Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mannerism (pt. 3)

The real name of the artist who became known as El Greco ("The Greek") was Domeriko Theotocopoulos.  His art style used lots of emotion and movement.  After moving to Italy from his native home in Greece, he studied the works of his predecessors, but of course added his own personal touch as well.  Compare his Pietà with Titian's Entombment (Titian on top; El Greco below).

El Greco spent the latter half of his life in Toledo, Spain.  In 1580 he was commissioned by King Philip II of Spain to paint The Martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion.  When the king saw the finished product, he thought it was awful and rejected it.
It shows the fate of Maurice and his soldiers, who were (according to tradition) both loyal subjects to the pagan Roman emperor and Christian believers.  Maurice and his soldiers refused to worship pagan deities.  Maurice is explaining the situation to his officers in the foreground; on the left, his men are being stripped naked and beheaded; and above, in Heaven, angels await the martyrs with laurels.
A few years later, the Church of St. Tomé in Toledo hired El Greco to paint the burial of a man who died two hundred years prior.  This massive painting took two years, and the artist considered it his greatest work.
It is The Burial of Count Orgaz.  When the count, a very religious man, died, it was said that St. Stephan and St. Augustine buried him with their own hands.  After the count's death, the villagers would frequently attend the Church of St. Tomé to pay homage to their beloved count; but after a while, the villagers stopped coming.  El Greco's painting was a reminder to the villagers and to all who looked at it that the count ought still to be commemorated.
The painting almost has two halves.  The horizontal line of heads divides Heaven and earth.  The priest looks up to Heaven, where Christ and the angels await the count's arrival.  The young boy on the left points to the saints and introduces you to the scene, and this young boy is none other than El Greco's son.  (A paper coming out of his pocket notes his birth-date).  And the person above St. Stephan, waving at the viewer, could be the artist himself.

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