1665 - 1669

Murillo and the Capuchins of Seville

Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla

This exhibition makes possible reconstructing the entire great series of Capuchins, painted by Murillo, since its dispersion during the 19th century.

On the occasion of the four-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, which took place in the last days of 1617, this museum pays homage to one of the great artists of Spanish baroque art and the most significant in the long history of the Sevillian pictorial school. He does so with the exhibition of the collection of paintings he made for the Capuchin convent in Seville, one of the best pictorial cycles of the 17th century in Spain and one of the most ambitious of those made by the artist.
Masterpieces from Capuchinos
This exhibition makes it possible to reconstruct the entire series for the first time since the Napoleonic invasion led to its dispersion in the 19th century. Most of the works, belonging to the collection of the Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla since the disendowment of ecclesiastical properties carried out in 1835, are joined by loans from various Spanish and foreign institutions, among them the most significant work of the group, "The Jubilee of the Porziuncola", the main canvas of the altarpiece of the high altar. Its restoration has been entrusted to this museum and will remain in Seville for ten years, thanks to the loan made by the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, the current owner of the work.
The altarpiece of the high altar
In 1665, the Franciscans hired Murillo to carry out the church’s paintings, and the painter stayed with his officers in the convent. During the last months of that year and a large part of 1666, he paints and positions the main altarpiece. It was presided over by "The Jubilee of the Porziuncola", surrounded by six works of devotional themes, in addition to a St. Michael and an GuardianAngel both also in the main chapel. "The Virgen of Bethlehem", popularly known as "La Virgen de la servilleta" (Virgin of the napkin),made for the refectory, and a Holy Face, also painted at this time, would be incorporated into the altarpiece in the 18th century. "The Annunciation" and "The Piety" were located in the side altars of the presbytery.

The need to adapt this work to the curvature of the arch of the presbytery forced the painter to frame his composition, adapting its shape to the space for which this painting, and its partner St. Felix of Cantalice with the Christ Child were destined.

The way in which Murillo, already mature, produces the characterization of the old age of Saint Felix in this painting is remarkable. Wrinkles gained over the years are not only traced by brushstroke, but are also marked using the brush tip.

The simple composition of this work suffers from a certain statism and a symmetry barely broken by the ceramic utensils located in the lower area and by the volume and movement of the clothing.

The canvas uses the saints depicted to symbolically gather the two religious communities that throughout history occupied this site, Capuchin and Augustinian, and alludes to the continuity between the primitive foundation of Saint Leandro in the 6th century and the newly founded Capuchin convent.

This admirable depiction of the childhood of Jesus has great similarities with one of his most famous paintings, the Buen Pastor [Good Shepherd] of the Museo Nacional del Prado, a work made around the same dates, with which it shares a pictorial technique and the naturalness in the face of the Child, which justifies his renown for his portrait ability.

St. John the Baptist is represented in isolation, as a hermit in the desert. His clothing is referred to in the Gospels: roughly knitted camel’s hair that covers half of his legs and arms, and a goatskin girdle at his waist.

Maria shows the Child through a window as in a daily scene, creating an unusual sensation of spontaneous closeness to the spectator, which turns this painting into an iconic work of the Spanish baroque.

In this painting, Anunciación, a theme on which Murillo created several works, the figures appear static, with somewhat theatrical gestures but with little expression in their faces.

The harmonious but somewhat muted coloring and the backlighting effect of the luminosity that radiates from the Holy Spirit towards that imprecise space in which the Virgin Mary is found contribute to this.

At an unknown time, possibly in the 19th century, this painting was damaged, with the upper arched part being lost. Anunciación is shaped like this today, since the two works were companion pieces.

The lateral altarpieces
The works were put on hold until 1668, when Murillo began painting the lateral altarpieces of the nave of the church, completed in 1669, three on the side of the epistle and three on the gospel, consecrated mostly to Franciscan saints, arranged in altars presided over by a single painting. The series was completed with "The Immaculate Conception", also referred to as "The Girl", which was found in the lower choir.

This episode alludes to the evangelical passage (Luke 14: 33) of the book which the two angels on the right hold: «Qui non renunciat omnibus qui possidet non potes meus esse discipulus» (Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.). Jesus releases one of his arms in order to comfort Saint Francis.

The unusual presence of the dragon and God the Father in a work by Murillo makes this work one of the most emotive images of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as the new Eve, triumphant and conqueror of sin, as she was depicted in sermons and piety popular at the time.

The deliberate simplicity of this composition, extolled by romantic travelers, places a tender gaze – a Sacred Conversation – between the two protagonists at its centre. The best way to express the simple, profound and austere Capuchin devotion to the Baby Jesus.

This Adoración, the most personal, undoubtedly, of those that Murillo painted throughout his career, also evinces a change in the mentality of the painter deriving from the maturity his painting had reached.

This magnificent painting contains some of the elements that most characterize the artist’s mature work and that give him such deserved renown. It demonstrates his capacity to represent childhood in the Baby Jesus and in the angelic figures.

Over the centuries, this painting has attracted much praise from experts. In the 18th century, Palomino tells us that Murillo was especially proud of it and that he called it his canvas.

The grace of the shapes and a meticulous sense of composition that characterizes the works of this period make this work a clear example of the Rococo taste for which Murillo was famous.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla
Credits: Story

Murillo and the Capuchins of Seville

Curator: Valme Muñoz Rubio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville.

Department of Dissemination: Ignacio Cano Rivero, Virginia Marqués Ferrer and Fernando Panea Bonafé.

Department of Conservation and Research: Ignacio Hermoso Romero, Rocío Izquierdo Moreno and Lourdes Páez Morales.

Restoration: Fuensanta de la Paz Calatrava, Mercedes Vega Toro and Alfonso Blanco López de Lerma.

Photographs: Google Arts & Culture, Pepe Morón, Fuesanta de la Paz Calatrava, Mercedes Vega Toro and Alfonso Blanco López de Lerma.

Social networks: Lourdes Páez Morales.

Virtual adaptation: Lourdes Páez Morales.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla.

Credits: All media
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