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Exhibition presents the results of the technical studies undertaken on El Greco's works
A woman stands next to the painting "The Annunciation, ca.1596-1600" by El Greco during the presentation of the exhibition "El Greco. From Italy to Toledo" at the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum in Madrid. The museum is holding the exhibition, which displays the results of technical studies carried out by the Museum’s Restoration Department on four paintings, to mark the 400th anniversary of the artist's death. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN.

MADRID.- To mark the 400th anniversary of the death of El Greco, the Museo Thyssen Bornemisza is holding the exhibition El Greco. From Italy to Toledo from 10 January to 2 March. It presents the results of the technical studies undertaken by the Museum’s Restoration Department on four works by the artist in the Permanent Collection: The Annunciation, ca.1576; Christ embracing the Cross, ca.1587-1596; The Annunciation, ca.1596-1600; and The Immaculate Conception, ca.1608-1614. The chance to study paintings dating from different periods in the artist’s career and painted in different places represents an outstanding opportunity for an in-depth analysis of El Greco’s technical and conceptual evolution during two notably contrasting periods of his life, separated by a period of approximately two decades.

For the technical study of the works the Museum’s restorers made use of a range of procedures including high-resolution photography in order to see the most significant details in close-up; infra-red reflectography, which reveals the underlying paint layers beneath the pictorial surface; x-radiography, which provides information on the changes made by the artist during the execution of the work; and a range of chemical processes used to provide information on the make-up and distribution of the pigments in the different paint layers.

El Greco’s artistic formation, which came about in several different cultural contexts, was one of ongoing evolution. Crete, Venice, Rome and Toledo were responsible for the changes evident in his output over the course of his career. The results of the present research project have confirmed the development of the artist’s formal evolution and the changes in the materials that he used, from his early period, which was determined and influenced by Italian artists (as evident, for example, in the architectural type of composition revealed by x-radiography and infra-red reflectography), to his Spanish period, by which date El Greco made almost no use of under-drawing, employed a looser, more subjective type of brushwork and mixed impasto and glazes with no preconceived order. The final years of the artist’s career represent the culmination of a unique, highly individual style in which the figures are elongated and sketched out with impressionistic brushstrokes in a reflection of El Greco’s intellectual and technical maturity.

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco, was one of the most original and fascinating artists of the 16th century. He was born in Candia on the island of Crete in 1541, at that date under the rule of the Venetian Republic. Little is known of his training: until 1567 he worked in Candia as a post-Byzantine painter and recent research has emphasised the dual presence of Western and Oriental influences in his early output. In early 1567 he settled in Venice where he studied the work of Veronese, Tintoretto and Titian, among other artists. In 1570 El Greco moved to Rome. He lived in the Palazzo Farnese, becoming acquainted with Cardinal Alessandro Farnese’s collection and participating in a select circle of intellectuals. In 1577 he is documented in Toledo, having gone to Spain in the hope of securing work on the decoration of El Escorial. In Toledo, El Greco produced his most distinctive and unique work. The proportions of his figures lengthen, space is transfigured and light is used to give his compositions a spectral appearance. The artist died in Toledo in 1614, leaving his studio in the charge of his son and assistant Jorge Manuel Theotokopoulos.

Within the context of the activities organised to mark the 400th anniversary of El Greco’s death, the Museum’s Education Department in collaboration with the Fundación El Greco 2014 is holding an International Symposium on the artist. It will take place at the Museum from 21 to 23 May with the closing events to be held in Toledo on 24 May. This academic event will be directed by Fernando Marías, Senior Professor of Art History at the Universidad Complutense, Madrid, and will benefit from the participation of experts such as Richard L. Kagan, Miguel Falomir, Maria Constatoudaki-Kritomilides, Felipe Pereda, Elena de Laurentiis and Guillermo Solana.

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