El Greco's Masterpieces, Toledo

El Greco's Masterpieces (Self Guided), Toledo

Domnnikos Theotokopoulos, most widely known as El Greco or "The Greek," was a Greek painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance. El Greco was well ahead of his time. His dramatic and expressionistic style is regarded as a precursor of both Expressionism and Cubism of the 20th century.

El Greco was born in Crete, Greece, and studied painting in Italy. In 1577, he received a commission for nine paintings from the Monastery of Santo Domingo. That brought him to Toledo.

The city and the artist proved a good match. El Greco worked, married, raised a family, and lived in Toledo for the rest of his life. After his death, his remains are buried in the crypt beneath the Monastery of Santo Domingo. Today one can find El Greco's paintings throughout the city.

An altarpiece in the Santa Cruz Museum, fashioned by El Greco in 1613, tells of Mary's ascent to Heaven. She is borne up by billowing clouds of light, serenaded by angels. Byzantine faces, colors, and fluidity capture the Catholic mystery.

The Santa Cruz Museum also has The Crucifixion, Immaculate Conception, Annunciation, Holy Family, Assumption, and the Purification of the Temple and two views of 16th century Toledo, all by El Greco.

The Disrobing of Christ, finished in 1579, is in the Cathedral of Toledo. Christ is clad in red. Around him, his tormentors abuse him. They are in darkness. One man in yellow prepares the crucifix. Women look on in horror.

At the Church of Saint Tom is one of El Greco's most famous works, "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz." At the funeral of Don Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, Count of Orgaz, Saint Stephan, and Saint Augustine come down from Heaven to lay the Count to rest while his soul goes up.

In the El Greco Museum in the old Jewish quarter are 13 paintings of Christ and his disciples. Christ is flanked by six apostles to his right and six to his left. Judas' place is taken by Saint Paul.

Picasso proclaimed French painter Paul Cézanne to be the "father of us all." El Greco then is the grandfather.
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El Greco's Masterpieces Map

Guide Name: El Greco's Masterpieces
Guide Location: Spain » Toledo (See other walking tours in Toledo)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 5
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Monasterio de Santo Domingo el Antiguo (Monastery of Saint Dominic the Old)
  • Museo de Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Museum)
  • The Disrobing of Christ Painting at Toledo Cathedral
  • Iglesia de Santo Tome (Church of St. Tom)
  • Museo del Greco (El Greco Museum)
Monasterio de Santo Domingo el Antiguo (Monastery of Saint Dominic the Old)

1) Monasterio de Santo Domingo el Antiguo (Monastery of Saint Dominic the Old)

Monastery of Saint Dominic the Old is a Cistercian convent founded in the 6th century by King Alfonso VI after his reconquest of the city in 1085.

In July 1577, when El Greco came up from Rome to sign contracts for a group of paintings for the convent, he saw a refurbished Mudejar structure. The walls had Ionic pilasters; there was a dome, supported by pendentives, two courtyards, and a brick cloister. It was not impressive. He set to work.

By 1579 he had completed a total of nine paintings for Santo Domingo, including the "Disrobing of Christ," "The Trinity," and "The Assumption of the Virgin." Seven canvases were for the high altar and two for the side altars.

At the present day, the paintings remaining in the monastery are Saint Bernard, Saint Benedict, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, The Holy Trinity, the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Assumption of the Virgin, and Resurrection. The Disrobing of Christ is now at Toledo Cathedral.

El Greco settled in Toledo and produced most of his work there. He had a son, Jorge, who also was a painter. El Greco died in 1614, and his body lies in the crypt beneath the church. The Monastery museum houses other works of art, but none, like those of El Greco.
Museo de Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Museum)

2) Museo de Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz Museum)

It is impossible to imagine Toledo without thinking of Domenikos Theotokopoulos, also known as El Greco ("The Greek"). El Greco won the hearts of Toledo in his time, and many of his works can be seen in the Santa Cruz Museum. The museum is in the old Hospital de Santa Cruz, founded in the 15th century by archbishop Pedro Gonzales de Mendoza.

The archbishop envisaged a centralized location to harbor orphaned and abandoned children in the city. The building is in a Greek cross plan with two of four courtyards completed. The vast Plateresque facade is by architect Alonso de Covarrubias. The crossing with ribbed vaults covers the museum's two main floors.

Four galleries, made by Enrique Egas, connect with the courtyards on two floors. Generally, Moorish traditions are combined with Flemish artistry and some Mannerist elements. The entablature is flanked by false columns with niches and stone canopies. The front pediment features Saint Helen discovering the True Cross.

The museum is dedicated to Archeology, Fine Arts, and Decorative Arts. Works by El Greco at the museum include The Immaculate Conception altarpiece and Veronica with the Holy Face.
The Disrobing of Christ Painting at Toledo Cathedral

3) The Disrobing of Christ Painting at Toledo Cathedral

The painting "The Disrobing of Christ" by Domenikos Theotocópoulos (El Greco) took two years to create. It was done on commission for the high altar of the sacristy of the Cathedral of Toledo. It was finished in 1579, but it was received not without controversy. The painting was valued at 950 ducats. El Greco was paid only 350.

The commissioners were displeased at some of the figures and colors in the painting. El Greco agreed to remove some of the figures but failed to do so. While the church fathers were not completely satisfied with the work, critics have acclaimed the painting as a "masterpiece of extraordinary originality."

The canvas is alive with color and movement. Christ, in the center of the vertically oriented scene, wears the purplish red robes of martyrdom. His expression is elevated and serene. His tormentors, all clad in dark colors or armor, press around him. They appear agitated. They point and gesticulate. The three Marys look on in anguish.

More than 17 versions of the painting are known to exist. The Disrobing immediately became hugely successful. Replica versions, including at least two by the Master, can be found in museums such as the National Gallery in Oslo, the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, and Upton House in Warwickshire, England.
Iglesia de Santo Tome (Church of St. Tom)

4) Iglesia de Santo Tome (Church of St. Tom) (must see)

The Church of Saint Tom, in the historical center of Toledo, was founded by King Alfonso VI of Leon after his siege of the city in 1085. Like many other mosques in the city, it was undamaged at the time. It was easily converted to use as a church. By the 14th century, the building had fallen into neglect and needed a total rebuild.

The church was rebuilt in charge of Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, Lord of Orgaz. At the time of his death in 1323, he was mayor of Toledo. He was honored as a generous donor to religious institutions. He restored and rebuilt the edifice and changed the minaret into a bell tower.

The church has three naves in a cruciform layout covered by a barrel vault and a polygonal apse. The largest chapel is a mixture of styles, including Mudéjar and Gothic. The central dome was raised in the shape of the eight-pointed Islamic star, Rub el Hizb. Near the main altar is the door to the bell tower staircase.

The church's chapels have two baroque reredoses (ornamental screens covering the wall at the back of an altar) and a 16th-century baptismal font. The main 19th-century replacement chapel holds the painting "The unbelief of St. Thomas" by 18th-century artist Vicente Lopez Portana.

Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo is buried in the Conception Chapel at the foot of the nave on the side of the Epistle. In this land of miracles, El Greco's painting of 1584 portrays a real top-flight Heavenly vision. It is "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz." El Greco's painting is the crowning centerpiece of the Church of St Tom.

Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine descend to assist at the funeral before dazzled eyewitnesses. Everyone is included in the massive painting: the artist himself and his son, Jorge, Philip II, Christ, Madonna, and crowds of nobles. The Count of Orgaz is received in Heaven as his armored body is being lowered by the saints into its grave.
Museo del Greco (El Greco Museum)

5) Museo del Greco (El Greco Museum) (must see)

Don Benigno de la Vega-Incian y Flaques, Marquis of Vega-Incian, who died in 1942, was one of the most important patrons of the arts of Spain. He developed several cultural projects serving a public purpose, such as the El Greco Museum (Museo del Greco in Toledo) in 1911, Cervantes' House (the Casas de Cervantes) in Valladolid in 1915, and the Museum of Romanticism (Museo del Romanticismo) in Madrid (1924).

Early in the 20th century, don Benigno bought some houses in the old Jewish section of Toledo. The houses were restored by architect Eladio Laredo and made into a reconstruction of the House of El Greco. Don Benigno created a museum with a historical atmosphere. He lived in the house until he died. It was then bequeathed to the state.

The museum enabled the gathering of works by El Greco scattered throughout Toledo. In 1925 the museum added new rooms to include Spanish paintings of the 17th century. The El Greco Museum is housed in a former hospital with Moorish ceilings. There is 17th-century furniture and pottery from Talavera de la Reina.

The collection features 13 paintings of Christ and his disciples created by El Greco between 1610 and 1614. It was a single project featuring Christ and the apostles, except that Judas is replaced by St Paul. All these works are oil on canvas measuring 97 X 77 cm. El Greco was a Mannerist painter. His real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos.

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