A portrait of El Greco, the man and the master

Long faces and swirling colors are all the rage in Athens, as a major exhibition on El Greco coincides with the release of a new film on the Greek-born master. «El Greco and his Workshop» brings together 45 oil paintings and other works by El Greco from museums and collections in Spain, the US, Hungary and Switzerland, and opened to visitors yesterday. «Never before has there been an exhibition on this subject, as far as I know,» said the event’s curator Nikos Hadzinikolaou. «It was a difficult enterprise.» The show, at the N.P. Goulandris Foundation Museum of Cycladic Art, focuses on the output of El Greco’s large workshop in Spain, where the painter – whose real name was Domenikos Theotocopoulos – lived from 1577 until his death in 1614. Spain’s Queen Sofia and Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis attended the official opening late Tuesday. Sofia also watched Monday’s first screening of «El Greco,» a film in English with an international cast that opens in cinemas here today. The movie is directed by Yiannis Smaragdis, with a score by fellow-Greek Vangelis Papathanassiou, who wrote the Oscar-winning music for «Chariots of Fire.» Film producers are also organizing an exhibition of costumes and props from the film at Athens’s central Syntagma Square metro station. Most of the paintings at the Cycladic Art museum are by El Greco’s pupils and assistants, including his illegitimate son Jorge Manuel, who probably joined the workshop in the mid-1590s and eventually became a partner. From his move to Spain in 1577 until about 1588, El Greco worked mostly alone, according to curator Hadzinikolaou. But popularity brought on a wave of orders that the artist was unable to keep up with single-handedly. «In order to carry out his commissions, El Greco was obliged to maintain a workshop with assistants who were good enough painters to complete or add to many of the works he personally started, as well as apprentices,» Hadzinikolaou said. Eight of the works are signed by the master himself, including «St Veronica with the Holy Shroud» from the Santa Cruz Museum in Toledo and «The Adoration of the Shepherds» from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. «Never before has there been an exhibition on this subject, as far as I know,» said Hadzinikolaou. «It was a difficult enterprise.» Born in Crete in 1541, El Greco worked in Italy and Spain. His highly individual art, with elongated figures, vibrant colors and disregard for the classical rules of painting, was prized during his lifetime but later fell out of favor, until it enjoyed strong acclaim in the 20th century. The exhibition runs until January 5, 2008, although nine paintings will be returned to Spain’s Prado Museum in late November. (AP)