El Greco was a painter, sculptor, and architect who was associated with the Spanish and the Venetian Renaissance. His name is a pseudonym for his Greek name, Doménikos Theotokópoulos. Showing his extraordinary talent for painting, he trained under the masters and traveled to Venice and then to Rome in 1570 and opened a workshop, training other young artists and painting his Biblical friezes. His paintings and fame flourished mostly in the city of Toledo in Spain. Here he moved in during the latter half of the 1570s and he immediately took a liking to the place with its basic spiritual inclinations towards Christian faith and thus he lived and worked there till his death. He was greatly under the influence of Michelangelo and Titian, he became a model for the Expressionists, especially Paul Cezanne and later, the Cubist Movement, spearheaded by Picasso, which followed his structure and techniques of portrait painting with Mannerism.
El Greco became a master in his profession as he innovated a dramatic, expressionistic style of portrait painting, which was criticized severely by contemporary artists of the Renaissance but which was understood only in the 20the century. El Greco has inspired poets like Rainer Maria Rilke and writer, Nikos Kazantzakis. El Greco was unconventional and bold in his tortuous, elongated figures, use of inner light, fantastic and surrealist pigmentations and for mingling the Byzantine traditions of color with Western structures, especially the portraits made by masters, Titian and Tintoretto.
El Greco’s artistic techniques
El Greco is fundamentally known for his artworks that were composed with the medium oil paints on canvas with exceptional approach of the subject and dynamic innovative techniques. Also, El Greco’s works were marked by the imaginative flourish and his intuition rather than any subjective character depiction he considered all classicist criteria of painting as disdainful he would not abide with measure or proportion, as the classicists wanted it. He believed that art must be graceful and a painter has to achieve grace in art with experience and intuition. He was also called a colorist as he borrows from the rich, gold-leaf hues of Byzantine art and uses bold and dramatic colors in his paintings.
For El Greco, color was the most important part of any painting, more so because it was not under the artist’s control at all times. He declared that color in painting always gains priority over form. El Greco used to mix crude colors in blots and then laboriously repainted and retouched the broad canvases so that they would look flat and natural. A famous art historian, Max Dvorak was the first to analyze El Greco’s art in the view of Mannerism and Antinaturalism, as it follows the Neoplatonic thought process which was prevalent during the Renaissance. This led to a sophisticated form of art and El Greco developed a style all his own.
Also, in his mature paintings, like ‘Christ Healing the Blind’, he dramatizes the spiritual emotions and fervor and transmits them to the audience. Thus, most of El Greco’s paintings are violent or disturbed, with unnaturally tall and slender figures with elongated heads and torsos, which made the paintings more aesthetic and which expressed the drama of the composition. He interwove form and space, something that was done only in 20the century art.
El Greco’s maturity is expressed in his use of light, as every figure in his portraits seem to carry their own light and reflects from an unseen source, making the portrait seem heavenly. This was a prominent idea of Christian Neo-Platonism. The Spanish mysticism of his paintings was influenced by his stay in Toledo, Spain and was reflective of the Counter-Reformation’s ideals. He is such a clever portraitist that he captures not only the sitter’s features but also the character memorably.
Analysis of ‘The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind’
The above-mentioned painting is among the three major works of El Greco’s Italian period (1560-1576) and the painting had been done in three different versions. All the paintings done during this period belong to the Bible texts and their interpretation, sometimes for altarpieces for the churches in the post- Michelangelo era of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, which was very conservative religiously. The painting is among his narratives of religious history, also known as ‘historia’, as he symbolically paints the Biblical texts. He attempts to render three-dimensional spaces in these compositions with the means of perspective and following Michelangelo’s line of structure, he draws and designs to remove all the flaws in human anatomy. Like the Venetians, he draws in the poetic style, with brilliant color and luminosity in his paintings. There is also a subtlety about these paintings which adds to the dramatic element of the Biblical story of Christ healing the blind.
The Biblical story is that Christ mixed the mud with his spittle and rubbed the mixture on the eyes of the blind men that resulted in the miracle of the blind getting restored vision. The miracle is spiritual rather than physical, as the replacement of sight by Christ actually refers to the restoration of Christian faith to ignorant masses. El Greco had been given the commission by the Cardinals at the time in Italy and he had been given strict directions about the portraiture which was meant to be apocryphal but not trite or obscene or provocative in any manner. His other religious works at this time were ‘Flight to Egypt’ and ‘Purification of the Temple’, all of which carry the same techniques of light and portraiture, as El Greco transformed Biblical texts into dramatic and spiritual visions for the spectator.
The four gospels of Matthew 9:27-34; 20:29-34; Mark 8:22-5; Luke 18:35-43; John 9:1-22 have written of this miracle but El Greco dramatizes the whole conception in his second version of the painting, where he has changed certain elements of the composition, structurally and thematically. The painting has the figures of Christ and the blind man, who is kneeling in front of the red-robed hierarchical figure of Jesus, both of them in the immediate and central foreground space of the painting.
Off-center to the left of them both in the city square building, an imposing structure with arches and columns that forms the background of the composition and then recedes into the vanishing point of a pedimental gateway. The top left corner of the composition shows turbulent clouds in the sky, which was El Greco’s way of showing the tension of the material and the spiritual spheres. In the left foreground space, there are a group of witnesses of the miracle, pointing to Christ as he is touching the blind man with his right hand touching the man’s back in a gesture of benediction.
Christ has been depicted with a frontal pose to suggest that he is the hierarchical figure and his hand’s movement has been gracefully maintained by the line of the arch behind him. Christ’s robes are portrayed in a blazing red, which makes his character stand out, lending dramatic quality to the composition. His face is filled with a compassionate quality as he blesses the kneeling blind man, while performing the miracle. Many art critics have found the painting similar to Tintoretto’s painting, ‘The removal of the body of Saint Mark’. The blind man seems to be grateful as he looks up to the son of God, who will reward his faith with the power of sight. In the immediate foreground, El Greco has depicted an elderly couple sitting, who can be assumed to be the parents of the blind man and it also subtly points to the fact that the youth has been blind since birth.
Immediately beside the miracle’s site, to the right of the figure of Christ is a group of men, with a particularly striking Achilles’ figure of a semi-naked man, pointing to something in the distance with his left arm. The figure was praised for its perfect and attractive anatomy, which was one of the strong points of El Greco. There is another meaning to the inattentive group standing to the right of Christ it denotes that the spread of faith was not complete, even after Christ performed the miracle of healing the blind. The citizens were still drawn to other physical aspects of life, refusing to recognize the spiritual truth, embodied in Christ’s person. Thus, the miracle that Christ is performing does not form the central theme of the portrait.
It can be stated that the basic style of the painting incorporates dramatization of peril and pain as the fundamental need of the painting demanded such elements. This is because the subject of the painting was formulated to evoke spiritual feelings and it had to be mixed with the fundamentals of the realist beliefs. The juxtaposition of these two modes of approach makes the painting an absolute piece of great artistry. The use of spirituality in a dramatic mode sustaining the elements of day-to-day subjects like a robe, people of the marketplace and ordinary elements make the painting one of the highest order of imagination and one of the greatest manifestations of the idealism of spirituality.
One of the most dramatic and eye-catching figures in the portrait belongs to a person in the group of people gathered on the extreme right of the painting. They are all witnesses to the miracle that Christ is performing and there is an expression of awe and amazement on their faces. Among them is a wild-eyed, gesticulating old man, a figure that is almost seeking to come out of the group, pointing to Christ and the blind man, with a violent expression on his face. According to art critics, this man was a rhetor, who was kept in the portrait to give a choric comment on the theme—the dramatically twisted gestures and expressions of the man show El Greco’s Mannerist influence. This painting will be remembered for the blending of the spiritual with the dramatic.
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