It has been said that talent is what God gave you, but skills are what you give back to God. The process of self-discovery is one of fits and spurts in which we find our own voice through both introspection and expression. El Greco spent much of his life either borrowing from or rebelling against the style of other masters. His art would ultimately be uniquely his own.
As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:
Sometimes art can be an elaborate way of saying thank you. Such is the case for El Greco’s famous painting The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, created between 1586 and 1588. It honors the memory of a long-dead church benefactor with an image that is more a fevered spiritual vision than a traditional memorial. The count was esteemed for his generosity to the poor and for giving a large gift to adorn the church of Santo Tome, El Greco’s parish church. Legend had it that St. Augustine and St. Stephen had both miraculously appeared at the funeral of this pious man to assist in the burial of his body, so in El Greco’s painting, commissioned by the parish priest, he depicts not only this miracle but also the moment at which the count’s soul was received into heaven. El Greco also included a number of contemporary nobles from Toledo among the throng that gathers to witness the scene, including a self-portrait and a likeness of his son, Jorge, who kneels at the edge of the picture plane as though invoking the viewer to join him in contemplating this moment.
In this altarpiece, El Greco broke down the boundaries of time and space. Dividing time into zones within the canvas, he includes figures of the long-past, the near-past, and the present, all participating in this one defining moment. And he also gives us a privileged glimpse into the spiritual realm, where the soul of the saintly count, in the form of an infant carried by an angel, is being received by Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and a throng of heavenly witnesses. The lower half of the painting is solemn and realistic, while the upper half is bursting with such vigor and energy that the painting itself seems something of a miracle.
Describe your own journey of identifying and developing your gifts.
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
D I G D E E P E R
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz
(1541–1614), properly Domenicos Theotocopoulos, painter and sculptor. A native of Crete, he went to Italy some time before 1570 and prob. studied under *Titian in Venice before going to Rome. His works from this period include two paintings of the Healing of the Blind and two of the Purification of the Temple. By 1577 he was in Toledo, where he seems to have spent the rest of his life interpreting religious themes in the spirit of the *Counter-Reformation. His Martyrdom of St Maurice, commissioned for the Escorial, failed to please *Philip II, and El Greco thenceforward worked mainly for churches and religious houses. The works of his Spanish period are marked increasingly by a quality of mysticism as well as by personal idiosyncrasies. Formal modelling is abandoned as human forms and facial expressions are exaggerated and even distorted to produce an emotional rather than a literal likeness. In colour, too, his elongated sinuous forms are matched by the startling effects of his cold, ashen hues, often painted on to a dark background. As a portrait painter, he stands comparison with Titian and Rubens. His work also exhibits an early interest in landscape. His major works include The Disrobing of Christ in the sacristy of Santo Domingo, Toledo, The Burial of Count Orgaz for the church of Santo Tomé, Toledo, and the altar-pieces for the Hospital of San Juan Bautista extra Muros, Toledo. He was also responsible for the entire scheme of decoration (incl. the sculpture) in the Capilla Mayor of the Hospital de la Caridad, Ilescas.
M. B. Cossío, El Greco (3 vols., Madrid, 1908); A. L. Mayer, Dominico Theotocopuli El Greco (Munich, 1926); H. E. Wethey, El Greco and his School (2 vols., Princeton, NJ, 1962); D. Davies, El Greco (Oxford, 1976). E. Waterhouse and E. Baccheschi, El Greco: The Complete Paintings (1980). El Greco of Toledo: Catalogue of an exhibition organized by the Toledo Museum of Art and other institutions, with contributions by J. Brown and others (Eng. lang. edn., Boston, 1982). R. G. Mann, El Greco and his Patrons: Three Major Projects (Cambridge Studies in the History of Art, 1986). F. Marías, El Greco: Biografía de un pintor extravagante (1997; Fr. tr., 1997).
F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 541.
Bray, Xavier. El Greco. London: National Gallery Books, 2004.
Kasel, Ronda. Sacred Spain: Art and Belief in the Spanish World. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2009.
Romaine, James. “El Greco’s Mystical Vision.” God Spy (blog). October 22, 2003. http://oldarchive.godspy.com/culture/El-Grecos-Mystical-Vision.cfm.html.
Scholz-Hansel, Michael. El Greco. Köln: Taschen, 2004.
I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.
Let’s explore together!
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Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.
He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.
He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.
Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.
He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.
Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.
Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com
Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.
Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).
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