El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos)

Doménikos Theotokópoulos was born on the Greek island of Crete in 1521. As a young man, he traveled to Italy and studied under many masters of art, eventually residing in Spain. Here he painted his greatest works, and it was here that he was nicknamed “El Greco, which is Spanish for “The Greek.”

El Greco’s style is highly charged and hypnotic. A style that was well suited to the aims of the Counter-Reformation. In the face of Protestant revolt, the Catholic church sought to reform its practices and reinforce belief in its doctrines. Spain put its vast resources—expanded by conquests in the New World—at the service of the church, and Toledo, because it was the seat of the archbishop, played an active role. The Council of Trent, which met in the mid-sixteenth century to clarify Counter-Reformation goals, explicitly recognized the importance of religious art. El Greco, whose patrons were primarily learned churchmen, responded with intelligent and expressive presentations of traditional and newly affirmed Catholic beliefs. His works underscored with powerful images the importance of the sacraments, the Virgin, and saints.

Timeline of Events in Europe during the Counter-Reformation

1517 Luther launches Protestant revolt
1540 Saint Ignatius Loyola founds Jesuit order
1541 Birth of El Greco
1543 Copernicus publishes On the Revolution of Celestial Bodies
1556 Philip II assumes the Spanish throne
1563 Final session of the Council of Trent codifies Catholic reforms
Building of Escorial palace and monastery outside Madrid
1564 Death of Michelangelo
1565 Spanish explorers establish Saint Augustine, Florida
1576 Death of Titian
Flanders joins the Netherlands in revolt against Spanish rule
1580 First comedias of Lope de Vega produced
1582 Spanish mystic Saint Theresa of Avila dies
1584 Flanders returned to Spanish control
1587 Mary Queen of Scots beheaded after making Philip II her heir
1588 Spanish Armada defeated by English fleet
1598 Philip III assumes the throne of Spain after death of Philip II
1604 Shakespeare writes Othello
1605 First parts of Cervantes’ Don Quixote appear
1614 Death of El Greco
1615 Galileo appears before the Inquisition for supporting Copernican theory


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