Murillo, Bartolomé Esteban (1617–1682)

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MURILLO, BARTOLOMÉ ESTEBAN (16171682), Spanish painter. Orphaned at the age of ten, Murillo was adopted by a sister, who arranged his apprenticeship with Juan de Castillo (15901657). By 1538, he was working in Seville. Heavenly and Earthly Trinities (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, c. 1638/1640), one of his earliest known works, incorporates characteristic features of several prominent artists, including the elegant facial types of Alonso Cano (16011667), the sculpturesque draperies of Francisco de Zurbarán (15981664), and a celestial vision in the manner of Juan de Roelas (c. 15601624). Murillo's first major commission was a series of eleven pictures for San Francisco in Seville (16451648). Part of this series, the Angels' Kitchen (Paris, Louvre, 1646) helped establish his reputation as the leading artist of the city; this large painting depicts an unidentified Franciscan saint, floating in rapture, as elegant angels and putti prepare an elaborate repast.

In the 1650s Murillo received prestigious commissions for the Seville cathedral. In 1655, he painted San Isidoro and San Leandro for the sacristy; the glowing colors of the saints' garments set off their resolute facial expressions. The Vision of Saint Anthony of Padua for the cathedral baptistery (1656) imitates the dynamic baroque style that Francisco de Herrera the Younger (16221685) had recently introduced from Madrid.

Murillo spent most of 1658 in Madrid, where he studied paintings by a wide range of Spanish and foreign artists. With Herrera, he founded in 1660 the first art academy in Seville; until 1674 it offered classes in life drawing. In Birth of the Virgin (Paris, Louvre, 1660), Murillo achieved his definitive manner. Firm contours are dissolved through loose, sketchy brushwork and soft, glowing light. This style perfectly corresponded with the tender piety predominating in Spanish religious life of the era.

His many commissions of the 1660s included a group of eighteen altarpieces for the Capuchin church in Seville (16651670). For the Hospital de la Caridad, a confraternity devoted to caring for the sick, he produced eight large pictures (16681670) depicting good works. Compassionate expressions, warm colors, and hazy atmospheric effects emphasize the theme of loving forgiveness in Return of the Prodigal Son (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 16671670). His altarpiece of the Immaculate Conception for the Hospicio de Venerable Sacerdotes, Seville (Madrid, Prado, 1678), determined the later iconography of the theme. This jubilant image eliminates almost all traditional attributes; the young, beautiful Virgin is surrounded by celebrating putti, who dissolve into soft clouds and golden light. As the Sevillan economy worsened during the 1670s, Murillo sought patronage in Cádiz, where he was working at the time of his death on altarpieces for the Capuchin church.

Murillo also produced many independent devotional paintings for private clients, some of whom collected his work in large numbers. His five paintings of the Old Testament story of Jacob (including Jacob Setting the Peeled Rods before the Flocks of Laban, Dallas, Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, c. 1660) incorporate extensive landscapes, based on northern prototypes. Especially popular were his charming images of the infancy of the Christ Child and of Saint John the Baptist. Typical of these, The Infant Saint John the Baptist and the Lamb (London, National Gallery, c. 16601665), shows the Baptist, smiling at the viewer, as he embraces a lamb.

Murillo produced approximately twenty genre paintings, such as Children Playing Dice (Munich, Bayerishche Staatsgemäldesammlungen, c. 16651675). In most of these, two or three impoverished children are playing or eating in a pastoral landscape featuring a picturesque ruin. The strong sentimentality distinguishes these paintings from Dutch prototypes. Usually interpreted as a brothel scene, Two Women at a Window (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, c. 16551660) may depict an innocent flirtation.

Murillo was esteemed as an elegant portraitist. Don Antonio Hurtado de Salcedo (Spain, private collection, c. 1662/1664) is one of the few hunting portraits by a seventeenth-century Spanish artist. The extensive landscape, the three dogs with their keeper, and numerous genre details emphasize the hunting theme. For his Self-Portrait (London, National Gallery, c. 16701673), Murillo utilized a Netherlandish formula, depicting himself in an elaborate oval frame, on which he rests his hand. The inscription and professional attributes suggest the status artists had attained in Spain.

Murillo's many followers included Francisco Meneses Osorio (c. 16401721), who finished his series for the Capuchin church in Cádiz. Murillo's work strongly influenced painting in Seville until the late eighteenth century. British collectors avidly sought his paintings throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His paintings of children were imitated by Sir Joshua Reynolds (17231792) and Thomas Gainsborough (17271788). In the Victorian era, Murillo was regarded as one of the greatest artists of all times.

See also Baroque ; Gainsborough, Thomas ; Painting ; Reynolds, Joshua ; Seville ; Spain, Art in ; Zurbarán, Francisco de .


Angulo Iñiguez, Diego. Murillo. 3 vols. Madrid, 1981. A comprehensive catalog of the artist's entire oeuvre.

Brown, Jonathan. Murillo and His Drawings. Princeton, 1976.

Cherry, Peter, and Brooke Xanthe. Murillo: Scenes of Childhood. London and New York, 2001. Catalog of an exhibition held at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

Mena Marqués, Manuela and Enrique Valdivieso, eds. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 16171682. London, 1982. Catalog of an important exhibition, held 19821983 in Madrid (Museo del Prado) and London (Royal Academy of Arts).

Richard Mann

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

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Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) was a Spanish painter whose baroque style was adulated for close to 200 years, condemned for almost 100, and, since the 1950s, has been reevaluated with hedging enthusiasm.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was born and died in Seville; he led an uneventful life of professional activity and success within the context of personal goodness and contentment. G. Kubler and M. Soria (1959) call him the "Fra Angelico of Spanish painting." The difficulty is that the primitivism of Fra Angelico's art allows the sweetness of his artistic expressions an autonomous existence beyond the pale of human experience, whereas the realism of Murillo's art causes the same gentleness to mock the psychic torment and spiritual alienation of present-day humanity.

If Murillo had conceived his saints of the Old and New Testaments as heroic, their excellence of soul would be more palatable today, but he presented them as middleclass benefactors who perform their acts as though they were commonplaces and look like God-oriented, good men: Moses' Miracle of the Waters (1670-1674) and St. Thomas of Villanueva Giving Alms to the Poor (1668). Murillo's sacroprofanity, or failure to separate the sacred from the merely human, was as natural as breathing to him and as unquestionably sincere.

Murillo was born of well-to-do parents, Gaspar Esteban, a barber-surgeon, and Maria Murillo, and was baptized on Jan. 1, 1618. Orphaned at 11, he became the ward of an uncle who placed him a year later as an apprentice to another relative, the painter Juan del Castillo. The allegation that Murillo visited Madrid and studied with Diego Velázquez is most probably false. At 17 Murillo was working independently, painting small, religious compositions for the Latin American market.

In 1645 Murillo married Beatriz de Cabrera y Sotomayor; in the same year he achieved fame owing to his series of 11 paintings for the Franciscan monastery in Seville. Of his nine children, five entered religious life. He founded an art academy in 1660 and served as its first president. He became enrolled in the Brotherhood of Charity in 1665. Murillo sustained mortal injuries when he fell from a scaffold in the Capuchin church of Cadiz in 1681; he died on April 3, 1682, in Seville.

Murillo's Self-portrait (ca. 1678; National Gallery, London) is an excellent example to justify why recent reevaluation of his art stresses his portraiture. In addition, his masterly handling of landscape is cited as most praiseworthy. The fact is that the life and art of Murillo are in desperate need of research. Apparently the adverse judgments made so sweepingly against his art have intimidated scholarship. Since he rarely signed or dated his works, much of the chronology must be reviewed. Jusepé de Ribera, Alonso Cano, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Correggio, and the Venetian school, particularly Titian, are cited as his influences, but too seldom is it known exactly which originals, copies, or prints Murillo saw. Arbitrary assignations of anonymous works have caused his rightful fame to suffer from the inferiority of his disciples and other imitators. Finally, the proved stylistic range and thematic variety of his art compound the difficulties of scholarly analysis: The Family (ca. 1660), Grape and Melon Eaters, St. Leander (1655), the Santiago Madonna (ca. 1670-1675), the Leningrad Immaculate Conception, and the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.

If the art of El Greco may be cited as the supreme expression of Spain's anguish during the Reformation, Murillo's art is undoubtedly the major manifestation of his country's best Counter Reformational response: a way of life in a Franciscan sacroprofanity and fragrance.

Although Murillo had disciples, they did not assist him in executing his works. It seems clear he preferred to be solely responsible for his commissions.

Further Reading

Two sources in English on Murillo's art are recommended because they represent divergent, scholarly points of view: George Kubler and Martin Soria in Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and Their American Dominions, 1500-1800 (1959) claim for Murillo accurate and facile draftsmanship, harmony of composition, and unity of conception and execution; Juan Antonio Gaya Nuño in the article on Murillo in the Encyclopedia of World Art, vol. 10 (1965), suggests poor drawing, awkward composition, and a dichotomy between form and content. A highly respected third source is C. B. Curtis, Velázquez and Murillo (1883). □

Murillo, Bartolomé Estebán

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Murillo, Bartolomé Estebán (1617–82) Spanish painter. Murillo made his name with a series of 11 pictures showing the lives of the Franciscan saints (1645–46). His mature style is characterized by soft, idealized figures.;

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