Saturday, May 09, 2015

El Greco was a painter - not a writer.

Modena Triptych - El Greco - 1568 

The origins of El Greco: Icon Painting in Venetian Crete.

I've been reading about Domenikos Theotokopoulos, one of my favorite painters.  His work is so modern it feels almost contemporary.  We know him as El Greco, the great Spanish painter who wasn't Spanish at all.  He began as an icon painter on Crete - in fact we can see the influence of the Byzantine in many of his later works.  I mention him because I just read something about a person who 'writes' icons.

That is such an ostentatious, pompous claim to apply the affectation to oneself, "I write icons."  I know all the theory defending such a claim - that is fine - though it seems to me to be a relatively modern development.  Hand in hand with the doctrinal-development of what amounts to a sort of pseudo-mysticism regarding the efficacy of icons over Western religious painting.

If icon painters write rather than paint, perhaps the illiterate artisans who made the stained glass windows depicting Salvation history for Chartres were typesetters then?  Not artisans or glass workers?

2014 marked the fourth centenary of El Greco's death, and a few major exhibitions celebrated his life last year.  Missed them all, I'm afraid.  The header for this post is the title of a 2010 exhibition at the Onassis in NYC.  I may look to purchase the catalog.

El Greco was considered to be an eccentric.  He didn't get on well with the Romans.

From icon painter to artist - El Greco strikes me as an example of how one might move from the naivete of formulaic icon painting to developing real skill as an artist.


  1. I'm so glad you said that about "writing" icons. I feel the same way. I knew a Carmelite priest who insisted he PAINTED icons.

  2. He's one of my favorites too after Rembrandt. ^^

  3. It seems pretentious to me, too because it implies you're part of a culture that I wasn't raised in. Russia had no decorative painting, only iconography for so long that there isn't another word for paint and they use write, which, in some ways is appropriate as the icon tells the story of a saint or some part of Christ's life.

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