El Greco ("The Greek") was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. He usually signed his paintings in Greek letters with his full name, Doménicos Theotokópoulos, underscoring his Greek birth.
El Greco's dramatic and expressionistic style was met with puzzlement by his contemporaries but found appreciation in the 20th century. He is regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism, while his personality and works were a source of inspiration for poets and writers such as Rainer Maria Rilke and Nikos Kazantzakis. El Greco has been characterized by modern scholars as an artist so individual that he belongs to no conventional school. He is best known for tortuously elongated figures and often fantastic or phantasmagorical pigmentation, marrying Byzantine traditions with those of Western painting.
El Greco was born in Crete, which was at that time part of the Republic of Venice, and the centre of Post-Byzantine art. El Greco was descended from a prosperous urban family. El Greco's father, Geórgios Theotocópoulos, was a merchant and tax collector. The Theotocópoulos family was Greek Orthodox. El Greco apparently transferred to Catholicism after his arrival to the West, and was certainly Catholic in Spain, where he described himself as a "devout Catholic" in his will.
El Greco received his initial training as an icon painter of the Cretan school, the leading centre of post-Byzantine art. He trained and became a master within Orthodox tradition before traveling at 26 to Venice, as other Greek artists had done.
In 1563, at the age of twenty-two, El Greco was described in a document as a "master" of the guild. Unlike other Cretan artists in Venice, El Greco substantially altered his style by inventing new and unusual interpretations of traditional religious subject matter. His works painted in Italy were influenced by the Venetian Renaissance style of the period, with agile, elongated figures reminiscent of Tintoretto and a chromatic framework that connects him to Titian. In 1570 he moved to Rome, where he opened a workshop and uted a series of works.
In 1577, El Greco emigrated first to Madrid, then to Toledo, where he lived and worked until his death 1614. In Toledo, El Greco received several major commissions and produced his mature works. At the time, Toledo was the religious capital of Spain. He did not plan to settle permanently in Toledo, since his final aim was to win the favor of Philip II of Spain and make his mark in his court. Indeed, he did manage to secure two important commissions from the monarch: "Allegory of the Holy League" and "Martyrdrom of St. Maurice". However, the king did not like these works and placed the St Maurice altarpiece in the chapter-house rather than the intended chapel. He gave no further commissions to El Greco.