Credit: Samuel H. Kress Collection
Painting: Oil on Canvas
By Dylan Planeta
Domenikos Theotokopoulos was born in 1541 on Crete. Later in life, Spaniards found it hard to pronounce Domenikos’ name and from then on gave him the nickname El Greco. In El Greco’s early life he began to receive training in icon painting at the Cretan school which was the leading institution of post-Byzantine art at the time.
Later on in his life, around 1566, El Greco decided to stay in Venice where he began to invent different styles of painting. To further develop this talent, El Greco moved to Rome in 1570. There, El Greco invented a new technique while sitting in a dark room which, he believed, was able to help him be more productive in thought than in a light room. He felt that darkness was less disruptive to his “inner light”. El Greco was very critical of other established painters such as Michelangelo stating that “he was a good man, but he did not know how to paint”. In 1577 El Greco made his way to Madrid eventually settling in Toledo where he created the majority of his works. It was in Toledo where El Greco signed a contract with the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo for a group of paintings to decorate it. By the end of 1579 he made 9 paintings for the church.
Before his death, El Greco painted Laocoön in between 1610-1614. Laocoön is a painting that shows the Roman and Greek story of the deaths of Laocoön, a Trojan priest, and his two sons. The story is told that Laocoön and his sons were killed by sea serpents as punishment for Laocoön trying to warn his fellow Trojans about the Trojan horse plot. The painting depicts Laocoön struggling for his last breath of life against the sea serpents. El Greco, according to artble.com, puts this scene in front of Toledo which art historian, Marek Rostworowski, believes was a tribute to the victims of the Castillian War of the Communities in 1520.