Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco, was born in 1541 in Candia, the capital of Crete. In 1566 he was recorded in Candia as a master painter. El Greco probably went to Italy to master the modern Western Renaissance style. He is documented in August 1568 in Venice, where he remained until the autumn of 1570, when he went to Rome. He was profoundly influenced by the rich colors and the free handling of paint of Venetian painters, but there is no evidence to support the tradition that he was apprenticed to Titian.
In Rome, El Greco resided at least for a while at the Farnese Palace, where he became acquainted with the Farnese librarian, Fulvio Orsini, whose belief in the compatibility of art and scholarship seems to have profoundly influenced him. In 1572, El Greco was admitted to the Academy of Saint Luke as a miniature painter.
Unable to obtain major public commissions in Rome, El Greco signed a contract in 1576 in Rome for altarpieces for the important church of Santa Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo. By July 1577 he had arrived in Toledo, and by September 1579 he had completed nine paintings for Santo Domingo. These works helped to establish his reputation as the most gifted artist in Toledo. The dissatisfaction of Philip II with the Martyrdom of Saint Maurice, which El Greco completed in 1582 for the church of El Escorial, effectively ended any hopes of royal patronage that he may have had. It is perhaps for this reason that he decided to remain in Toledo, where he had come in contact with a group of learned churchmen who appreciated his work. By 1585, El Greco appears to have established a corporate workshop capable of producing altar frames and statues as well as paintings.
The decade 1597 to 1607 was a period of intense activity for El Greco. During these years, the artist and his workshop created pictorial and sculptural ensembles for a variety of religious institutions. Between 1607 and 1608 El Greco was involved in a protracted legal dispute with the authorities of the hospital at Illescas concerning the payment for his work; this dispute greatly strained his financial resources and contributed to the economic difficulties that he experienced until his death in 1614. In 1608 he received his last major altarpiece commission, for the Hospital of Saint John the Baptist, Toledo. [Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 42-43.]
Cossío, Manuel B. El Greco. Madrid, 1908. (Rev. ed., Natalia Cossío Jímenez, ed. Barcelona, 1972).
San Román y Fernández, Francisco de Borja. El Greco en Toledo. Madrid, 1910.
Wethey, Harold E. El Greco and His School. 2 vols. Princeton, 1962 (Spanish ed., Madrid, 1967).
Marías, Fernando, and Agustín Bustamente García. Las ideas artísticas de El Greco. Madrid, 1981.
El Greco of Toledo. Exh. cat. The Toledo [Ohio] Museum of Art; Prado, Madrid; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Boston, 1982-1983.
Mann, Richard G. El Greco and His Patrons. Cambridge, 1986.
Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 42-43.