Domenico Theotocopoli, El Greco, considered the first great genius painter in Spanish history of art, was already a legend while alive, and his works have marked the history of painting. He was capable of adapting his Bizantine style to a completly western style, being one of the artists who better understood and developed the Mannierism movement, while becoming one of the most interesting and original painters of 16th century Europe.
He worked in his natal Crete, the Venice of the last Titian, and the post-Michael Angelo Rome, and during the second half of his life he stablished himself in Toledo, during the reign of Philip II. His influence is evident in works from peer painters to North American abstract expressionist. The works that can be seen in the Museum belong to his last phase, marked by the maturity he reached as a stablished painter in the imperial city with a reliable clientele.
The Catholic Church in Toledo was his main client. In a society where artists were considered as artisans, El Greco understood his art as a liberal activity, the result of an intellectual process which had to be compensated accordingly to this high consideration, and not by appraisal, as the costume was at the time. Due to his expectations such disputes were often decided by a court of justice.
The image of El Greco and his paintings have suffered considerably throughout history. During the 17th century his fame fell gradually although his prestige as a painter continued and influenced his peer painters in Toledo. His fame disappeared completely throughout the 18th century, when he himself was labelled as extravagant and his painting despicable and ridiculous. Later on during the Romantic period, the perception of El Greco was gradually recovered, and it was mainly through the consideration of Spain’s condition and “the Spanish”. After losing the last colonies in 1898, and suffering the economic and social crisis that gripped the country, Toledo and El Greco became a reference for the Generation of 1898: a declining city with a complex and rich history that, to a large extent, reflected the nation’s history.
The city gathered a large number of paintings by El Greco, in churches and convents as well as in private homes. To visit Toledo, learn about its history and heritage was a way to learn about the artist himself. It was then that the idea of El Greco as the best interpreter of Castilian spirit and Spanish mysticism was forged. This idea has prevailed for a long time, although his Cretan origin was never disguised.
The full recovery of El Greco’s figure took place in the Museo Nacional del Prado in 1902, with the first ever exhibition dedicated to him. That same year Manuel Bartolome Cossio, lecturer in the Instituto Libre de Enseñanza, was preparing the first catalogue raisonné of the artist’s works of art. It is in that same intellectual and social context that the so-called Casa-Museo del Greco was created and inaugurated.