Esteban Murillo was the youngest of fourteen children of a Sevillian barber,
Gaspar Esteban, and his wife Maria Peres. In 1627, his father died, a year
later he lost his mother. Murillo’s elder sisters and brothers were already
grown up and could take care of themselves, while the 10 year old Bartolomé
was adopted into the family of his aunt, married to a wealthy Sevillian
Murillo was apprenticed early to a painter Juan del Castillo (1584-1640).
When, in 1639, Castillo left Seville for Cadiz, Murillo did not enter any
workshop of a known artist, as it was the traditional way of all the beginners,
but preferred to stay independent. It is said that to gain a living Murillo
started to make sargas - cheap paintings on rough canvas sold at country
fairs, and shipped to America by traders. Obviously his paintings appealed
to the taste of the public, besides they revealed a certain talent of the
young man. That was why the Franciscan monastery in Seville commissioned
this unknown artist with a cycle of 11 paintings with scenes from the lives
of Franciscan saints, which, after their execution, brought Murillo fame.
The artist dated his works very seldom. The first dated canvas belongs
to the cycle for the Franciscan Monastery: one of the paintings is dated
1646, thus the whole series is usually dated 1645-46. But some art historians
consider that the work took a longer period, of approximately 1642-1646.
The canvases of the cycle are executed in different styles; thus some art
historians consider that Cuisine of Angels
(Miracle of St. Diego de Alcada) was inspired by Rivera; Death
of St. Clara was influenced by van
Dyck; and Velazquez
had an effect on St. Diego Giving Charity. Even if it is
really so, no wonder, the young artist was studying, during this long work
his own style of soft forms and warm colors was being formed.
At some point in his life, probably in the late 1640s, Murillo is believed
to have visited Madrid. In any case, after 1650 his style changed, which
might be the result of his meeting with Velazquez and studying of the works
of Titian, Rubens,
and Van Dyck in the royal collections in Madrid.
On February 26, 1645 Murillo married Beatrice Sotomajor-i-Cabrera; soon
their first daughter, named Maria, was born (died 1650). In 1647-1654 the
artist painted a lot of ‘Madonnas’, small in size, the canvases were aimed
for home altars: Madonna of the Rosary,
Already in his early religious paintings for the Franciscans Murillo widely
used the genre scenes, which soon became a separate subject in his works:
Beggar Boy (1650), Grape and
Melon Eaters. (c.1650), The
Little Fruit Seller. (c.1670-1675) etc. Today considered somewhat
sentimental, his genre scenes nevertheless represent a new way of perception.
Murillo’s ‘children’, as well as his ‘Madonnas’, very soon became popular
not only in Spain. Thanks to them he was the first Spanish painter to achieve
widespread European fame. To the 1650s, also belong many of his portraits.
Unfortunately, we do not know anything about the depicted people, even
when they are identified, and we know their names.
With fame and multiple commissions the financial position of the artist
became secured. It is known that in 1657 Murillo invested big money in
a trade company in the New World, he bought slaves for his household. In
1662, he was admitted to several religious organizations of Seville. These
organizations reminded in their structure and activities the later mason
loges. Murillo also took an active part in the social life of his city.
Thus he was one of the founders of the Academy of Fine Arts in Seville,
which was opened in 1660, with Murillo as its first president.
In January 1664, Murillo buried his wife. Though 20 years of his life were
still ahead, and during these 20 years he would painted 2/3 of all his
known works, Murillo would never fully recover from this blow. During 1664,
he could not work, at the end of the year he moved with all his surviving
children (Jose Esteban, aged 14, Francisca Maria, aged 9, Gabriel, aged
8, Gaspar Esteban, aged 2, and infant Maria) into the Convent of Capuchins.
From 1665 to 1682, he painted many of his major religious works, such as
those for the Santa Maria la Blanca (1665), of the Caridad Hospital (1670-74),
of the Capuchins (1676), of the Venerables Sacerdotes (1678), of the Augustinians
(1680), and, lastly, of the Cadiz Capuchins, together with a large number
of pictures made at different times for the Cathedral of Seville or other
churches and many devotional works for private individuals.
A legend says that the artist died in poverty. It does contradict with
the fact of many commissions he had, more close to the truth is the version
that he gave off his money as charitable contributions to the religious
organizations of which he was the member. The story about Murillo’s death
sounds like a legend. Murrilo accepted commission from the Capuchin church
in Cadiz. For the first time in his life he went to decorate another city.
While working on the Marriage of St. Catherine (1682) Murillo
fell from the scaffold, in critical condition he was brought to his native
Seville, where he soon died, on April 13, 1682.
After his death he left very modest private property, but many pupils
and innumerable followers. His works influenced later Spanish painting
and anticipated 18th-century European Rococo painting.
Paintings of Murillo in the Hermitage. Leningrad. 1969.
Spanish Painting in the Hermitahe. XVI-XVII centuries. Leningrad.
Murillo and His Time. by Ye. Vaganova. Moscow. 1988.
Painting of Europe. XIII-XX centuries. Encyclopedic Dictionary.
Moscow. Iskusstvo. 1999.
Esteban Murillo 1617 to 1682: Paintings from American Collections
by Suzanne L. Stratton-Pruitt. Harry N Abrams, 2002.
Scenes of Childhood by Peter Cherry. Merrell Holberton, 2001.