In 1603, El Greco was commissioned to decorate the chapel at the Hospital of Charity in Illescas, Spain. Up to this point, El Greco had had an enviable life as a successful artist. True, his Mannerist style of emaciated figures and elongated faces did not result in a steady stream of royal commissions, but he lived comfortably in Toledo, renting spacious apartments in a nobleman’s villa and taking the commissions he wanted. He was so well off that he could afford to maintain musicians who played while he dined. His prosperity even allowed him to refuse to pay taxes on this work. So he enjoyed a measure of independence as well.
El Greco, it should be understood, also knew the value of his work. According to the practice of the day, an artist’s fees were determined when the work was completed. The assessment, or tasación, was performed by a group of individuals nominated by the artist and the patron. When El Greco received an insultingly low valuation for his work at the hospital, he launched a long and bitter court battle that quietly changed the perception of artists and art in Spain.
In the case of the Illescas commission, El Greco committed a number of sins. Continue reading
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