The life of El Greco in 16th-cen­tury Toledo

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY MAR­GARITA POURNARA

“There are no mas­ter­pieces here! Which is just as well be­cause this is where his­tory is.” Pro­fes­sor Ni­cos Had­jini­co­laou picked a rather un­ortho­dox way to in­tro­duce an ex­hi­bi­tion cur­rently on dis­play at the Be­naki Mu­seum in Athens. Run­ning to March 1, “Friends and Pa­trons of El Greco in Toledo” is built around an in­ter­est­ing nar­ra­tive de­vel­oped by the Greek ex­pert on the Span­ish Re­nais­sance artist along with fel­low au­thor­ity on the mat­ter, his­to­rian Richard Ka­gan.

The main fo­cus of the ex­hi­bi­tion is not so much the three Domenikos Theotokopou­los works on dis­play than an ar­ray of manuscripts, books and en­grav­ings. Con­nected as if by in­vis­i­ble threads, the items cre­ate a pic­ture of the Cre­tan artist’s years in Toledo, Spain. The show high­lights his re­la­tion­ship with fam­ily, friends, pa­trons, fel­low Greeks and lead­ing per­son­al­i­ties of 16th-cen­tury Toledo. Por­traits of two of the artist’s in­ti­mate friends, doc­tor Ro­drigo de la Fuente and ju­rist and politi­cian Jeron­imo de Ce­val­los, can be viewed at the ex­hi­bi­tion.

Com­pris­ing a small elite in­flu­enced by Ital­ian cul­ture, El Greco’s mi­lieu was limited in scale. But th­ese were the peo­ple who sup­ported and in­spired the Greek who turned his back on the era’s cre­ative rules, a move which earned him a spot among the great in­no­va­tors in the his­tory of art.

Don’t ex­pect to see large-scale works in the show, but brows­ing the manuscripts can be a very mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, as is the case with El Greco’s trem­bling sig­na­ture in his will, for in­stance.

The show is the first in a se­ries of Athens exhibitions com­mem­o­rat­ing the qu­ater­cente­nary of the artist’s death, with “Domenikos Theotokopou­los be­tween Venice and Rome” open­ing at the Be­naki’s Pireos Street an­nex on Novem­ber 21. El Greco Year 2014 con­tin­ues with “The De­pic­tion of Death in the Work of El Greco,” which opened at the Cy­cladic Art Mu­seum on Novem­ber 14, while exhibitions at the Na­tional Gallery and the Byzan­tine & Christian Mu­seum are also in the works.

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