MURILLO, Bartolomé Esteban
(b. 1617, Sevilla, d. 1682, Sevilla)
Madonna and Childc. 1670
Oil on canvas, 166 x 115 cm
This is a particularly beautiful work from Murillo's late period. Over the decades, Murillo's painting became increasingly delicate and gossamer-like as the boundaries between his forms progressively dissolved. In this last phase of his creative production, he applies paint so thinly in places that the structure of the underpainting can clearly be seen. The white of the swaddling clothes has been given more strength, although the painter was not concerned here about creating a unified surface and simply placed one brush stroke directly beside the next. A delicate hint of pink shimmers on the Virgin's cheeks, and the pink of her fingers makes them stand out from the more pallid flesh tones of the infant Jesus. The subject has been reduced to its essence and the colours restricted to a few basic tones, although the effect of Mary's cloak has been spoilt by the changes that take place in blue pigments over time. The neutral background and the child's gaze, which appears to have moved spontaneously from its mother to a visitor who has suddenly entered, heighten the work's sense of intimacy.
Murillo's Madonna was pierced by several bullets during the revolutionary unrest of May 1849. X-rays and the circular craquelure around the bullet holes confirm that these reports should not be dismissed as mere legends. The holes, which immediately afterwards were patched and retouched, are at the end of Mary's right thumb, to the left above her headscarf, and to the left in the background. The painting's present state is due to restoration work carried out in 1970.