Bartolome Esteban Murillo
Biography/Paintings of Spanish Baroque Painter.

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Immaculate Conception (1678)
Prado, Madrid.

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Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1618-1682)

One of the most popular European Old Masters and an important figure in Spanish painting, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, was a highly successful painter of the Baroque period in Spain. Active for most of his artist career in Seville, Murillo was largely known for his religious art, and for his contribution to the Vatican's propaganda campaign of Catholic Counter-Reformation Art, although he also painted many sensitive portraits and studies of Spanish street life. Compared to the harsh realism and intense emotionalism of his Spanish contemporaries, like Jusepe Ribera (1590-1652), Francisco Zurbaran (1598-1664), Murillo's style of painting is more tender and sentimental - not unlike that of the 16th-century Italian painter Correggio (1489-1534). Although technically inferior to the older Velazquez (1599-1660), Murillo's softer style - allied to his mastery of sentimental genre-paintings, soft-focus Madonnas and biblical scenes - helped him to supercede Zurbaran as Spain's leading painter of his day. Now regarded as one of the leading Spanish Baroque artists, Murillo's best Baroque paintings include The Young Beggar Boy (1645, Louvre, Paris); Adoration of the Shepherds (1646-50, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg); The Virgin of the Rosary (1649, Prado, Madrid); Apparition of the Child Jesus to St Anthony of Padua (1656, Seville Cathedral); Girl and her Duenna (1670, National Gallery of Art, Washington); and The Immaculate Conception of the Escorial (1678, Prado Museum, Madrid).

Girl and her Duenna (1670)
National Gallery of Art, Washington

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Art Apprenticeship

Murillo was born in Seville in 1618. Little is known of his early life, except that his parents died early and he went to live with the artist Juan del Castillo (1590-1657). Castillo painted with a naturalism which was derived from Venetian influences. The movement and theatricality he gave to his figures displayed an influence of the great Flemish Baroque master, Peter Paul Rubens.

First Paintings

Murillo's first paintings were strongly influenced by Castillo, as well as Zurbaran, Alsono Cano and Jusepe de Ribera. When he finished his apprenticeship, Murillo did not choose the traditional route of entering an artisan workshop, but instead chose to stay independent. It is thought he may have made a living selling Sargas at country fairs, which were cheap paintings sold on rough canvas.


Lives of Franciscan Saints

His works must have attracted popular attention, because he soon received a commission for a series of 11 religious paintings of saints, from the Franciscan monastery in Seville. It was the successful completion of these works which established Murillo's initial reputation as an artist. It is difficult to put Murillo's works into chronological order, as he rarely dated them, but it is thought the series of 11 paintings dated from about 1646. A pair of paintings for Seville Cathedral followed, which compounded his reputation. Murillo began to specialise in two themes: the Virgin and Child and the Immaculate Conception. At the age of 26, Murillo moved briefly to Madrid, where he studied the works of Velazquez, Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck in the royal collection. The rich colours and softly modelled forms of those masters were soon incorporated into his own work.

Genre Scenes

Murillo's mature examples of baroque painting are primarily religious of nature. However, in his earlier life, he painted many memorable genre scenes of everyday Spanish life; of ragged boys and flower girls on the streets of Seville. Wonderful examples include The Young Beggar (not dated, Louvre, Paris); Girl and her Duenna (1670, National Gallery of Art, Washington); Baking of Flat Cakes (1645-50, Hermitage, St. Petersburg); Boys Eating Grapes and Melon (1645-46, Alte Pinakothek, Munich) and Old Woman and Boy (1650s, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne). In the latter painting, Old Woman and Boy, Murillo depicts an old woman trying to hide her plate of food from a poor street boy. It is typical of his style and illustrates why he was so popular: Murillo managed to depict poverty in an upbeat and humorous manner.


Murillo also excelled at portrait art, but the identity and importance of his sitters remain shrouded in the history of time. His portraits are not as light-hearted as his genre painting, being instead rather sombre and serious. A fine example is his Self-Portrait (1670, National Gallery, London). The painting demonstrates influences of Dutch engravings. He paints himself surrounded by a gilded oval frame, as though he is looking in a mirror - but in a tromp l'oeil manner, he extends his hand beyond the frame. He is dressed in solemn black, and is surrounded by the tools of his profession, a painter's palette, brushes, a drawing in red chalk and a pair of dividers and rulers. The rulers tell us that he is an educated artist, who uses maths to create accurate etchings. In his portraits, Murillo opted for dark colours and heavy shadows, limiting his famous soft brushstroke for only hair and lace.

Religious Paintings

In later life, Murillo focused primarily on religious subjects, no doubt because the Catholic Church was the main patron of the arts in Europe at the time. Examples of his religious oil paintings include: Adoration of the Shepherds (1646-50, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg); Angels' Kitchen (1646, Louvre); Adoration of the Magi (1655-60, Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio); and The Annunciation (1660-65, Prado, Madrid). One of Murillo's most popular commissions was the depiction of the Immaculate Conception (eg. his 1665 version at the Prado, Madrid). The theme of the Virgin and Immaculate Conception was debated by religious orders in Spain at the time - the Franciscan order believed that Mary was conceived by her mother without original sin, while the Dominicans held that Mary was conceived 'normally' but was later purified of sin. This is not to be confused with the Virgin birth of Jesus, which is known as the Annunciation. Murillo's depiction of Mary, surrounded by sweet Putti was so popular that he repeated the theme numerous times. The artist idealised his Madonna, her expressions are sweet, the colours are soft - the term 'estilo vaporoso' (vaporous style) is often used to describe it.

In 1660 Murillo became one of the founding members of the Seville Academy, becoming its first President. While working on the Marriage of St. Catherine (1682), the artist fell from a scaffold and died soon after. After his death, his popularity grew through prolific imitation of his paintings. Prior to the 19th century, Murillo was the most famous Spanish painter in history. In fact, his works influenced the development of Rococo painting. In the 19th century however, due to the numerous imitators on the market and confusion over theauthenticity of certain paintings, his reputation dipped, but is now once again on the rise.

Paintings by the Spanish Baroque artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world, notably the Prado in Madrid.

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