Together with Diego Velazquez and Zurbaran, Bartolome Murillo also helped in the development of Spanish Baroque style of painting. He was one of the most in-demand and successful painters in Seville during the 17th century, whose commissions were mostly from religious institutions and noble families. He also made children and women as a subject matter in his other paintings as well as beggars and inanimate objects.
Murillo’s display of brilliance began during his long stint under the patronage of the San Francisco Convent in Seville. It went successful that it was soon followed by three more religious arts for the same cathedral. His career did not live and die in Seville though as he also paid some visits to Madrid around 1650’s. There, he had a close encounter of some of the famous works of Flemish painters such as Van Dyck and Rubens and presumably he have also seen the works of Italian artists.
Murillo’s surviving works today include The Holy Family with Dog (1650), Two Women at a Window (1660), Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife (1645), The Young Beggar (1645), St. Isidor of Sevilla (1654), The Immaculate Conception of the Venerable Ones (1678), among many others.
Bartolome Esteban Murillo was born on December 1617 and was baptized on January 1, 1618. He was born to a well-to-do family in Seville. His father Gaspar Esteban was a respectable town barber and surgeon while his mother Maria Perez was a housewife. While Gaspar provided well for his family, Bartolome being the youngest of 14 siblings was unable to attend formal training because of the premature death of his parents.
Around 1628, the ten-year old Murillo was an orphaned already and had since lived with his older sister. He was also later on brought up by his uncle, Antonio Perez who was also an artist. Antonio’s wife, Vasco de Pereira, was also a respectable painter in the town so Murillo grew up developing his keen interest in the arts together with his cousins. It is believed that this family of painters was his first source of influence.
In 1630, he began his apprenticeship to Juan de Castello, a local painter. His master introduced him to various Flemish paintings and styles with Molanus’ Treatise on Sacred Images as the prime example. During the early years of his training, he would observe the works of Alonzo Cano, Zurbaran and Jusepe de Ribera that these men had direct impact on his painting style later in his career. In fact, the painting style of these Spanish Baroque artists can be clearly seen in his approach to painting religious art works.
And as the style of Murillo improved through the years, his works became more and more polished that appealed to the taste of aristocrat and noble patrons. Consequently, he went to Madrid in 1642 to pursue some all-important commissions there. This had given him access to the works of Diego Velazquez who was the first Spanish Baroque painter to have a very successful career.
In Madrid, he presumably have seen the art creations of Flemish and Venetian masters as by this time King Philip IV had catalogued his royal collection already. This trip influenced him to change his style a bit from being bold and polished to a softer but vivid forms and colors. He was also introduced to painting festival-themed works and sold these pictures to the Indies.
After three years of staying in Madrid, Murillo decided to go back to Seville and marry Beatriz Cabrera y Villalobos. They had eleven children and had been earning a decent income out of his own studio which he established when he was 22 years old.
In 1645, he was hired by the San Francisco Convent to paint a series of art works for them. These paintings depicted the miraculous events in the lives of the saints of the said Order. It is through these works that Murillo displayed the influences he got by seeing the works of Velazquez and Flemish masters in Madrid.
Too often he would execute a dramatic composition of the figures combined with somber mood such as in the Death of St. Clare. This style helped him become a distinguishable painter in Seville that he quickly outstood his rival, Zurbaran, at the time. Even his growing responsibilities to his large family and the plague did not stop him from keeping up with the demands of his patrons.
Between 1640’s and 1650’s was the busiest decade of Murillo’s time as an artist. In 1656, he was granted one of the most important commissions of his career, the Saint Anthony of Padua altarpiece, which is the town’s largest altarpiece that was ever produced. In 1658, he joined the other local artists in going to Madrid as the city has the highest concentration of work opportunities.
However, not long after his stay in Madrid, he returned to Seville suggesting that his attempt at securing more commissions went unsuccessful. In 1660, as though receiving a consolation prize, the very first arts academy in Spain was founded. The academy is called the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de St. Isabel de Hungria, which was structured after the prominent art training schools in Italy. It was founded through the sponsorship of Conde de Arenales and Marques de Villananrique.
The academy leaders had appointed Murillo as President and he was joined by his fellow artists, particularly the younger ones such as Francisco de Herrera. His Presidency only lasted for a couple of years though and in 1663, Juan de Valdes Leal replaced him. This disappointed Murillo that his passion for shaping the future of the academy diminished and decided to just hand it to Leal completely. Art historians remain hypothetical on whether the reason for Murillo’s distant relationship with the academy post-Presidency was due to the arrogance of Leal or to his overwhelming workload as an independent painter.
It is worth mentioning that around 1660’s Murillo would have been busy accepting and completing commissions as well as recognitions from his contemporaries and patrons. His works were widespread outside of Spain, which made him the most popular Spanish artist at the time. Velazquez became famous in the non-Hispanic territories two centuries after his death in 1660.
Some of the important commissions he had completed by this time included the Iglesia del Convento de Capuchinos altarpiece, The Girl with Flowers and The Young Beggar. In 1662, he was acknowledged by the Franciscan Venerable Tertiary Order as their new member.
Fame and fortune had stayed with Bartolome Murillo even through his advanced years unlike his contemporaries. He outlived his wife who died in 1663 but this did not demotivated him, in fact, he accepted yet another commission around 1680 from the Capuchins church in Cadiz. The prestige of this commission was equivalent to the works given by the cardinals and Popes in Vatican.
So, it was a great time for Murillo but this was also when he met his death in 1682. He fell off of the scaffold he was using while working on the altarpiece. This accident caused him to be immobile over the last few months of his life. Although he did not die on the spot he suffered from horrible body pain and this only stopped when he died on April 3, 1682 at the age of 64.
Murillo’s interment was held in Cadiz and his remains were buried right in front of his well-loved painting, Pedro de Campana’s Descent from the Cross, which was located at the Church of Santa Cruz. Being a significant member of the society, Murillo is now being commemorated through his own Murillo Square and his own bust sculpted by Antonio Susillo. This sculpture can now be seen at the San Telmo Palace in Sevilla.