El Greco, Variation of Michelangelo’s Giorno

Artist | Doménikos Theotokópoulos, called El Greco (1541–1614), after Michelangelo (1475–1564)
Title | Variation of Michelangelo’s Giorno
Date | ca. 1570
Medium | Charcoal and black and white chalks on blue paper, with blue wash at borders; fictive brown ink frame and El Greco inscription in brown ink by Giorgio Vasari
Dimensions | 598 x 245 mm  
Institution | Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich (link to online catalogue)
Credit line | © Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München
Theme | Antiquity, Mythology, and Allegory
Museum number | 13756 Z 

This is one of few surviving drawings by Greek artist Doménikos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco (1541–1614). Trained in Venice, he was highly influenced by Titian (ca. 1488/90–1576) and Jacopo Tintoretto (1518/19–1594). This drawing depicts a variation of Michelangelo’s (1475–1564) sculpture Giorno (Day) from Giuliano de’ Medici’s tomb in Florence (1531). By changing the pose and not showing the main view of the figure, El Greco avoided merely copying his model. In the context of the paragone between disegno and colorito associated with Florence and Venice, respectively, the painter Paolo Pino (active 1534–1565) argued in his Dialogo di Pittura (1548) that combining Michelangelo’s disegno and Titian’s colorito would lead to the highest mastery of painting. El Greco unites both practices by applying Titian’s typically Venetian technique to a figure after Florentine Michelangelo. His use of blue paper aids in the modelling of the figure through subtle variations in light and shadow with black and white chalks, intensified by a Titianesque sfumato technique, and thus increases the naturalism of the figure. These explicitly Venetian characteristics have an even greater impact, as they are combined with Michelangelo’s typically Florentine contrapposto of the figure.  

El Greco chose a format fitting for Vasari’s Libro dei Disegni, since he probably hoped to be included in this publication. Indeed, Vasari owned this drawing, supplementing it with a golden border and the inscription ‘Domenico Greco.’


We are grateful to Maria Aresin and Kurt Zeitler for their guidance.