Spanish painter, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, was the most popular Baroque religious painter of 17th-century Spain. His many religious and secular subjects emphasized the peaceful, joyous aspects of spiritual life. He was the first Spanish artist to achieve international fame.
Bartolome Esteban Murillo is thought to have been born around 1617 in Seville to a Sevillian barber, Gaspar Esteban and Maria Peres. He was the youngest of fourteen children. His father died in 1627, and his mother was also lost to him a year later. His uncle took him in after the death of his parents, and the ten year old boy earned money over the next few years by selling his artwork at Seville Fairs. Later, he was apprenticed to local painters. He sold religious pictures to small churches in Spain and to the Spanish colonies in America. Some of his early work displayed a naturalistic style that often portrayed local peasants.
The artist set out on a journey around 1640 to study the great masters, but made it no further than Madrid. He returned to Seville in 1644 and created his first successful work, which consisted of eleven paintings for a Seville convent. On February 26, 1645, Bartolome married Beatrice Sotomajor-i-Cabrera and had a daughter named Maria who died at the tender age of five. During the next few years, he painted several small ‘Madonnas’, including ‘Madonna of the Rosary’ and ‘Madonna and Child’.
As a result of the time Bartolome spent studying the works of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Kyck, a more mature style of painting emerged with softly modeled forms, rich colors, and broad brushwork. Consequently, a softer tone can be observed in his painting ‘Immaculate Conception’ (1652).
Most of his later work consisted of religious compositions, splendidly colored with great technical skill and intensity. A haze of illuminated mist and heavenly figures surround the central figures in many of the works of that period. These paintings hint at a Rococo quality, decades before the Rococo style was firmly established. In 1660 Murillo helped found the Seville Academy and served as its first president.
In 1681, Bartolome Esteban Murillo was commissioned to paint the walls of the Capuchin monastery in Cadiz. His painting ‘Espousal of St. Catherine’ was put to an abrupt halt when the artist fell from the scaffold to his death on April 3, 1682. The artist was buried in the church of Santa Cruz in Seville.
During the 19th century, Murillo’s genre paintings won nation-wide recognition, and influenced many painters of that period. Among the artist’s well-known works are three versions of the Immaculate Conception, and several paintings of Anthony of Padua. Murillo’s most popular series, painted for the Charity Hospital in Seville, included ‘Moses Striking the Rock’, ‘ St. Elizabeth of Hungary Tending the Sick’, and ‘St. Peter Released from Prison’.
Success can have its downfalls, forever, and in Murillo's case the said downfall was literal. In 1680, Murillo received a commission to paint the main altarpiece for the Capuchins church in Cádiz, a great honor for any artist.