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Painting of the Virgin Mary dress in a blue shroud balancing on a moon crescent while rising above a group of disciples looking up at her.


El Greco: A Chronology of a Life


Today El Greco is revered as one of the greatest of the greats, but during his lifetime—despite his relentless determination and vision—his successes were often challenged artistically and financially.

Candia, Crete (1541–67)

Born Domenikos Theotokopoulos in Candia, Crete (now Iraklion) to Greek Orthodox parents.

About 1550–65
Undertakes an apprenticeship to become an icon painter. 

Lifelong legal battles begin when he is sued by a Venetian nobleman, likely for breach of a commission contract.

Venice (1567–70)

Moves to Venice early in the year and creates paintings that are influenced by Titian, Tintoretto, and other highly successful Venetian artists.

A painting shows the torso of a boy on a lighted stick. The only light in the dark scene comes from the glowing ember. Much of the canvas is black with even the boy's dark hair blending in to the dark background.

A Boy Blowing on an Ember to Light a Candle (El Soplón), about 1570

El Greco. Colomer Collection, Madrid. Photo by Raphaële Kriegel

Rome (1570–77)

Arrives in Rome after touring major cities in central Italy. He is granted residence in the Palazzo Farnese, home of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.

Writes a letter seeking forgiveness for a misstep—unknown to modern historians—that has led to his eviction from the Palazzo Farnese.

Joins the Compagnia di San Luca, a guild that formally allows him to work as a painter in the city, as “Dominico Greco.” By the end of the year, he opens a workshop.

About 1576
Without a major patron or public commissions, El Greco leaves Rome for Spain.

The Holy Trinity

The Holy Trinity, 1577–79

El Greco. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, P00824. © Photographic Archive Museo Nacional del Prado

Toledo (1577–1614)

Paints The Adoration of the Name of Jesus for King Philip II of Spain, hoping to secure a royal commission that does not immediately materialize.

Diego de Castilla, a connection from Rome, commissions the artist to paint The Disrobing of Christ for Toledo Cathedral and to decorate a church in Toledo known as Santo Domingo el Antiguo. 

Jorge Manuel Theotokopoulos, El Greco’s only known child, is born. El Greco and Jorge Manuel’s mother, Jerónima de las Cuevas, never marry.

Photograph of a replica of the Assumption of the Virgin installed in a gold central altarpiece flanked by two lateral altars.

Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo, view of the altar, which includes nine paintings, five sculptures, and the framing structure designed by El Greco. Today, many of the paintings, including The Assumption, are replicas of the originals.

Over the course of the summer, El Greco completes The Disrobing of Christ for Toledo Cathedral. Lawsuits ensue over the value of the work and the cathedral’s demands that El Greco change elements of the painting. The artist receives final payment three years later without having made the requested adjustments.

El Greco’s nine paintings, including The Assumption of the Virgin, and five sculptures for the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo are installed in time for the building’s dedication.

Completes The Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion, a commission from Philip II for the basilica at El Escorial. Although he admired the high quality of the work, Philip commissions a replacement from another artist and installs El Greco’s painting in a less prominent place than the intended location.

El Greco signs a lease to rent three apartments in the palace of the Marquis of Villena in Toledo for his family and a workshop. In this space, El Greco and his assistants produce both large-scale commissions and works that could be purchased off the rack.

Andres Nuñez de Madrid, parish priest of the church of Santo Tomé, commissions the artist to paint The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.

Another valuation dispute occurs over The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. After a series of legal battles, the church of Santo Tomé agrees to pay El Greco in part by settling some of his debts.

Commissioned by his longtime friend and patron, Pedro Salazar de Mendoza, administrator of the Hospital of San Juan Bautista (called the Hospital Tavera), to produce a tabernacle and five sculptures. He is also commissioned to produce an altarpiece for the Colegio de Doña María de Aragón in Madrid.

Domenico Theotokópoulos, called El Greco

Martín Ramírez de Zayas, a professor of theology at the University of Toledo, commissions El Greco to paint three altarpieces for his family burial chapel of San José.

Although eventually settled, El Greco is involved in legal disputes regarding payment for the commissions for the Hospital Tavera, Colegio de Colegio de Doña María de Aragón, and chapel of San José.

Jorge Manuel, now about 25 years old, takes on more legal responsibility in the workshop, acting as a witness for contracts and receiving money on his father’s behalf.

El Greco and Jorge Manuel receive a commission for an altarpiece with paintings and sculptures for the church of the Hospital of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad in Illescas, a village between Toledo and Madrid.

El Greco rents 24 rooms in the palace of the Marquis of Villena to accommodate the increasing size and activity level of his workshop.

Along with more disputes over value, the Hospital de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad complains about El Greco’s depiction of contemporary figures and his failure to meet the commission deadline, among other issues. The artist responds by filing a complaint of his own over delayed payment.

El Greco and the Hospital of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad agree to a final valuation of the altarpiece, but El Greco does not make the requested adjustments to the paintings.

El Greco is asked to complete the decoration of the Oballe Chapel in the church of San Vicente after the death of the original artist. He agrees but proposes some changes to the design.

A painting shows a group of figures: a man kneels in the foreground on the left, his arms stretched upward; the figures in the background are nude, some standing in classical positions kneeling or moving about looking skyward.

The Vision of Saint John, about 1609–14

El Greco. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1956, 56.48

Salazar de Mendoza offers El Greco a second commission for the Hospital Tavera: to create three painted altarpieces (with their frames) and 12 sculptures for the chapel. 

El Greco and Jorge Manuel sue the guarantors of the Hospital Tavera for payment of promised funds and in the meantime limit their work on the commission.

The abbess and prioress of the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo offers El Greco and his son a family burial vault on the condition that Jorge Manuel will decorate it at his own expense and create a monument for the monastery.

The Adoration of the Shepherds

The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1612–14

El Greco. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, P02988. © Photographic Archive Museo Nacional del Prado.

The Adoration of the Shepherds
is installed with El Greco’s tomb. The family vault is eventually transferred to another church, now destroyed.

Sick in bed, El Greco gives Jorge Manuel and Jorge Manuel’s mother, Jerónima de las Cuevas, authority to write his last will and testament, pay his debts, and arrange for his burial.

El Greco dies in Toledo on April 7 at age 73 and is buried at Santo Domingo el Antiguo. The unfinished Oballe and Tavera commissions pass to Jorge Manuel.


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