Online Encyclopedia

BARTOLOME ESTEBAN MURILLO (1617-1682)

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V19, Page 37 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
BARTOLOME ESTEBAN MURILLO (1617-1682), Spanish painter, son of Gaspar Esteban Murillo and Maria Perez, was born at Seville in 1617, probably at the end of the year, as he was baptized on the first of January 1618. Esteban-Murillo appears to have been the compound surname of the father, but some inquirers consider that, in accordance with a frequent Andalusian custom, the painter assumed the surname of his maternal grandmother, Elvira Murillo, in addition to that of his father. His parents (the father an artisan of a humble class), having been struck with the sketches which the boy was accustomed to make, placed him under the care of their distant relative, Juan del Castillo, the painter. Juan, a correct draughtsman and dry colourist, taught him all the mechanical parts of his profession with extreme care, and Murillo proved himself an apt pupil. The artistic appliances of his master's studio were not abundant, and were often of the simplest kind. A few casts, some stray fragments of sculpture and a lay figure formed the principal aids available for the Sevillian student of art. A living model was a luxury generally beyond the means of the school, but on great occasions the youths would strip in turn and proffer an arm or a leg to be ,studied by their fellows. Objects of still life, however, were much studied by Murillo, and he early learnt to hit off the ragged urchins of Seville. Murillo in a few years painted as well as his master, and as stiffly. His two pictures of the Virgin, executed during this period, show how thoroughly he had mastered the style, with all its defects. Castillo was a kind man, but his removal to Cadiz in 1639–164o threw his favourite pupil upon his own resources. The fine school of Zurbaran was too expensive for the poor lad; his parents were either dead or too poor to help him, and he was compelled to earn his bread by painting rough pictures for the " feria " or public fair of Seville. The religious daubs exposed at that mart were generally of as low an order as the prices paid for them. A " pintura de la feria " (a picture for the fair) was a proverbial expression for an execrably bad one; yet the street painters who thronged the market-place with their "clumsy .saints and unripe Madonnas" not unfrequently rose to be able and even famous artists. .This rough-and-ready practice, partly for the market-place, partly for converts in Mexico and Peru, for whom Madonnas and popular saints were produced and shipped off by the dozen, doubtless increased Murillo's manual dexterity; but, if we may judge from the picture of the " Virgin and Child" shown in the Murillo-room at Seville as belonging to this period, he made little improvement in colouring or in general strength of design. Struck by the favourable change which travel had wrought upon the style of his brother artist Pedro de Moya, Murillo in 1642 resolved to make a journey to Flanders or Italy. Having bought a large quantity of canvas, he cut it into squares of different sizes, which he converted into pictures of a kind likely to sell. The American traders bought up his pieces, and he found himself sufficiently rich to carry out his design. He placed his sister, who was dependent on him, under the care of some friends, and without divulging his plans to any one set out for Madrid. On reaching the capital he waited on Velazquez, his fellow-townsman—then at the summit of his fortune—and asked for some introduction to friends in Rome. The master liked the youth, and offered him lodging in his own house, and proposed to procure him admission to the royal galleries of the capital. Murillo accepted the offer, and here enjoyed the masterpieces of Italy and Flanders without travelling beyond the walls of Madrid. The next two years were chiefly spent in copying from Ribera, Vandyck and Velazquez; and in 1644 he so astonished the latter with some of his efforts that they were submitted to the king and the court. His patron now urged him to go to Rome, and offered him letters to smooth his way; but Murillo preferred returning to his sister and his native Seville. The friars of the convent of San Francesco in Seville had about this time determined to adorn the walls of their small cloister in a manner worthy of their patron saint. But the brotherhood had no money; and after endless begging they found themselves incapable of employing an artist of name to execute the task. Murillo was needy, and offered his services; after balancing their own poverty against his obscurity the friars bade him begin. Murillo covered the walls with eleven large pictures of remarkable power and beauty—displaying by turns the- strong colouring of Ribera, the lifelike truthfulness of Velazquez, and the sweetness of Vandyck. Among them were to be found representations of San Francesco, of San Diego, of Santa Clara and of San Gil. These pictures were executed in his earliest style, commonly called his frio or cold style. It was based chiefly on Ribera and Caravaggio, and was dark with a decided outline. This rich collection is no longer in Seville; Marshal Soult carried off ten of the works. The fame of these productions soon got abroad, and " El Claustro Chico " swarmed daily with artists and critics. Murillo was no longer friendless and unknown. The rich and the noble of Seville overwhelmed him with their commissions and their praises. In 1648 Murillo married a wealthy lady of rank, Dona Beatriz de Cabrera y Sotomayor, of the neighbourhood of Seville, and his house soon became the favourite resort of artists and connoisseurs. About this time he was associated with the landscape-painter Yriarte—the two artists interchanging figures and landscapes for their respective works; but they did not finally agree, and the co-operation came to an end. Murillo now painted the well-known " Flight into Egypt," and shortly afterwards changed his earliest style of painting for his calido or warm style. His drawing was still well defined, but his outlines became softer and his figures rounder, and his colouring gained in warmth and transparency. His first picture of this style, according to Cean Bermudez, was a representation of " Our Lady of the Conception," and was painted in 1652 for the brotherhood of the True Cross; he received for it 2500 reals (£26). In 16J5 he executed his two famous paintings of " San Leandro " and " San Isidoro " at the order of Don Juan Federigo, archdeacon of Carmona, which are now in the cathedral of Seville. These are two noble portraits, finished with great care and admirable effect, but the critics complain of the figures being rather short. His next picture, the " Nativity of the Virgin," painted for the chapter, is regarded as one of the most delightful specimens of his calido style. In the following year (1656) the same body gave him an order for a vast picture of San Antonio de Padua, for which he received 1o,000 reals (£104). This is one of his most celebrated performances, and still hangs in the baptistery of the cathedral. It was " repaired " in 1833; the grandeur of the design, however, and the singular richnessof the colouring may still be traced. The same year saw him engaged on four large semicircular pictures, designed by his friend and patron Don Justino Neve y Yevenes, to adorn the walls of the church of Santa Maria la Blanca. The first two (now in Madrid) were meant to illustrate the history of the Festival of Our Lady of the Snow, or the foundation of the Roman basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The one represents the wealthy but childless Roman senator and his lady asleep and dreaming; the other exhibits the devout pair relating their dream to Pope Liberius. Of these two noble paintings the Dream is the finer; and in it is to be noticed the commencement of Murillo's third and last style, known as the vaporoso or vapoury. It should be noted, however, that the three styles are not strictly separable into date-periods; for the painter alternated the styles accordingly to his subject-matter or the mood of his inspiration, the calido being the most frequent. In the vaporoso method the well-marked outlines and careful drawing of his former styles disappear, the outlines are lost in the misty blending of the light and shade, and the general finish betrays more haste than was usual with Murillo. After many changes of fortune, these two pictures now hang in the Academy at Madrid. The remaining pieces executed for this small church were a " Virgin of the Conception " and a figure of " Faith." Soult laid his hands on these also, and they have not been recovered. In 1658 Murillo undertook and consummated a task which had hitherto baffled all the artists of Spain, and even royalty itself. This was the establishing of a public academy of art. By superior tact and good temper he overcame the vanity of Valdes Leal and the presumption of the younger Herrera, and secured their co-operation. The Academy of Seville was accordingly opened for the first time in January 166o, and Murillo and the second Herrera were chosen presidents. The former continued to direct it during the following year; but the calls of his studio induced him to leave it in other hands. It was then flourishing, but not for long. Passing over some half-length pictures of saints and a dark-haired Madonna, painted in 1668 for the chapter-room of the cathedral of his native city, we enter upon the most splendid period of Murillo's career. In 1661 Don Miguel Mariam Vicentelo de Leca, who had recently turned to a life of sanctity from one of the wildest profligacy, resolved to raise money for the restoration of the dilapidated Hospital de la Caridad, of whose pious gild he was himself a member. Manua commissioned his friend Murillo to paint eleven pictures for this edifice of San Jorge. Three of these pieces represented the " Annunciation," the " Infant Saviour," and the " Infant St John." The remaining eight are considered Murillo's masterpieces. They consist of " Moses striking the Rock," the " Return of the Prodigal," " Abraham receiving the Three Angels," the "Charity of San Juan de Dios," the " Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes," " Our Lord healing the Paralytic," " St Peter released from Prison by the Angel," and " St Elizabeth of Hungary." These works occupied the artist four years, and in 1694 he received for his eight great pictures 78,115 reals or about £800. The " Moses, " the " Loaves and Fishes," the " San Juan," and the three subjects which we have named first, are still at Seville; the French carried off the rest, but the " St Elizabeth " and the " Prodigal Son " are now back in Spain. For compass and vigour the " Moses " stands first; but the " Prodigal's Return " and the " St Elizabeth " were considered by Bermudez the most perfect of all as works of art. The front of this famous hospital was also indebted to the genius of Murillo; five large designs in blue glazed tiles were executed from his drawings. He had scarcely completed the undertakings for this edifice when his favourite Franciscans again solicited his aid. He accordingly executed some twenty paintings for the humble little church known as the Convent de los Capucinos. Seventeen of these Capuchin pictures are preserved in the Museum of Seville. Of these the " Charity of St Thomas of Villanueva " is reckoned the best. Murillo himself was wont to call it " su lienzo " (his own picture). Another little piece of extraordinary merit, which once hung in this church, is the " Virgin of the Napkin," believed to have been painted on a " servilleta " and presented to the cook of the Capuchin brotherhood as a memorial of the artist's pencil. In 167o Murillo is said to have declined an invitation to court, preferring to labour among the brown coats of Seville. Eight years afterwards his friend the canon Justino again employed him to paint three pieces for the Hospital de los Venerables: the " Mystery of the Immaculate Conception," " St Peter Weeping," and the " Blessed Virgin." As a mark of esteem, Murillo next painted a full-length portrait of the canon. The spaniel at the feet of the priest has been known to call forth a snarl from a living dog. His portraits generally, though few, are of great beauty. Towards the close of his life Murillo executed a series of pictures illustrative of the life of " the glorious doctor " for the Augustinian convent at Seville. This brings us to the last work of the artist. Mounting a scaffolding one day at Cadiz (whither he had gone in 1681) to execute the higher parts of a large picture of the " Espousal of St Catherine," on which he was engaged for the Capuchins of that town, he stumbled, and fell so violently that he received a hurt from which he never recovered. The great picture was left unfinished, and the artist returned to Seville to die. He died as he had lived, a humble, pious, brave man, on the 3rd of April 1682 in the arms of the chevalier Pedro Nunez de Villavicencio, an intimate friend and one of his best pupils. Another of his numerous pupils was Sebastian Gomez, named " Murillo's Mulatto." Murillo left two sons (one of them at first an indifferent painter, afterwards a priest) and a daughter—his wife having died before him. Murillo has always been one of the most popular of painters—not in Spain alone. His works show great technical attainment without much style, and a strong feeling for ordinary nature add for truthful or sentimental expression without lofty beauty or ideal elevation. His ecstasies of Madonnas and Saints are the themes of some of his most celebrated achievements. Take as an example the " Immaculate Conception " (or " Assumption of the Virgin," for the titles may, with reference to Murillo's treatments of this subject, almost be interchanged) in the Louvre, a picture for which, on its sale from the Soult collection, one of the largest prices on record was given in 1852, some £24,600. His subjects may be divided into two great groups—the scenes from low life (which were a new experiment in Spanish art, so far as the subjects of children are concerned), and the Scriptural, legendary and religious works. The former, of which some salient specimens are in the Dulwich Gallery, are, although undoubtedly truthful, neither ingenious not sympathetic; sordid unsightliness and roguish squalor are their foundation. Works of this class belong mostly to the earlier years of Murillo's practice. The subjects in which the painter most excels are crowded compositions in which some act of saintliness, involving the ascetic or self-mortifying element, is being performed—subjects which, while repulsive in some of their details, emphasize the broadly human and the expressly Catholic conceptions of life. A famous example is the picture, now in the Madrid Academy, of St Elizabeth of Hungary washing patients afflicted -with the scab or itch, and hence commonly named " El Tinoso." Technically considered, it unites his three styles of painting, more especially the cold and the warm. His power of giving atmosphere to combined groups of figures is one of the marked characteristics of Murillo's art; and he may be said to have excelled in this respect all his predecessors or con-temporaries of whatever school. Seville must still be visited by persons who wish to study Murillo thoroughly. A large number of the works which used to adorn this city have, however, been transported else-whither. In the Prado Museum at Madrid are forty-five specimens of Murillo—the " Infant Christ and the Baptist " (named " Los Ninos della Concha "), " St Ildefonso vested with a Chasuble by the Madonna," &c.; in the Museo della Trinidad, " Christ and the Virgin appearing to St Francis in a Cavern " (animmense composition), and various others. In the National MURNER 37 Gallery, London, the chief example is the " Holy Family "; this was one of the master's latest works, painted in Cadiz. In public galleries in the United Kingdom there are altogether twenty-fou_ examples by Murillo; in those of Spain, seventy-one. Murillo, who was the last pre-eminent painter of Seville, was an indefatigable and prolific worker, hardly leaving his painting-room save for his devotions in church; he realized large prices, according to the standard of his time, and made a great fortune. His character is recorded as amiable and soft, yet independent, subject also to sudden impulses, not unmixed with passion. See Stirling, Annals of the Artists of Spain (3 vols., London, 1848); Richard Ford, Handbook for Spain (London, 1855); Curtis, Catalogue of the Works of Velasquez and Murillo (1883); L. Alfonso, Murillo, el hombre, &c. (1886); C. Justi, Murillo (illustrated, 1892) ; P. Lefort, Murillo et sec eiives (1892) ; F. M. Tubino, Murillo, su epoca, &c. (1864; Eng. trans., 1879); Dr G. C. Williamson, Murilla (1902); C. S. Ricketts, The Prado (1903). . (W. M. R.)
End of Article: BARTOLOME ESTEBAN MURILLO (1617-1682)
[back]
MURI
[next]
ADAM MURIMUTH (c. 1274-1347)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.