Fundamental Paintings to Understand the History of Painting
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (1586). El Greco
Oil on canvas. 487.7 x 360.7 cm
Santo Tomé Church. Toledo, Spain
Before settling in Toledo, El Greco studied in Venice and Rome. These cities were “confronted” as regards art. Roman mannerists (as the Florentine) prioritized drawing, form over color, deifying Michelangelo. On the other hand, Venetians indicated Tiziano as the greatest and attacked Michelangelo because of his imperfect management of color.
El Greco was a huge artist who solved the issue in a very simple way: he took the best of each school.
In his evolution towards a definitive style, he lengthened and slimmed the figures of his characters —a very Mannerist characteristic— to grant them grace and elegance.
He also put those figures in sinuous poses, the difficult figure serpentinate with which the painters of that time showed their true virtuosity.
In order to give a dramatic touch, he concentrated the characters of the scene in a reduced space. He superposed them, crowded them together.
His treatment of light is very different from the usual one. The sun never shines in his paintings, each figure seems to have his own light or reflects the light of a non-visible source. This use of light helps to create an unreal, artificial beauty. We can also appreciate in his work an exaggerated movement, “overplayed” and a coloring so intense that turns out to be unnatural. Each painting of El Greco is an amazing “show.”
Sophistication, affectation, extravagance, eccentricity. His work has it all except simplicity and that is why he is considered as one of the great masters of Mannerism.
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