The most famous Baroque Spanish artist of his time Murillo’s works, having fallen out of style, are now back in their rightful place in Spain’s art history
The works of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, along with those of Diego Velazquez, are probably the best known of the earlier Spanish painters outside of Spain itself. He was born in 1617 in Seville, a city famous for producing artists and writers of the greatest calibre. He lost his parents whilst still a young boy and was taken in by a local artist called Juan del Castillo from whom he learned to paint and draw. In his early years, he produced religious paintings for churches in Spain and in the Spanish colonies in the Americas as well as delightful pictures of local urchins, flower sellers and the like in his native city.
According to John Moffat in his book “The Arts in Spain”, “Murillo’s initially naturalist and tenebrist style, which he formed without leaving Seville, quickly changed to a diaphanous luminism following two visits to the Spanish court in Madrid”. The visits are believed to have been somewhere in the late 1640’s. Here he was exposed to the works of the great Italian and Flemish artists such as Titian, Rubens and Van Dyck. “Thereafter, practically single-handed, Murillo established a new, synthetic and forceful modelled style which was to dominate mainstream Spanish painting until the time of Goya.”
Religious Works of Art
His later works were nearly all on religious themes which he treated in an imaginative and richly coloured style. Works such as ‘Holy Family with Bird’ (c1650) , three versions of ‘The Immaculate Conception’ and various paintings of saints show this intense color and use of light which are the signature of his paintings as is the mist which often surrounds the main characters containing angels, giving his works an atmospheric effect not previously seen in Spanish works of art.
His paintings became widely popular, not just in his native Spain but across Europe and especially in England where the likes of Joshua Reynolds and John Constable were influenced by his style. Until the 19th century, he was the most famous Spanish artist known to the world and later Spanish artists were influenced and encouraged by his style and fame.
Murillo started an Academy of Art in Seville to encourage young artists and was himself a director. At this time, he received many commissions to produce religious works. It was while he was painting an altarpiece for the Capuchins Church in Cadiz in 1680 that he fell from the scaffolding he was using and was severely injured. He died in April 1682 from his injuries and was buried in the Cathedral in Seville, in front of one of his favorite paintings.
Death of the Artist
After his death, his paintings became even more popular, especially during the Rococo period of the first half of the 18th century, so much so that the King of Spain had to ban the selling of his paintings abroad. In the 20th Century, various critics called his work “weak” and Velasquez was considered to be, by far, the most influential of Spain’s artists but now, the paintings of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo are being re-evaluated by critics and his reputation as one of Spain’s greatest artist is being restored