The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
Like those of so many others, the works of the 17th-century Spanish
painter Bartolomé Estéban Murillo (1617-1682) have come in and
out of favor as rapidly as sun and shadow across a stormy sea. He was one
of the major lights of Spain's Golden Century, a contemporary of Velázquez,
Ribera, and Zurbarán. According to his biographer, the slightly younger
Antonio Palomino (who was to Spanish artist biography what Vasari was to Italian
artist biography), Murillo was Andalusia's favorite painter. Moreover, compared
to artists outside of Spain, Palomino tells us, a painting by Murillo was
more highly esteemed than one by Van Dyck or Titian. Murillo was called "the
Spanish Raphael," an epithet related to the excellence of his numerous Madonna
paintings. Most of his works were, in fact, of religious subjects; they were
commissioned by convents, monasteries, and churches, including the cathedral
in Seville, and were executed within the dictates of the Council of Trent.
Murillo did, however, complete a number of smaller, more portable works for
private homes; most of these, Palomino tells us, disappeared, taken out of
Spain when their owners left. As a portraitist, Murillo was considered "eminent."
So life-like, in fact, was a small English dog he included in the portrait
of a Seville priest that real dogs barked at it and wondered "why it does
not bark back," or so the story goes. Moreover, Murillo was not only an eminently
skilled painter; as Palomino tells us, he also possessed "goodness and amiability,
humility, and modesty . . . he never refused to take corrections offered by
Southgate MT. Four Figures on a Step. JAMA. 2002;288(17):2083. doi:10.1001/jama.288.17.2083