Murillo’s Smiling Children

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.

murillo virgin2

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.

See Murillo’s Marriage of Cana

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This entry was posted in art history, Diego Velazquez, great artists, Murillo, oil painting, Spain. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Murillo’s Smiling Children

  1. wrjones says:

    Normally when you see a painting of a child, you think photo. In his (Murillo) day I wonder how they got the children to pose and hold it?

    There is a photo of Bougoureau painting with two children in a standing pose, and as finished as his paintings are, they must have held the pose for quite a while.

  2. 100swallows says:

    I think Murillo made this up, Bill, so no kid had to sit. My guess is it was based on a quick sketch and then “worked up”.

  3. wrjones says:

    Maybe but maybe not. You have to remember that children were not always treated as children. Some parents had them working long hours in fields and mills and apprenticing all occupations. Some child might have thought it a break to get to pose for a painting instead of hoeing weeds in the hot sun.

  4. iondanu says:

    I will say like the rabbi: you are both right! Probably he had models children who thought that as a break and also he was a quick sketcher and work his sketches latter…

  5. 100swallows says:

    You may be right, Bill, about this kid posing. There’s something wrong with his back, isn’t there? That suggests a real boy model. In Murillo’s time there were a lot of street orphans and all kinds of deformities. Maybe Murillo gave him a bowl of soup as payment. If Murillo did make the painting with the model right there, he’d have had to work fast to catch the smile. Sometime I’ll show you one of his sketches preparatory to a painting.

  6. Judy says:

    This oil painting is called “Country Boy at Threshold” This oil painting came from the National Gallery of London

  7. 100swallows says:

    Judy: Thanks. I don’t think Murillo gave it a name. In a catalog for an exhibition here a few years back they called it “Niño riendo asomado a una ventana” (Boy laughing leaning out of, or looking out of, a window). But it’s good to know what title they’ve given it at the National Gallery.

  8. Pingback: Murillo’s Homey Virgin « The Best Artists

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