enjoyed in the form of two Paradores: those of Leon and Santiago de Compostela.
The Museum of Santa Cruz is indeed a unique setting, given its Greek cross layout, organized in one single, and magnificent, space over two levels, the original wooden Mudejar-style paneling, which remains in a perfect state, even 500 years later.
When speaking about an artist, it is common to state his date and place of birth, but on this occasion it is important to note that Domenikos Teotokopulos died in Toledo in 1614. This was the city that saw, and even helped, his extraordinary talent to blossom, after having studied his craft in his hometown of Candia, and having lived for seven years in Venice and Rome. From his native Crete he took the Orthodox religious painting’s idea that icons were not images of the real, tangible world, but rather windows that allow you to enter a spiritual dimension, where another type or rules preside. In this immaterial space, gravity, geometry and perspective are far from being the norm, thus images appear to be deformed and floating over a surreal space, and cloth does not fall naturally but rather it becomes engorged as if fueled by a heavenly wind.
The old joke that said El Greco painted in a crooked style because he had bad eyesight falls apart when we contemplate a painting such as “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz”. Here, the lower part is a perfect representation of the real world, as real as looking in a mirror, while the upper part, the one the Count’s soul elevates itself to, gains that particular quality of his where it has neither a material consistency nor bodies made of flesh and blood.
The exhibition allowed us to appreciate his great talent as a portrait painter as was seen on the faces of his son Jorge Manuel, for example, who was his disciple as a painted, sculptor and, even, architect. It is to him that we owe Toledo’s Town Hall. It was precisely this talent which gave him an excellent reputation among Toledo’s nobility, even though King Phillip II and the court in Madrid were never interested in this side of him. Because of that, we have no portraits of important people from him, only Spanish gentlemen dressed in black with their white ruffled collars whose identity was lost through the passage of time.
The only painting King Phillip II commissioned El Greco to do was “The Martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion”, a large canvas which took over two years to finish and resides at the Royal Palace of El Escorial. When it was delivered, the monarch stared at it for a long time, asked the price, and, without arguing about it, paid the artist. He would never commission anything else from him. El Greco had made a serious marketing mistake: he created a beautiful painting, filled with handsome and expressive bodies with bare legs. Perfect for an Italian ballroom, but not for the Hieronymite monk’s chapel, who dedicated their lives to fasting, meditating and praying.
The second great commission from the Madrid court was the altarpiece of the María de Aragón School, which was destroyed in the XIX century to build Spain’s Senate.
The altarpiece must have measured about 10 meters and was made up of 6 large paintings, five of which are at the Prado Museum and originally came from the Trinidad Museum, which was created to hold the works of art obtained after the set of decrees of ecclesiastical confiscations designed by Spain’s Prime Minister, Mendizábal, were passed in 1836-1837. This impressive ensemble shows the painter’s strength and mastery, as well as his vision of the spiritual dimension which the work represents, filled as it is with pure energy. Recent radiographic studies have shown that these immense canvases were painted “alla prima”, that is, placing the color straight on the canvas, without a drawing.
Although he is known universally as El Greco, he should really be known as El Griego, as he appears on Toledo’s texts about him. This Italian denomination is owed to the fact that for a long time, he was considered to be an Italian painter, which is what he presented himself to be when he arrived in Spain, calling himself Domenico Teotocopuli, and saying he was a disciple of Titian, something which, as of yet, remains unproven.
His painting, “The Adoration of the Shepherds” is a mature work and was made by the painted to adorn his own funeral chapel at the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo. Mendizábal’s set of decrees took the painting to the Trinidad Museum and, later on, to the Prado Museum, where it can be seen today. Therefore, the painter’s tomb appears dispirited, being devoid of this well-deserved, and original, decoration. Seeing as how in the West we have been immersed since the Renaissance in material and tactile religious art, it has taken us four centuries to start to understand what El Greco’s purpose was: to make visible the invisible.
Pilar Baselga – Académica y colaboradora de Madrid Experience
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