This man has a slightly uncanny gaze, one eye is directed straight ahead, and the other is off-center. It’s not certain who he is—maybe El Greco’s brother, or, his uncle. And though we don’t know how he actually looked, it’s a pretty fair assumption that his face wasn’t quite this narrow or long. That elongated face is one of El Greco’s trademarks—he freely exaggerated people’s features or their entire bodies for an expressive effect. Another unmistakable hallmark of El Greco’s style is the way he applied sparks of loose brushwork to create the tufts of blonde fur framing the man’s face. The warmth conjured up by this enfolding hood is complemented by the monochromatic brown palette El Greco selected.
Though you only get a glimpse of it in this work, El Greco’s obsession was with color.
EL GRECO (ACTOR):
I hold the imitation of color to be the greatest difficulty of art.
Color was everything to him, the most important—and unwieldy—factor in painting. He used it boldly. This, along with his manipulation of faces and figures, startled and confused his contemporaries. It was these same audacious qualities, however, that foreshadow the most modern developments in early twentieth-century art. Although he wasn’t fully understood in his time, El Greco was later embraced by the nineteenth-century French masters, and is established today as one of the most original painters of the 17th century.
Born on the island of Crete, El Greco was trained as an icon painter. In 1567 he moved to Venice where the tradition of Venetian coloring and facture, expressed in the art of Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, inspired him. El Greco courted patronage from the Church in Rome, and later when he moved to Spain from the royal court of Madrid, with limited success. In the Spanish city of Toledo however, he discovered an enthusiastic audience for his religious images and portraits.
No other artist painted like El Greco. Explanations for his audacious use of color, erratic light effects, and elongated figures have included an innate spiritual mysticism, personal eccentricity, and even visual aberrations. His singular approach to portraiture is evident in this depiction of his brother Manusso (c. 1529–1604), a mariner by profession. Though El Greco’s palette is restrained, a convention for male portraiture of this period, his brother’s attenuated features, take on an otherworldly character thanks also to the robust brushwork employed to describe the stiff fur collar and cap, and Manusso’s unfocused, ruminative aspect.
- Artist Name: Domenikos Theotokopoulos called El Greco (Spanish, born in Greece, 1541-1614)
- Title: Manusso Theotokopoulos
- Date: 1603-4
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 18-1/2 x 15-1/4 in. (47.0 x 38.7 cm)
- Credit Line: The Norton Simon Foundation
- Accession Number: F.1969.15.P
- Copyright: © The Norton Simon Foundation
Barone Michele Lazzaroni, Modena and Paris.
Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Florence, by 1930, sold, through E.V. Thaw and Co., New York, to;
The Norton Simon Foundation.
The Old Spanish Masters from the Contini-Bonacossi Collection
- Rome, Gallery of Modern Art, 1930-05 to 1930-07
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