Murillo was born only eighteen years later than Velazquez and in the same city—Seville. They grew up in the same streets. They knew many of the same people. But their paintings, their style, have little in common.
Velazquez keeps his distance from his models, whether people or things. He may paint a group of jokesters as in The Drunks but he doesn’t join in the fun or even smile. Nor does he try to appeal to the viewer. His style is intellectual, not sentimental. You look at the old hoodwinker called Menippus and you think of the human condition.
Menippos by Diego Velasquez (1599-1660) Prado Museum, Madrid (public domain photo)
Murillo, on the other hand, turns his clay jugs into homey, friendly objects and his people into members of the family. The young Virgins and Mary Magdalenes could all be his daughters. He likes people and lets it show.
Two Women at a Window , National Gallery of Art, Washington (public domain photo by Sanjay Acharya)
He loves children. Velazquez paints a street urchin and you look on with a kind of morbidity. Murillo does a filthy boy bum and you want to take him home, clean him up, and keep him.
Boys Playing Dice by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Alte Pinacothek, Munich (public domain photo)
Boys Eating a Melon by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Alte Pinacothek, Munich, (public domain photo)
Look at this homey Virgin and Child, now in the Prado Museum of Madrid.
Virgen del Rosario con el Niño (164 x 110 cm.) Painted 1650-1655 (public domain photo)
It shows the best of Murillo. He was a simple man with his heart open all the time and his sweetness was no cynic’s trick. It often ran away with him. But not here, or not far.
Sure, Murillo was thinking of Caravaggio and his dark paintings. But the cold Caravaggio could never have thought of such charming details as this playful Child walking on his young mother’s lap. He would never have thought of pushing together their cheeks like that nor of that look of simple welcome and curiosity those two give the viewer. Caravaggio would have given his stage-lighted figures a dramatic importance but never such dignity.