Bartolomé Esteban Murillo barely suggested the Christ Child's head, which seems almost to emerge from a void determined by his hair and clothing, and jotted in only the barest of settings, a slightly scribbly ground. This bold drafting style, expressed in extremely loose, staccato penstrokes, gives energetic freedom to a standard religious subject. In contrast to the sentimentality and usually smooth brushwork of his paintings, Murillo's drawings display fluidity and spontaneity.

Known and admired for his idealized portrayals of children, Murillo often drew and painted scenes of the infancy of Christ, here identified by a shepherd's staff. This attribute also identifies the source of the subject, a passage in the Gospel of Saint John: "I am the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep."

Murillo drew this sketch on the back of a letter; the verso bears extensive writing in brown ink.


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