El Greco’s Toledo

El Greco had been living in Italy, studying the masters, when he heard that the king of Spain was looking for good painters. That would be about the best job a painter could ever get.
He had a couple of influential patron-friends who told him they would put in a good word for him with King Philip.

So El Greco packed up, left Italy with high hopes, and came to Spain. For a while nothing happened. Cosas de palacio van despacio, as Spaniards still tell you with a wink—palace affairs take their time. Then at last he received an “invitation” from the Escorial, King Philip’s new residence, to do two paintings. He worked hard on them and sent them off. What happened?

The King didn’t like them.
Compliments were sent and, presumably, Greco’s fee, but no more commissions came to him from the royal palace.

Greco tried Toledo, which had been the capital of the kingdom before King Philip transferred his court to another city. Toledo was full of important families and rich merchants, prelates, convents and monasteries—a good place to get commissions—IF they liked you, which in Greco’s case, because of his very peculiar style, was always a gamble.

Some Toledanos understandably turned up their noses at his much-stretched figures, with their distorted faces, eerie gray flesh and rough finish; but a few of the determining people saw his greatness and started to give him commissions. So El Greco settled in Toledo and painted there the rest of his life. He ended up loving the old city.  Here is his famous View of Toledo, now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

El Greco Toledo
Toledo still looks very much like this.  See No Place Like Toledo, Spain


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5 Responses to El Greco’s Toledo

  1. erikatakacs says:

    Did he have his style developed by this time, when he painted this landscape? I only see it on the sky, and that’s what I like most about this work. What kind of a man was El Greco? Any stories about him? I love his style but don’t know much about his personality.

  2. iondanu says:

    this really is a great painting! and if Toledo still looks like this it should be a tremendous place to paint! I have no doubt this is not an early work, full mastery of the trade is cristal clear. I know that El greco origin was the isle of Crete. My family name also come from a greek isle called Egina, it seems: Iordakis…

  3. 100swallows says:

    Ah, yes, Danu–the Iordakis is Greek!
    Yes, this view of Toledo was painted late in Greco’s career. He had done a lot of painting even before he left Crete and went to Italy. And a lot of painting there. Actually, I telescoped a bit when I said the Toledanos (and the King) had to put up with his stretched and floating figures and their gray flesh. When he started out in Spain his work wasn’t yet so eccentric.

  4. 100swallows says:

    Hold on, Erika. I’ll write more posts on El Greco soon. Meanwhile, when in doubt about almost anything, go to Wikipedia.

  5. wrjones says:

    I’m with Philip, I don’t want him painting my portrait. I prefer a tanned look.

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