Cretan Craftsman

The painter known to us as El Greco (‘the Greek’), was actually named Domenikos Theotokopoulis, which is clearly why a nickname was in order. He was raised on the island of Crete, where he trained to become an icon painter. But the tiny monastery was too small for his ambitions and he traveled, first to Italy, and then to Spain where he created most of his masterpieces. His period of greatest creativity was 1570 to 1590. In 1577 he moved to Toledo, Spain, and in that same year received the commission for ‘The Disrobing of Christ’, a detail of which is shown here. The woman in blue is the Virgin Mary, and the woman with the red hair Mary Magdalene, the woman in white is Mary Clopas. All together they are often called ‘The Three Marys’. Along with the color activity between Christ’s red robe, Mary’s blue, and Mary Magdalene’s yellow, the real subject of this detail is the foreshortening of the face of the Magdalene, the complex turn of her head and the details of her hair. She’s foregrounded and spotlit partly because she displays the remarkable skill of the artist (see post below). El Greco stayed in Toledo for the rest of his life, dying there in 1614 at the age of 72.