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Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Spanish Painter

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo Photo
Movement: The Baroque

Born: c. December 31, 1617 - Seville, Spain

Died: April 3, 1682 - Seville, Spain

"Murillo was favored by Heaven not only in the eminence of his ability but also in his natural endowments; he had a good figure and an amiable disposition and was humble and modest so that he did not disdain to accept correction from anyone."

Painter Antonio Palomino

Summary of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

In Baroque Spain, artists were more than painters or sculptors, in the eyes of the faithful, they had the power to make the sacred real; and in Seville, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was known as the greatest religious painter of his age. He developed a lush, illusionistic, yet accessible style that combined his grasp of the sensual world with religious conviction and respect for narrative clarity. So, whether his subject was sacred or secular, he painted convincing human beings with recognizable emotions. Murillo's pictures of street children captured their raw energy and brio, while his religious paintings held a mirror up to people and encouraged them to recognise their best qualities, so that they might strive for them in daily life. Like any good artist, he was a storyteller, and like any good storyteller, he painted to show, not tell. His elegant images of the Immaculate Conception, and his reinterpretations of the Virgin, Christ, and saints as beautiful children, blended realism and otherworldliness to immensely popular effect. Even into the 19th century, his paintings of children remained highly prized by English and French collectors, and inspired works by Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

Key Ideas

Murillo achieved a balance between reality and spirituality in his religious paintings by combining the sculptural formalism and clarity of traditional Spanish art with the technical innovations of Venetian and Flemish art.
Murillo painted Christ, the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist as beautiful children to inspire empathy and by extension, charity. Such an emotional approach to religious painting was unprecedented in Spanish art, and with the exception of Murillo's many followers, does not reappear until the late 18th century, in the work of Francisco Goya.
Murillo enlivened and simplified traditional subject matter - religious or otherwise - by using local models, and replacing attributes with dramatic poses and gestures, painting stories and lessons in a visual language ordinary people could comprehend.
Murillo was fascinated by boundaries and challenged the idea that a viewer's engagement with a painting stops at its surface. He used foreshortening, shallow foregrounds, and trompe l'oeil details to literally "fool the eye" and draw viewers deeper into his images.
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo Photo

In December 1617, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was born in Seville, where he would live and work his entire life. Throughout his childhood, Seville remained the foremost city in Spain, equal in power and population to Venice, Amsterdam, or even Madrid. Seville had long held the monopoly on trade with the New World, and despite Spain's near constant wars with France and the Low Countries, the city remained prosperous well into the 1630s. Later, when Murillo established his career, Seville's population and standard of living decreased, while its churches and religious fraternities increased. Eventually, his identity became integrated so strongly with religion that his pictures arguably shaped Baroque Seville as much as the city moulded his career.

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