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Important Painting by El Greco Once Owned by Ferdinand Marcos Returns to Greece
A man observes the work "The Crowning of the Virgin," made by Greek painter Domenicos Theotocopoulos "El Greco" on view at the National Gallery in Athens, Greece. The work, taken to Athens by the Onassis Foundation, will be part of the permanent collection. Photo: EFE / Katerina Mavrona.

ATHENS.- The Alexander S. Onassis foundation has returned a painting made by El Greco and once owned by Ferdinand Marcos to Greece. "The Crowning of the Virgin," an early 17th century draft for a larger work by El Greco was bought from an unidentified US art dealer in the summer, said Alexander S. Onassis foundation chairman Anthony Papadimitriou.

The National Gallery has three original masterpieces by El Greco; the Burial of Christ (1568-1570), one of the most characteristic works from the Venetian period of the artist, and Saint Peter (1600-1607), both recently acquired thanks to contributions coming from allover Greece, as well as the Concert of the Angels (1608-1614), purchased by the Greek state in 1931.

Domenicos Theotokopoulos (El Greco) was born in 1541 in Venetian-occupied Candia, the present-day Herakleio, in Crete, of well-to-do, Greek Orthodox parents. Along with painting he studied classics. In Candia he painted icons in the style of the post-Byzantine Cretan School, where influences from the Italian Renaissance are apparent. In 1567 he left Candia for Venice, where he studied under the great Venetian painter Titian and became familiar with the art of the Venetian School of the Renaissance, which was characterized by lavish colour.

From 1570 to 1577 he lived in Rome. He was a guest at the palace of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, where he met many intellectuals. In 1572 Theotokopoulos enrolled at St. Luke’s Academy. His painting during this period combined the lavish Venetian colour with the spindly dynamic figures of the Roman mannerists.

In 1577 El Greco left for Spain, like many Italian artists who went there in order to work on the decoration of the Escorial palace. The King of Spain, Philip II, did not appreciate Theotokopoulos’ art, which was considered somewhat bizarre. El Greco settled permanently in Toledo, the former imperial capital of Spain, which continued to be the religious seat of the country. There the proud Cretan received important commissions and painted many remarkable works such as the Espolio (The Disrobing of Christ), and The Burial of Count Orgaz.

Far from the influence of the Italians and the intrigues of the court, El Greco discovered his inner self and created an art of sublime spirituality, where Byzantium, the Renaissance and Mannerism were fused into an original and unique style.

Theotokopoulos died in Toledo in 1614 without ever returning to his homeland. He always signed his works in Greek, using Byzantine characters: «Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος ο Κρης εποίει».

The National Art Gallery and Alexander Soutzos Museum was established in 1878 as a small collection of 117 works exhibited at the Athens University. In 1896, Alexandros Soutzos, a jurist and art lover, bequeathed his collection and estate to the Greek Government aspiring to the creation of an art museum. The museum opened in 1900 and the first curator was the famous Greek painter Georgios Jakobides from Munich. After World War II the works began for a new building. After relocating the sculptures in the new National Glyptotheque, there is a discussion to renovate the main building and to build a new wing.

The gallery ehibitions are mainly focused on post-Byzantine Greek Art. The gallery owns and exhibits also an extensive collection of European artists. Particularly valuable, is the collection of paintings from the Renaissance.

Approximately four million people have visited the National Gallery in the last fourteen years. Its exhibition activity is mainly supported by sponsorships that cover up to half of its budget. The National Gallery has opened the last years branches in Nafplion, Sparta and Corfu.

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