El Greco: Biographical and Critical Study

El Greco: Biographical and Critical Study

El Greco: Biographical and Critical Study

El Greco: Biographical and Critical Study

Excerpt

In the past half-century everything has been said that could be said about El Greco. Yet on many essential points we are none the wiser. Who was El Greco? Why did he paint as he did? How is it that this Greek schooled in Italy came to settle in Spain, at Toledo? And there, after the masterpieces of his maturity, in which the Golden Age of Spain saw the best of its piety mirrored, how did he come to create the stark and supernatural art of his old age? We shall never know, and we may as well resign ourselves to never knowing. In view of the paucity of firsthand information and, above all, the loss of those mysterious treatises on painting and architecture attributed to El Greco by early biographers, we must content ourselves with more or less ingenious speculations and interpretations, none of which add a particle of certainty to what we really know about the artist. It has proved no more rewarding to look to El Greco for the "secret of Toledo" than to look to Toledo for the "secret of El Greco." The most elementag facts about his life and the genesis of his pictures (often signed, rarely dated) are largely wanting, nor is it reasonable to hope for many more lost pictures or documents to come to light. Fortunately the fruit of the great renewal of interest felt in El Greco has been a vast increase in our knowledge of him now as compared with what it was in the 19th century. There is admittedly a negative side -- a host of fakes and dubious attributions having found their way into so-called "complete" catalogues -- but on the whole a great forward stride has been made. Problems of chronology, of source material, of influences exerted on and by El Greco, have been solved or accurately localized. It is true that Cossio's monumental biography of El Greco, the very first, published in 1908, has lost none of its critical solidity and its freshness. But we can readily measure the ground covered since then by comparing it with such recent works as that of J. Camón Aznar, a veritable summa of the available knowledge of El Greco and his art. One of the aims of this book will be that of summing up the positive results of previous research-work, approaching the subject analytically rather than synthetically; we shall be concerned with isolating the problems that remain unsolved and with carefully distinguishing between hypotheses, however clever or tempting, and the known facts. No speculations or lyricism here then, but a strictly matter-of-fact approach which, it is hoped, will provide the reader with a useful introduction to El Greco.

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