Outline Biography of El Greco
(documented facts of his life)

Domenicos Theotocopoulos born in Candia, Crete in 1541 or the end of 1540. The only evidence for the date of birth is the artist's own statement, made on 31st October and again on 4th November, 1606, that he was sixty-five years of age. On two occasions, the town of Candia is specified: in Giulio Clovio's letter of 1570 and in 1582, when the artist was acting as interpreter in the trial of another 'Greek' in Toledo, when he states he was a native of the 'town of Candia'. On all other occasions, he is referred to simply as Cretan.
In Venice as a pupil of Titian. Clovio's letter of 1570 is the only evidence.
End 1570
Moves from Venice to Rome. The evidence is a letter dated 16th November 1570, from Giulio Clovio in Rome addressed to Cardinal Farnese, asking the Cardinal to place the 'young Candian, a pupil of Titian's, recently arrived in Rome', under his protection and give him temporary lodging in his palace. Clovio introduces the young artist as 'in my opinion among the greatest in painting' and mentions a Self-portrait (lost) which 'causes wonderment among all the painters of Rome'.
At the end of 1576 or early in 1577, moves to Toledo, in Spain, where he finally settles.
By the spring of 1577, in Toledo, to carry out the commission for Santo Domingo el Antiguo. El Greco was to paint 'all by his own hand and in Toledo'. He was also responsible for designing the retable of the main chapel with its sculptures (the Escorial artist J.B. Monegro was commissioned to carve the retable 'after the plans of Mecer Domenico Theotocopuli'). Almost all subsequent large commissions include the designing of the retables or frames for his paintings, and in some cases the sculptures. Soon after arrival in Toledo, receives the further commissions to paint the Espolio for the Cathedral. He had received both commissions before 2nd July 1577, the date of the earliest document establishing his presence in Toledo and Spain.
Birth of a son, Jorge Manuel, to El Greco and Jerónima de las Cuevas. El Greco apparently never married.
Completion of the works for Santo Domingo and the Cathedral. The Espolio was completed by 15th June, the date of the first valuation, and the Santo Domingo works by September. The Espolio valuation led to the first of a series of litigations which became a feature of almost all El Greco's important commissions. The Cathedral's valuation of roughly 225 ducados was answered by El Greco's of 900 ducados, which the Cathedral authorities considered 'beyond all reason'. An arbitrator finally valued the work at roughly 320 ducados, but with the observation that it was 'of the best he had ever seen' and that 'if one should value it at its true worth, it would be in a sum that few or none would be prepared to pay' - the outstanding quality of El Greco's work is acknowledged for the first time. In this litigation, the Cathedral authorities also chose to censure the artist's treatment of the subject, and stipulated that certain improprieties should be made good, 'that take authority from Christ, as the three of four heads above that of Christ, two of them with helmets; and also the Maries and our Lady are against the Gospels, for they were not in this place'. El Greco made no changes to the picture. Apparently fearful that the artist might leave Toledo with the painting, it was complained that 'he had the painting, for which he had already been paid 200 ducados; he was a foreigner with no property in Toledo, and had finished the work for which he came to Toledo, that is, the Santo Domingo retable, and no longer had any reason to remain.'
Philip II commissions the Martyrdom of Saint Maurice and his Legions for one of the chapels of the church of the Escorial. On 25th April 1580, the King orders the Prior of the Escorial to provide El Greco with materials, 'especially ultramarine', to enable him to carry out the commission 'made some time ago'. The painting, executed in Toledo, completed 1582. El Greco paid 800 ducados. The painting did not satisfy the King: 'by a Dominico Greco . .. who paints excellent things in Toledo, is a painting of Saint Maurice and his soldiers, which he made for the altar of the Saints, and is now in the Chapter House; it did not please His Majesty, but that is not surprising, for it pleased few, although it is said it is of much art and that there are many excellent things by his hand'. (Padre Sigüenza, Historia de la Orden de San Jerónimo, 1608).
The Dean of Toledo Cathedral commissions the retable for the Espolio (the retable is lost, but the carved and painted group from the retable, of the Virgin presenting the Chasuble to Saint Ildefonso, is still in the Cathedral).
Painted the Burial of the Count of Orgaz. Commissioned March 1586, to be completed by Christmas of the same year. El Greco received 1200 ducados. A certain popular acclaim is immediately earned: 'foreigners flock to see and admire the painting, and the citizens of Toledo never tire of seeing it, as there is always something new to see, for here is portrayed, very life-like, the notable men of our time' (Alonso de Villegas, Flos Sanctorum, 1578). The portraits include those of himself and his son.
Commission for the paintings of the high altar of the church of Talavera la Vieja, Toledo province. The paintings were: the Coronation of the Virgin, the model for his later versions of the same subject for the church of San José, Toledo, and the Hospital de la Caridad, Illescas; and the two full-length standing Saints, Peter and Andrew. He received 300 ducados for the work, which must have been largely executed by assistants.
December 1596
Commission by the Royal Council of Castile for the retable and paintings for the high altar of the Church of the Augustine College of Doña Maria de Aragón, Madrid, dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation. The College was a foundation of Doña Maria's, lady-in-waiting to Philip II's fourth wife (d. 1593). The paintings were executed in Toledo, and delivered July 1600; El Greco receiving nearly 6000 ducados for the paintings, designs for the retable, and sculptures for this large commission for the Court.
November 1597, commission for the retables of the Chapel of San José, Toledo, completed two years later. El Greco received 2850 ducados.
Contract for the Saint Bernardino. Paid 300 ducados. Contract for the Hospital de la Caridad, Illescas (between Toledo and Madrid), dated 18th June 1603. The commission given to 'Domingo Greco and Xorje Manuel, painters' (the son could hardly have been more than an assistant). The commission apparently included the decoration of the whole chapel, including the design for the retable and the provision of sculptures as well as paintings. The paintings comprised the Virgin of Charity and three paintings for the vault, the Coronation of the Virgin and the Annunciation and Nativity. The work was completed by August 1605, the date of the first valuation, which led to lengthy litigation, only finally settled in May 1607, at little more than 2000 ducados, actually less than the first. This time El Greco was not only censured on account of certain improprieties, but also for the poor workmanship and materials (successfully disproved). The 'improprieties' referred to the inclusion of the portraits of Jorge Manuel and other known people wearing large ruffs, and the general arrangement of the chapel, and placing of the sculptures. On El Greco's side, it was maintained that the chapel was 'the best, and in its construction, of the greatest perfection in Spain', that 'it was remarkable that the dress that all Christianity wears should be regarded as indecent' and that 'it should not be changed as otherwise they would appear as Saints instead of men'. It is not known whether El Greco ever painted over the portraits and replaced them by 'decent' figures, but it is hardly likely. At some time, however, they were overpainted, but El Greco's original figures have been recently uncovered. At one stage, the Hospital authorities threatened they would get a painter from Madrid to paint the Virgin of Charity 'properly'.
In these years, Luis Tristán is recorded as a pupil of El Greco's (the only pupil of any standing).
In connection with the Illescas commission, El Greco successfully contests payment of tax, arguing that he practised painting as a liberal art. This is the first occasion in Spain of official recognition of painting as a liberal, and not mechanical, art.
November 1607, contract for the decoration of the Chapel of Isabel de Oballe in the Church of San Vicente, Toledo. The paintings comprised the Immaculate Conception, the Visitation for the vault, and the Saint Peter and Saint Ildefonso for the side altars. The contract stipulated that the retable was to be higher than the one designed by Semino (who had died shortly after receiving the commission), for 'to be a dwarf was the worst condition of man' - surely El Greco's remark. By August 1608, he states that the work is much advanced, but it was not completed until April 1613, a year before his death.
Commissioned paintings for the church of the Hospital of San Juan Bautista (Hospital Tavera), Toledo, including the Baptism, finished by Jorge Manuel after his death, and the Vision of the Apocalypse. El Greco had been connected with the Hospital from 1595, when he received a commission for the design of a tabernacle. The Hospital, outside the walls of the town, appears on a cloud in his View and Plan of Toledo, in the Museo del Greco, Toledo, possibly painted about this time. An inscription, composed by El Greco, on the plan of Toledo in this painting reads: 'It has been necessary to show the Hospital de Tavera as a model, for the building hides the Visagra Gate, and the dome obscures part of the town, and once treated as a model and moved from its place, it seemed better to me to show the main façade . . . the rest, and its proper relationship to the town can be seen on the plan. Also, in the representation of Our Lady presenting the Chasuble to Saint Ildefonso, in making the figures large, I have applied, in some way, the observation made of celestial bodies that an illuminated body seen at a distance may appear large although it be small'.
Portrait of Paravicino.
Visited by Pacheco. Designed a monument for the funerary celebrations in Toledo Cathedral in honour of Margarita of Austria, widow of Philip II, who had died in that year.
The artist rents a family burial vault in the church of Santo Domingo el Antiguo, Toledo, the church for which he painted his first works in Spain, on condition that he builds the altar and retable at his cost. For the retable he painted the Adoration of the Shepherds, now in the Prado.
31st March 1614
El Greco 'confined to his bed', 'holding, believing and confessing the Faith of the Holy Church of Rome . . . in whose Faith I have lived and die, as a faithful and Catholic Christian . . . because of the gravity of my sickness I was unable to make a will', gives power to Jorge Manuel Teotocopuli 'my son and of Doña Jerónima de las Cuevas, who is a person of honesty and virtue', to make his testament, arrange his burial, and pay his debts, and the 'remainder of my possessions to go to Jorge Manuel, as universal heir . . .'
7th April 1614
El Greco dies. 'dominico greco, On the seventh (of April) dominico greco died, made no will. Received the sacraments, was buried in Sto domingo el antiguo, gave mass' (entry in Book of Burials of the parish of Santo Tomé, Toledo).
7th July 1614
The inventory of El Greco's possessions made by his son included the following items in his studio: 143 paintings, mostly finished, a few merely primed canvasses, some painted as far as the chiaroscuro design, and some 'unfinished'; 30 models in clay and wax and 15 in plaster; 27 books in the Greek language, including the philosophers and poets, Old and New Testaments, and the Fathers of the Church; 67 books in Italian, and 17 in Spanish. 120 drawings (probably the larger part his own, but unfortunately only three or four certain drawings have come down to us); 30 plans (probably for retables); and 200 engravings (a collection of engravings for reference and study was part of any artist's studio).