Biographies & Space: Placing the Subject in Art and Architecture

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The inventories compiled after his death confirm the fact that he was a man of extraordinary culture—a true Renaissance humanist.

Placing the Subject in Art and Architecture, 1st Edition

El Greco himself prepared an edition of Vitruvius, accompanied by drawings, but the manuscript is lost. It can be assumed that he needed space for his atelier more than for luxurious living. In the palace was listed by the historian Francisco de Pisa as one of the handsomest in the city; it was not a miserable ruined structure, as some romantic writers have presumed.

El Greco surely lived in considerable comfort, even though he did not leave a large estate at his death. Never before had the artist had a commission of such importance and scope. Even the architectural design of the altar frames, reminiscent of the style of the Venetian architect Palladio, was prepared by El Greco. The figures are brought close into the foreground, and in the Apostles a new brilliance of colour is achieved. The technique remains Venetian in the laying on of the paint and in the liberal use of white highlights; yet the intensity of the colours and the manipulation of contrasts, verging on dissonance , is distinctly El Greco.

For the first time, the importance of his assimilation of the art of Michelangelo comes to the fore, particularly in the painting of the Trinity , in the upper part of the high altar, where the powerful sculpturesque body of the nude Christ leaves no doubt of the ultimate source of inspiration.

In the lateral altar painting of the Resurrection , the poses of the standing soldiers and the contrapposto a position in which the upper and lower parts of the body are contrasted in direction of those asleep are also clearly Michelangelesque in inspiration. At the same time, El Greco created another masterpiece of extraordinary originality—the Espolio Disrobing of Christ.

Biographies & Space

In designing the composition vertically and compactly in the foreground he seems to have been motivated by the desire to show the oppression of Christ by his cruel tormentors. He chose a method of space elimination that is common to middle and late 16th-century Italian painters known as Mannerists, and at the same time he probably recalled late Byzantine paintings in which the superposition of heads row upon row is employed to suggest a crowd.


The original altar of gilded wood that El Greco designed for the painting has been destroyed, but his small sculptured group of the Miracle of St. Ildefonso still survives on the lower centre of the frame.

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Maurice — The latter painting did not meet with the approval of the king, who promptly ordered another work of the same subject to replace it. The king may have been troubled by the almost shocking brilliance of the yellows as contrasted to the ultramarine in the costumes of the main group of the painting, which includes St. Maurice in the centre.

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The brushwork remains Venetian in the way that the colour suggests form and in the free illusionistic and atmospheric creation of space. El Greco clearly distinguished between heaven and earth: above, heaven is evoked by swirling icy clouds, semiabstract in their shape, and the saints are tall and phantomlike; below, all is normal in the scale and proportions of the figures. According to the legend , Saints Augustine and Stephen appeared miraculously to lay the Count de Orgaz in his tomb as a reward for his generosity to their church.

In golden and red vestments they bend reverently over the body of the count, who is clad in magnificent armour that reflects the yellow and reds of the other figures. The men in contemporary 16th-century dress who attend the funeral are unmistakably prominent members of Toledan society. El Greco.

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Article Media. Info Print Print. The period that follows is the most fruitful of his career, resulting in the most perfect expressions of French classicism. In terms of religious themes, he now prefers the New Testament and the fundamental subjects of the Gospels — the Holy Family, the crucifixion, the burial — and works with variations surrounding the victory of will on the passions of stoic Roman historians.

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He seeks the concentration of effects rather than their richness by limiting vocabulary as much as possible. This evolution is obvious in the second version of The Arcadian Shepherds , which is calculated, contemplative and philosophical whilst the first version was much more spontaneous, lively and poetic. The same applies to the second series of the Seven Sacraments , which was completed for Chantelou between et and is considerably more solemn than the first the Eucharist is a good example as one of the most serious works by Poussin.

With Moses saved from the Water , painted in , Poussin succeeds in translating the commotion of the women discovering the child through the contrast of the drapery. Here we find the application of his theory of modes: the painting deals with human actions and has to present them in harmony with reason, in a logical and orderly manner, addressing the spirit, not the eye, with each subject demanding its own specific treatment. Landscapes give new impetus to his creations. At the end of the s, the landscape becomes the indifferent location of the ephemeral destiny of man The Funeral of Phocion , rigorously constructed upon an intellectual mode, in opposition with the misfortunes of human destinies.

Landscape remains his favoured mode of expression, but his style changes once again. Having more or less become a recluse, working more to satisfy his need to paint than to please others, his final works reflect internal soul-searching. Serenity and simplicity are found in his figured scenes, eliminating almost all picturesque detail. The calmness is accentuated to the extreme; the expression of faces is reduced to a minimum. The composition is stripped back, constructed using horizontals and verticals only.

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The featured people are reduced to simple geometric forms. He also comes back to mythological accounts, but from a different perspective: he wishes to express a truth, evoking the major eternal forces. In these paintings, nature takes on a new character: it is no longer orderly and subject to the laws of reason but wild, invading the painting where man occupies an increasingly negligible space. Apollo in Love with Daphne , painted in and incomplete upon his death, summarises the strange traits of his final period: the wildness and grandeur of the inanimate, calm and emotionless nature of the human actors, which come directly from the mind of the artist.