El Greco rejected naturalism as a vehicle for his art just as he rejected the idea of an art easily accessible to a large public.
Born in Crete, El Greco was trained as an icon painter. Two certain examples survive, and these remind us of the Neo-Platonic, non-naturalistic basis of El Greco’s art, before he set about transforming himself into a disciple of Titian and an avid student of Tintoretto, Veronese, and Jacopo Bassano. He moved to Venice in 1567 (Crete was a Venetian territory). From Venice, El Greco moved to Rome, where he worked from 1570 to 1576. He arrived with a letter of recommendation from the Croatian miniaturist Giulio Clovio, who secured him quarters in the palace of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese—perhaps the most influential and wealthy patron in all of Rome.
El Greco’s modernism is based on his repudiation of the world of mere appearances in favor of the realm of the intellect and the spirit.
The The Vision of Saint John is a fragment from a large altarpiece commissioned for the church of the hospital of Saint John the Baptist in Toledo. It depicts a passage in the Bible, Revelation (6:9-11) describing the opening of the Fifth Seal at the end of time, and the distribution of white robes to “those who had been slain for the work of God and for the witness they had borne.” The missing upper part may have shown the Sacrificial Lamb opening the Fifth Seal. The canvas was an iconic work for twentieth-century artists and Picasso, who knew it in Paris, used it as an inspiration for Les Demoiseles d’Avignon.
Christiansen, Keith. “El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (1541–1614)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grec/hd_grec.htm (October 2004)