Greco upon Michelangelo: “A man who could not paint”

Before Reading:

Domenikos Theotokopoulos, “el Greco” (Candía [actual Heraclión], Creta, Venetian Republic, 1541-Toledo, 1614). Developed most of his career in Toledo, where remains a great part of his work. The burial of the Count of Orgaz (placed in Santo Tomé’s Church, Toledo) stands out among his multiple paintings.
Francisco Pacheco (Sanlúcar de Barrameda, 1564-Seville, 1644). Distinguished painter from the Sevillian XVI Century, as well as, a consultant for the Spanish Inquisition in the Southern city, which is fundamental for his career and, afterwards, in his most important pupil: Velázquez.

Greco and Pacheco, a singular meeting to talk about Michelangelo.

Doménikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco, is one of the most charismatic painters of the Renaissance. His continuous altercations with everybody who’d come along his way and the special character of his painting make out of him not only an art’s legend, but a flowered whelm of amazing anecdotes. 

As Urquízar and Cámara write in “Renaissance”, Pacheco is the one who tells one of these anecdotes. Velázquez’s master met El Greco in 1611. He was a Michelangelo’s painting fan and knowing that Greco had travelled (and been expelled) around Europe, the Andalusian master asked him about the skill’s difficulties of drawing and painting. The answer couldn’t be any “Grequier”. Pacheco’s notes says:  

“Where I found myself amazed (…) asking Domenico Greco in 1611, Which is harder, drawing or colouring? He answered colouring. And this is not as amazing as hearing him talk with such a low appreciation about Micael Ángel (being him the father of painting) saying that he was a good man, but couldn’t paint”. (Herrera & Muñoz, 2017, pg. 185)

The pictorial disagreement of Greco

In an artist’s life, to study marks a milestone. In the height of XVI century, the trip meant to know what was taking place in the rest of the world, which was quite complicated. To observe the difference between, for example, the Italian Renaissance and the English one, a good exercise could be to compare a Shakespeare’s sonnet with Petrarca’s one, we’ll see they are different. Knowing this, to evolve as an artist was truly laborious. 

Nevertheless, Greco did travel along the Mediterranean Sea and that’s how he got to know Michelangelo or Titian. Even with Michelangelo playing a crucial role in Greco’s formation as an painter, that it’s not due to his painting (something reserved for Titian), but because his way of composing the scene and designing, or his anatomical studies and the sensitive way the Florentine artist represents the human bodies. How can we see this? Comparing Michelangelo’s Pietà (1550, Santa María dei Fiori, Florence) with Greco’s The Holy Trinity (1577-79, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid).

We’ll see immediately everything we have talked about. The foreshortening of the dead Christ, in God’s arms in Greco’s and in Joseph of Arimathea in Michelangelo’s, producing (at least, to me) two main sensations: Humility for a Christ who manifests himself as a human and strength for the paternal figure who embraces him.

Painting and drawing are not quite the same

It’s popular in language to don’t tell between painting and drawing, nevertheless, they’re not the same. To paint is what you do with color once you’ve done the “outside line”, while drawing is the outside line itself. So, usually, the artist draws a sketch. The main historical fact came when the Venice school (already in the XVI Century) erase drawing from the final result, leaving drawing appart. Of course, this was controversial in the time because, for many “scholars of the drawing” (basically Roman and Florentian artists) the drawing was the greatest part of the final work. Hence Michelangelo lived in Florence and, besides, a generation before Greco, he dind’t really pay any attention to this “new school” of Art, just like Raphael or da Vinci. If you want to know more, here you’ve got our post about Venetian School. 

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