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El Greco's Portrait of a Lady

Emily B. Collins, MPhil
JAMA Facial Plast Surg. 2013;15(3):244-245. doi:10.1001/jamafacial.2013.943.
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The artist known as El Greco (Domenicos Theotocopulos, 1547-1614) is usually categorized as a Spanish artist even though he was actually born in Crete. It speaks directly to El Greco's fame that during his own lifetime he could be identified as simply “The Greek.” Although travel during his time was dangerous, time consuming, and often uncomfortable, El Greco managed to succeed as an artist in Crete, Italy, and Spain.

At the time of El Greco's birth, the island of Crete was ruled by the Republic of Venice. It was a far-flung outpost of the Latin West that still clung to the Greek Orthodox culture and remembered the days when Constantinople was the center of the world. Crete was more than a month's journey by ship to Venice, and the people of this island were not inclined to completely change their traditions to please a foreign ruler. For many years, tensions between Crete and Venice ran high, but the advancement of the Ottoman Empire made the Venetians realize that they could not afford to not have the people of Crete as their ally even though the Cretans were not completely ready to adopt the practices of the Venetians. The Ottoman Turks, who were quickly approaching, were Muslims, not Christians, and during this time there was virtually no separation between the political and the religious.

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El Greco (Domenicos Theotocopulos)(1547-1614). Portrait of a Lady, 1577-1580. Oil on panel. 15⅝ × 12⅝ cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. John G. Johnson Collection. Catalog No. 808.1917.

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