MURILLO, Bartolomé Esteban
(b. 1617, Sevilla, d. 1682, Sevilla)
The Infant Jesus Distributing Bread to Pilgrims1678
Oil on canvas, 219 x 182 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest
Murillo painted this picture when he was sixty; it was commissioned by Canon Justino de Neve for the refectory of a home for retired priests in Seville, hence the choice of theme: the distribution of bread to the elderly, an action symbolizing charity.
It is a characteristically vertical Baroque composition with the Child in the centre; his face, however, bears no trace of the light-heartedness characteristic of Murillo's young beggar boys. It is a childish face, charming, yet exalted and spiritualized; but the painting of the body indicates how closely Murillo observed the proportions and movements of small children. Equally beautiful and exalted is the face of the ministering angel. But Mary, seated behind the Child, is the embodiment of motherhood, a human being of this earth, comely but without true beauty, anxious and concerned as she watches her little son. In the seventeenth century subtle brushwork and carefully selected hues were used to separate what was earthly from what was heavenly. The angel, the Infant Jesus and the putti floating among the clouds are represented as visionary beings; but Mary, the daughter of earthly people, and the group of three pilgrims are all represented as human beings of this earth as real as the basket of bread which is as closely observed as any still-life.
It is assumed that the pilgrim with a book is the portrait of Canon Justino de Neve. Several later (19th century) copies of the painting are known (e.g. Cadiz, Seville, etc.).