MURILLO, Bartolomé Esteban
(b. 1617, Sevilla, d. 1682, Sevilla)


Spanish painter, active for almost all his life in his native Seville. His early career is not well documented, but he started working in a naturalistic tenebrist style, showing the influence of Zurbaran. After making his reputation with a series of eleven paintings on the lives of Franciscan saints for the Franciscan monastery in Seville (1645-46, the pictures are now dispersed in Spain and elsewhere), he displaced Zurbaran as the city's leading painter and was unrivalled in this position for the rest of his life.

Most of his paintings are of religious subjects, appealing strongly to popular piety and illustrating the doctrines of the Counter-Reformation church, above all the Immaculate Conception, which was his favourite theme. His mature style was very different to that seen in his early works; it is characterized by idealized figures, soft, melting forms, delicate colouring, and sweetness of expression and mood. The term 'estilo vaporoso' (vaporous style) is often used of it. Murillo also painted genre scenes of beggar children that have a similar sentimental appeal, but his fairly rare portraits are strikingly different in feeling - much more sombre and intellectual (an outstanding self-portrait is in the National Gallery, London).

In 1660, with the collaboration of Valdés Leal and Francisco Herrera the Younger, Murillo founded an academy of painting at Seville and became its first president. He died at Seville in 1682, evidently from the after-effects of a fall from scaffolding. He had many assistants and followers, and his style continued to influence Sevillian painting into the 19th century. His fame in the 18th century and early 19th century was enormous. With Ribera he was the only Spanish painter who was widely known outside his own country and he was ranked by many critics amongst the greatest artists of all time. Later his reputation plummeted, and he was dismissed as facile and sugary, but now that his own work is being distinguished from that of his numerous imitators his star is rising again.