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Virgin and Child in Glory

Bartolomé Esteban MurilloAbout 1673

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

The altarpiece was painted for the Archbishop of Seville’s palace chapel. Rather than tell a story it presents the spectator with a vision whose glow is enhanced by the darker left-hand corner. The Virgin and Child’s tender yet troubled gestures and appearance, reflected in the cherubs’ faces, introduce a human quality into a supernatural scene. Murillo’s various Virgin and Child compositions had a great impact on later Catholic Church imagery. The shimmering light, and soft delicate forms of the cherubs, all with their own movement, also anticipate 18th-century art. Murillo’s images of children were particularly popular with 18th-century English collectors and artists. Sometime at the end of the 18th century the Virgin and Child’s faces were cut out for sale and were not re-united with the rest of the painting in England until the 1860s.

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Details

  • Title: Virgin and Child in Glory
  • Creator: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
  • Date Created: About 1673
  • tag / style: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo; Virgin and Child; Catholic; altarpiece; miraculous; vision; human; intimate; religious; cherubs; swarthy; mother; son; Jesus; Baroque; shimmering; expressive; arched; glowing; light; woman; baby
  • Physical Dimensions: w1690 x h2360 cm (Without frame)
  • Additional artwork information: Despite the grandeur of conception and large scale, the altarpiece is a very intimate picture, an image of humanity and material affection, as befits its original context. The intimacy of the image is sustained by the directness of the Christ Child's glance which engages with the worshipper contemplating the altarpiece from below. Nothing is allowed to distract from this vision of a mother who clasps her child tenderly to her as they both stare with pensive concern at the viewer. The image is intended as a vision appearing only to the spectator. Even the gamboling cherubs do not detract from the vision for their expressions reflect those of the central figures. The stillness of Murillo's icon-like figure contrasts with his typical heavenly Virgin impelled diagonally upwards in an apotheosis of baroque movement. Her stance is instead reminiscent of the Byzantine derived medieval paintings and painted wood sculpture characteristic of Spanish altarpieces which may well have affected the artist's compositional choice, for they were Archbishop Spinola's favoured source of spiritual comfort. The patron's artistic taste may also have influenced the choice of deep saturated reds and blues worn by the virgin. The colours were traditionally associated with the Virgin but the rich tones used here reflect the colour schemes favoured by Rubens and Van Dyck, artists whom Spinola knew well and appreciated from his own and his family's picture collection. Murillo's more characteristic colour scheme for his last pictures can be seen in the light pinks and pastel blues of the Dulwich Collection's 'Madonna of the Rosary'. The pale skin tonalities of the latter also contrast with the naturalistically depicted swarthiness of the Walker's figures. This quality often attracted the attention of nineteenth century British commentators who liked to refer to Murillo's peasant-featured 'gypsy Madonnas'. They could not conceive that such a realistically Andalucian complexion could represent an ideal. They assumed, without evidence, that the Virgin was modelled on a real person close to the artist, perhaps his wife or his daughter Ferancisca. The dark skin shared by Virgin, Child and cherubs does, however, introduce to the mystical vision a note of naturalism reiterated by the life-like movements of the cherubs. It was of course his ability to combine elements from the mundane world with the visionary - infinity with humanity and innocence with experience - that ensured Murillo's success as a religious artist for centuries to come.
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Presented in 1953 by the Art Fund to celebrate the reopening of the Walker Art Gallery after closure between 1939-1951

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