El Greco's Portrait Styles

El Greco was born in Crete in 1541. He studied under artists in Venice and Rome, and eventually his mentors would end up purchasing his pieces. El Greco was intent on producing original works. He was full of new ideas and techniques he wished to try, and created a style that would forever be unique to him. He was influenced by Byzantine art, although his time in Spain also contributed significantly to his signature style. While he did work as a sculptor and architect, Greco is known for his painting style; he painted elongated figures, with bold brushstrokes, and a type of artificial look. His figures are still lifelike and realistic, but characterized enough so as to make a Greco painting obvious upon viewing. The paintings in this gallery are an exploration of his work specifically with mystics, combining his portrait style with religious symbolism and art.

St. Francis' one desire was to become one with Christ. Here the suffering Christ brings a warm welcoming light as he comes to share his life with Francis.
Greco painted 14 different portraits of Mary Magdalene. This version resides in Budapest. Greco experimented with the placement of the skull, the light source, the posture of Mary, the color of her garments, and the look in her eyes. The Magdalene collection itself is worth further exploration. The link above looks at the painting in KC's own Nelson-Atkins Museum.
Greco was obsessed with eyes. His portraits especially of the saints place great emphasis on the eyes and the way they express the interior disposition of the soul
The use of the skull in Greco's paintings symbolizes death, but his placement of it always has some significant meaning in story. Here the non-seeing eyes of the skull face the deep eyes of the Saint
Again great focus on the eyes. Greco's depiction of St. Francis' face is not one of great jubilation but interior peace, with the slightest hint of a smile to indicate that something great is at work within him
Another version of Mary Magdalene. In this Greco has dressed her in the colorful garb of a rich young woman, signifying her extravagant lifestyle. Her eyes are raised to heaven though: she is in the process of redemption- her eyes even show traces of having cried.
Credits: All media
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