Bartolome Esteban Murillo images and biography
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Bartolome Esteban Murillo

See also: Spanish Art



The next great 17th century Spanish master after Velazquez and Zurbaran is another artist who lived in Seville, Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Sadly, Murillo is easy to misjudge; at his weakest, which is not all that infrequent, he has a softness that can only be called sentimental. The mistake is to take the weak Murillo as the only Murillo. It is true that he is never as strong or as deep as Velazquez or Zurbaran but he has his own gentle strengths and depths. Murillo can make us catch our breath with his unworldly but convincing images.

Because of our modern desire to face life whole, with all its cruelty, Murillo is often accused of being too idealistic, too anodyne. Our desire for realism runs contrary to Murillo's personal world of family love and understanding. Some of our surprise may come from the realization, unexpected, that sweetness can be made to work. The Holy Family, with its tenderly involved St. Joseph and the absence of anything resembling heavy symbolism, has a charm that increases the longer the picture is looked at. The small mongrel and the cosseted child are both painted with the insight of love.

But we can perhaps best appreciate the genuine if not monumental gifts of this artist in one of his rare secular works. Two Women at a Window is a splendid image, reticent, creamily beautiful, certain of its own understanding of the two figures. One of them is almost certainly a duenna - an older woman employed by the family to be both a governess and a chaperon. She is laughing, but we are not shown her laughter: only her creased up cheeks, flushed with mirth. Her twinkling eyes assure us that what makes the young woman smile to herself, unaffected, makes the older woman crinkle up with sardonic glee. She sees more, and understands with sharper wit, than the pretty child, and Murillo shows us this with the most delicate understatement.

In this wonderful picture, the great strong vertical of the shutter, and the equally strong horizontal of the window ledge, frame the two women. The girl, who is the emotional center of the picture, looks out at life with ironic detachment, but Murillo, and the older woman, know that her practical options are severely circumscribed.

From "Sister Wendy's Story of Painting"

Bartolome Murillo Images

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c. 1650 The Young Beggar
c. 1670 Two Women at a Window

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