Murillo’s style represents a confluence of Spanish Caravaggism, Venetian theatricality and Flemish Baroque. His works are an inventive fusion, integrating his talent for portraiture and genre painting into a highly distinctive religious idiom. His works were greatly admired, especially during the nineteenth century, but were later considered overly sentimental and religiose. He painted a wide variety of subjects from Biblical scenes to portraits and genre scenes, but his fame rests chiefly on his devotional works, especially subjects like the Immaculate Conception, dedicated to the cult of the Virgin Mary, which enjoyed enormous popularity in seventeenth-century Spain.
Around 1638, it seems likely that the young Murillo was apprenticed to a local Sevillian painter Juan del Castillo (ca. 1590–ca.1657) and in 1645, he received his first major commission: to produce eleven paintings for the cloister of the convent of San Francisco, which included his famous Angel’s Kitchen (1646). It represents one of his first masterpieces, displaying a Caravaggesque chiaroscuro and sculptural realism inspired by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664). The series was an exceptional success and was followed by many commissions. Ten years later, his Vision of Saint Anthony of Padua (1656) announced a radical shift in his style. Here, Murillo experimented with a new ‘vaporous’ style infusing his work with a softness and tenderness reminiscent of Herrera the Younger (1627–85). In 1658 Murillo visited the royal collections in Madrid where he encountered Titian’s (1490–1576) Venetian colorism and the Flemish baroque of Rubens (1577–1640) and Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641). These influences liberated him from the harsher Sevillian Caravaggesque realism and ushered in his mature style with its characteristic, softer palette and smoother surface treatment. Some of his most exceptional works of this period are his Christ healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (1667–70) and The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables (1660-65). The latter was commissioned by his patron and friend, Don Justino de Neve the canon of the Cathedral of Seville, whose portrait (1665) at the National Gallery in London is one of Murillo’s greatest works.
Murillo is thought to have had a very kind personality with a great affection for children. He produced many portraits of children in the guise of religious works such as the Christ Child in The Good Shepherd (ca. 1660) and Infant Christ Asleep on the Cross (ca. 1670) or as genre scenes of Sevillian street urchins, such as his The Young Beggar (ca. 1646–50). He also experimented widely with trompe l’œil. His Two Women at a Window (ca. 1655/60) and both of his self-portraits (ca. 1650/55 and ca. 1670) are emblematic of a playful use of complex spatial relations which he would sometimes integrate into his larger compositions. His genre scenes were a novelty in Seville and were likely aimed at merchants traveling through the city. His draughtsmanship has only recently received more attention. An oil sketch at the Dulwich gallery, Adoration of the Magi (1660–65) is demonstrative of his exceptional virtuosity and offers an insight into his famous, vaporous painting technique.
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Books on Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Xavier F. Salomon, et al., Murillo: The Self-Portraits, exh. cat. New York, 2017.
Manuela M. Marqués and Virginia A. Martin, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), dibujos : catálogo razonado, Santander, 2015.
Gabriele Finaldi, ed., Murillo and Justino de Neve: The Art of Friendship, exh. cat. Madrid, 2012.
Jonathan Brown, Murillo: Virtuoso Draftsman, New Haven, 2011.
Susanne Stratton-Pruitt and Jonathan Brown, Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682): Paintings from American Collections, exh. cat. New York, 2002.
Jonathan Brown and Richard G. Mann, Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries, Cambridge, 1990.
Diego Angulo Iñiguez, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1617-1682, exh. cat. London, 1982.
Diego Angulo Iñiguez, Murillo: Su vida, su arte, su obra, 3 vols. Madrid, 1981.
Antonio Palomino de Castro y Lelasco, Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors, 1715-24, trans. Nina Alaya Mallory, Cambridge, 1987.