Around 1645, Bartolomé E. Murillo (Seville, 1617 - 1682) experienced his first artistic successes and began an upwards career that dethroned Francisco de Zurbarán from his lead as the most admired painter on the respected artistic scene in Seville. At the start of the XVII century, Seville continued to be a prosperous and cosmopolitan city, a thriving marketplace for engravings, a doorway to the Indies and the headquarters of numerous religious orders and collectors of paintings. Despite the fact that Seville commenced its decline around the middle of the century, Murillo enjoyed a successful career there. He hardly left the city during his entire lifetime, except for a hypothetical journey to the Indies and a possible trip to Madrid in 1642 during which he reputedly met Velázquez. Neither of the trips, however, has ever been documented. His trip to the Spanish royal court in 1658 is fully documented.
In his youth, the influence of Masters of the previous generation such as Herrera, the Elder, Zurbarán and Ribera can be observed in the immediate realism of his subjects, his masterly studies of light and luminous contrasts and from his way of observing things, opting for a Naturalism in which we can also appreciate his debt to models of Italian and Dutch painting that Murillo became well-acquainted with thanks to engravings.
But, in addition to these influences, the fundamental elements of his very personal way of depicting religious subjects that were to make up his characteristic style that appealed directly to the feelings of people contemplating his paintings made their appearance in the works of the young painter during this first, early period.
Those works best-known to the public, however, belong to a more mature period of the painter when the so-called "estilo vaporoso" ("vaporous style") became more evident in his works as the result of the Baroque period being at its height, in addition to the influences of Neo-Venetian art and Rubens. This was when he painted the Immaculate Conceptions that were to become, in time, the most popular of his canvasses. The works he painted between the ages of 23 and 38, on the contrary, have never been studied monographically till the present despite their artistic value and tremendous interest, given their context in that period. These canvasses reflect the impact that literature from the Spanish Golden Age of Literature had on Murillo, particularly his interpretation of the book Guzmán de Alfarache by Mateo Alemán that had been published in Seville in 1602, a copy of which Murillo kept in his library. Artist's profound sensitivity regarding the social problems of the period can be observed in a series of masterworks depicting beggars and abandoned children.
The 42 canvasses comprising this exhibition cover the period during which Murillo was an apprentice painter, his contact with early Naturalism and his identification with the doctrines of social justice preached by the Franciscans. The barely fifteen years (from 1640 to 1655) in which Murillo started to train as a painter acquire their full significance when contextualised within the cultural and sociological framework of the period whilst helping us understand this decisive, but little-known period in the career of one of the most outstanding artists in Spanish painting.
In the image:
EYoung beggar (detail), 1645 -1648
Oil on canvas, 110 x 134 cm
Louvre Museum, Paris