“Velazquez is in art an eagle; Murillo is an angel. One admires Velazquez and adores Murillo. By his canvasses we know him as if he had lived among us. He was handsome, good and virtuous. Envy knew not where to attack him; around his crown of glory he bore a halo of love. He was born to paint the sky.” —De Amicis.
“Murillo could paint the sacred fervor of the devotee, or the ecstasy of the religious enthusiast, as well as the raggedness of the mendicant, or the abject suffering of Job.” —Charles Blanc.
Spain was not blessed as Italy was with one generation after another of artists so great that all the world knows them even at this distant day. Spain has only two unquestionably great painters that stand out as world-artists. They are Velazquez and Murillo. The former painted with unrivalled skill the world of noblemen among whom he lived. The other, not surrounded by courtiers, looked into his own pure, religious soul, and into the sky above, and gave us visions of heaven—its saints and its angels.
It is impossible to study either of these men apart from the other, or apart from the art records of Spain. To understand either, we must know the land, teeming with rich and unique cities, we must have glimpses of its history, and we must know something of the rules laid down by the church to guide the painter in his work.
The climate of Spain, except in the south, is rigorous. Elevated plains, rounded by snow-capped mountains, and swept during a large part of the year by chilling winds, are not adapted to inspire men to produce great works of art. On such a plain Madrid is situated, and chilly indeed are its nature pictures, even though they are over-arched by the bluest of skies and the most transparent of atmospheres! In Andalusia, however, things were different. Here were the olive, the orange, and the cypress, and here a sunny climate encouraged the houseless beggar no less than the aspiring artist.
In speaking of Spain as a home of painting, we must not forget, either, how very devoted the people were to their religion, for this, perhaps more than anything else, gave a peculiar character to the art of Spain. The doctrines of Luther, found no willing listeners in Spain. Indeed, the Spaniards clung all the closer to the Church when they knew that there were those who wished to change it, and so their paintings are full of sad-faced, suffering saints, and rejoicing, holy men and women who gave their lives to religion. In connection with this extreme religious zeal, the Church found it necessary to impose rules on the artists who would paint these holy personages. The Virgin, whom all profoundly reverenced, should, according to tradition, have fair hair and blue eyes. Her robes must be of pure white and azure blue, and under no circumstances should her feet be exposed. She should stand on the crescent moon with its horns pointing downward. Many other similar rules were at that time thought necessary, and they greatly limited the artists in their work, for however good a churchman a man may be, it is impossible for him to properly prescribe colors and forms for the artist, who, if he is any thing at all, is the see-er of his age. We want such things as the artist sees them. We shall see how nearly Murillo got into trouble by breaking some of these prescribed rules.
If we study the kings of Spain, Charles V. and the Philips, we shall see two things that greatly influenced the art of Spain. First, they were fond of art and spent great sums of money in buying fine paintings by Italian and Flemish masters. Both Titian and Rubens were favorites in Spain, and many of their pictures were painted expressly for Spanish monarchs. Then, these rulers were vain and had a great liking for having their portraits painted. This vanity extended to the Courtiers and even to the dwarfs, several of whom were usually connected with the court as a source of amusement. There are portraits of some of these diminutive creatures so skillfully painted that we cannot help wishing that more worthy subjects had been used. Thus the vanity of monarchs and their courtiers gave a direction to Spanish art which can be accounted for in no other way—their greatest artists are always great portrait painters. So we see that, while genius in artists is indispensable, yet is this same genius largely influenced by climate, by religious enthusiasm, and even by the whims of kings and queens.
Although Murillo stands out a superlatively great and beautiful artist, yet we must not forget that Velazquez, only eighteen years his senior, and like himself a native of Seville, lived during the greater part of Murillo’s lifetime and divided honors with him. As has already been indicated, Velazquez’s art was of a very different sort from Murillo’s. He was born into a home of plenty, and very soon went to Madrid as court painter. We know how he gained renown for all time by the accuracy of the portraits he painted of various members of the court of Philip IV.—the king, the minister, Count Olivarez, the princes, the dwarfs, and the buffoons. We remember, too, how he thought that very ordinary personage, “The Water-Carrier of Seville,” with his wrinkles, his joy, and his beggarly customers, a subject worth painting. Then we recall a goodly list of other commonplace subjects which he treated so truthfully that they will always stand among the great pictures of the world,—“The Spinners,” where women labor in a dingy room, “The Topers,” “The Lances,” representing the great surrender of Breda, and the “The Maids of Honor.” Nor can we forget his ideal portrait of “Æsop,” with his book under his arm. How well we know that book of fables! The rugged, good-natured face, homely as can be, holds us, as by a spell, and if we have not already done so, we read his book because we must, after looking into that dear old face.
One of the loveliest things we remember of Velazquez was his kindness to Murillo when he came to Madrid, a poor art student. Although Velazquez was rich and his pictures in demand, he took a keen interest in the young Murillo, who should one day stand beside him—they two the greatest artists of Spain. By the duties of his office, he was obliged to take an active part in the festivities attending the marriage of Louis XIV. and the Infanta, Maria Theresa, in 1660. The fatigue and exposure caused his death. We are reasonable in presuming that thus was Spain robbed of ten years of a strong artist’s life and work. Incomparable loss when we think of what his countrymen gained in watching a passing pageant.
Spain is a land of unique cities. Perhaps this is because in so many of them the works of Christianity were grafted on to works originally built or begun by the Moors. As we study the wonderful buildings of Spain, we cannot forget, however much we may abhor the religion of the Arabs, that they were marvellous builders and profound scholars. When the Spaniards sent them from their country, after they had lived there for seven hundred years, they lost their best citizens, and the most beautiful and highly cultivated part of Spain was henceforth to be comparatively desolate. On all the great section of Andalusia, the most southern part of Spain, the Moors left marks in buildings and in cultivation, that it will take centuries yet to sweep away.
Of all the cities of this division, and it includes a goodly number of Spain’s most important towns, Seville, “the pearl of cities,” the birthplace of both Velazquez and Murillo, appeals most strongly to everyone. Many superlative adjectives rise to our lips as we think of its whiteness, of its sunny vineyard slopes, its orange and olive groves, its salubrious climate, and its ancient associations. We think of its wondrous cathedral, next in size to St. Peter’s, of its storied bell-tower, the Giralda, of that fairy palace, the home of generations of Moorish kings, the Alcazar, of the Golden Tower by the river’s edge, where Christian rulers stored their treasure. And then to our vision of Seville the beautiful, we add the silver Guadalquivir which divides, and yet encloses this dream city of Andalusia. If we are not interested in art, still must we be enthusiastic over Seville, for its bewitching little women with their lustrous eyes, their glossy dark hair, held by the ever present single rose. If it be entertainment we seek, then Seville will furnish us the national bull-fight in all its perfection. If the more refined delights of music attract us, still more is this our chosen city, for here is the scene of, Mozart’s “Don Juan ” and “Figaro,” of Bizet’s “Carmen,” and many are the shops that claim to have belonged to the “Barber of Seville.”
It is most pleasing to our sense of appropriateness that out of this beautiful white city of Andalusia, should have come, at about the same time, the two greatest Spanish painters, the one to give us real scenes and people, the other to give us ideals of loftiest type.
Here in the closing days of 1617, Murillo was born. His father and mother were poor people. The house they lived in had formerly belonged to a convent, and it was rented to them for a very small sum, on condition that they would keep up the repairs. Even this Murillo’s father found to be a heavy burden. He was a mechanic and his income very small.
Our artist’s full name was Bartolome Esteban Murillo. His last name seems to have come from his father’s family, though it was even more common in those days to take the mother’s name for a surname, as in the case of Velazquez. We know almost nothing of his early years except that he was left an orphan before he was eleven, under the guardianship of an uncle. Perhaps we should mention that Murillo early showed his inclination to make pictures by scribbling the margin of his school books with designs that in no wise illustrated the text therein. With this as a guide his guardian early apprenticed him to Juan del Castillo, another uncle, and an artist of some repute. Here he learned to mix colors, to clean brushes, and to draw with great accuracy.
When Murillo was about twenty-two, Castillo removed to Cadiz, down the river from Seville, and the young artist was thrown wholly on his own resources. Life with him in those days was merely a struggle for existence. He took the method very generally taken by young artists. He painted for the Feria or weekly market. Here all sorts of producers and hucksters gathered with their wares. We can imagine that men of this sort were not very particular about the art objects they purchased. They demanded two things—bright colors and striking figures. Murillo, in common with other struggling artists, turned out great numbers of these little bits of painted canvas. Some of them have been discovered in Spanish America, whither they were undoubtedly taken to assist in religious teaching.
If there was hardship in this painting for the feria, as people slightingly spoke of such work, there were also immense advantages. As he painted he could observe the people who came to buy and the people who came to sell, and, mayhap, that other numerous class in Seville who neither buy nor sell, but beg instead. From this very observation of character must have come largely that skill which is so marked in his pictures of beggar boys, who, with a few coppers, or a melon, or some grapes, are kings of their surroundings. Then the demand for striking figures cultivated a broad style in the artist which added greatly to his later work.
A fellow pupil of Murillo’s had joined the army in Flanders. When he returned he told such wonderful stories of the country and its art works, that Murillo was more than ever inspired to go abroad to Rome or to Flanders. He at once set about earning a little money to assist him in the journey. Again he painted a great number of saints and bright landscapes on small squares of linen, and sold them to eager customers. Thus he provided himself with scant means for the journey. He placed his sister in the care of a relative, and then started off afoot across the Sierras to Madrid, without having told anyone of his intentions. His little stock of money was soon exhausted, and he arrived in Madrid exhausted and desperately lonesome. He at once searched out Velazquez, his townsman, who was then rich, and honored in the position of court painter to Philip IV. Velazquez received him kindly, and after some inquiry about mutual acquaintances, he talked of the young painter’s plans for himself. Murillo spoke freely of his ambition to be a great painter, and of his desire to visit Rome and Flanders.
Velazquez took the young painter to his own house, and procured for him the privilege of copying in the great galleries of the capitol and in the Escurial. He advised him to copy carefully the masterpieces in his own country. There were pictures by Titian, Van Dyck, and Rubens, and Murillo began the work of copying them at once. When Velazquez returned after long absence, he was surprised at the improvement in Murillo’s work. He now advised the young painter to go to Rome, but he had been away from Seville for three years, and he longed to be again at home in his beautiful native city. During his absence he had learned much in art and in the ways of the world. He had met many distinguished artists and statesmen in Velazquez’s home.
The first three years after his return to Seville, he busied himself with a series of pictures for a small Franciscan convent near by. Although he did the work without pay, the monks were loath to give him the commission because he was an unknown artist. There were eleven in the series, scenes from the life of St. Francis. They were admirably done, and though the artist received no pay for them, they did him a greater service than money could have bought—they established his reputation, so that he no longer wanted for such work as he desired.
Among his earliest and best known pictures are those charming studies of the beggar boys and flower girls of Seville. Several of the best of these are in the gallery at Munich where they are justly prized. Here are some of the names he gives these pictures, “The Melon Eaters,” “The Gamesters,” “The Grape Eaters,” “The Fruit Venders,” “The Flower Girl.” They are true to life—the happiest, most interesting, and self-sufficient set of young beggars one could well imagine. Notice, too, the beauty of the faces, especially in “The Fruit Venders,” reproduced in this sketch. There are other interesting things in this picture. With what eagerness the day’s earnings are counted! There is a motherliness in the girl’s face that makes us sure that she is at once mother and sister to the boy. What luscious grapes—what a back-ground, unkempt like themselves, but thoroughly in keeping with the rest of the picture! In his works of this sort what broad sympathy he shows! so broad, indeed, that they prove him as belonging to no particular nation, but to the world.
From the painting of these scenes from real life, he passed gradually to the painting of things purely imaginary—to those visible only to his own mind.
A dainty picture which belongs half and half to each of these classes of pictures, represents the Virgin a little girl, sweet and quaint as she must have been, standing by St. Anne’s knee, apparently learning a lesson from the open book. Both figures are beautiful in themselves and, besides, they present the always interesting contrast of age and youth. This was one of the pictures that well-nigh brought trouble on Murillo from some zealous churchmen before referred to. They thought that the Virgin was gifted with learning from her birth and never had to be taught. They merely criticized the treatment of the subject, however. It was an innovation in church painting.
By this time Murillo was wealthy. He had numerous commissions and, in society, he mingled with the best in the land. He was now in a position to marry, which he did in 1648. There is a story told of Murillo’s marriage which one likes to repeat. He was painting an altar-piece for the church in Pilas, a town near by; while he was working, wrapt in thoughts of his subject, a lovely woman came into the church to pray. From his canvas, the artist’s eyes wandered to the worshipper. He was deeply impressed with her beauty and her devotion. Wanting just then an angel to complete his picture, he sketched the face and the form of the unsuspecting lady. By a pleasant coincidence he afterwards made her the angel of his home—his good wife. The painter doubtless proved the truth of Wordsworth’s beautiful lines—
“I saw her upon nearer view
A spirit yet a Woman too!
· · ·
“A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A creature not too bright and good
For human nature’s daily food.
· · ·
“A perfect woman nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light.”
However this may be, we know that she is often painted as the Virgin in Murillo’s great pictures. Her liquid eyes and dark hair inspired him to forget the rigid rules laid down regarding the Virgin’s having blue eyes and fair hair or, at all events, to disregard them. We shall see the Mary in some of his pictures with the dark hair and eyes of his countrymen. Three children were born into Murillo’s home, two boys and one girl. One boy for a time practised the art of his father, but he later became a clergyman. The other son came to America, while the daughter devoted herself to religion and entered a convent.
After Murillo’s marriage, his house was the gathering place for the most distinguished people of Seville. What a change was this from Murillo’s early condition, when he toiled at the weekly markets for bread and shelter! His power in his work increased, so that every new picture was an additional pledge of his greatness.
It was in middle life that Murillo began painting the subject that more than any other distinguished him. It was to glorify a beautiful idea, that Mary was as pure and spotless as her divine son. It is called the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and so much did it appeal to Murillo that he painted it over and over again. He has left us at least twenty different pictures embodying this doctrine. The one most familiar is perhaps the greatest. It is the one that now graces the gem-room of the Louvre. I so name this room, for in it, within a few feet of one another, are pictures by Raphael, Da Vinci, Correggio, Rembrandt, Veronese, in short, by the foremost masters of the world. Among all these the vision of Murillo takes an equal rank. To many, the idea which the picture represents is of secondary importance, save perhaps as giving a reason for the name it bears. But all can see the exquisite loveliness of this young woman in her blue mantle and her white robe, with her feet concealed by the voluminous folds of her drapery, and with the crescent moon, the symbol of all things earthly, in the midst of a throng of child-angels “hovering in the sunny air, reposing on clouds, or sporting among their silvery folds”—“the apotheosis of womanhood.” It is as if an unseen hand had suddenly drawn aside an invisible curtain and we, the children of earth, were for a moment permitted to view the interior of heaven itself. In this vision of a poet, so masterfully painted, the lover of pictures rejoices.
How did the Louvre come by this magnificent monument of Spanish art when so much that is glorious has been kept within the boundaries of Spain? We have but to turn to the wars of Napoleon and the campaigns in the Spanish peninsula, when the marshals of the mighty warrior swept everything before them. One of these, Marshal Soult, brought back, after his victorious invasion, pictures enough to enrich a Czar. One of these stolen treasures was the picture we are studying. In 1852, the French government bought it of him for more than $120,000. There is but one mitigating thought regarding this rapine of the French, and that is that many art treasures, heretofore virtually locked to the public, were opened to the world—were made easily accessible.
From this fair vision of womanhood let us turn to another, fairer still, where a little child is the central figure, “St. Anthony of Padua.” Although he did not repeat this subject so often as he did the Conception, yet he has left us several representations of this beautiful and much adored saint.
In the life of Raphael we saw how great an influence was exerted on art by St. Francis of Assisi. His most devoted follower was St. Anthony of Padua, from whose lips sweet words fell like drops of honey, and whose ready hands ever dispensed deeds of love. Any man whose life abounds in such acts must be devout. Such was the character of St. Anthony, and he added to this a vivid imagination. Many were the beautiful visions that rewarded and encouraged his deeds of mercy and kindness. One of the loveliest is the one Murillo caught from the depths of his own pure soul, and held long enough to transfer it to canvas to delight the people of his own day, and us of this later time who no longer see visions. It is still in the cathedral of Seville for which it was painted. It is merely called “St. Anthony of Padua.” Never was a more soul-thrilling vision sent to man to illumine his earthly pathway. There is the kneeling saint with outstretched arms reaching forward to embrace the Christ child, who comes sliding down through the nebulous light from among a host of joyous angels. From the ecstatic look on St. Anthony’s face we know that the Child of God has been drawn to earth by the prayerful love in the saint’s heart. We feel certain that the open book on the table near by is none other than the best of all good books. The vision has come to Saint Anthony on the earth, for that is common daylight that streams in through the open door, and those are perishable lilies in the vase there by the open book. By the painting of this picture Murillo gained for himself the title of “The Painter of Heaven.” The picture has always been highly prized, and even the hardships of war did not tempt the men of the Cathedral to accept the Duke of Wellington’s offer to literally cover the canvas with gold to be given in exchange for the precious picture. The English general was obliged to keep his money, and in the cathedral still we may view Murillo’s masterpiece. Treasures tempt thieves even when they are in the form of pictures. In 1874, the figure of the Christ Child was cut from this painting. It was brought to New York, where the thief, in trying to dispose of it, was caught. The figure was returned to Seville, and carefully inserted in the injured painting.
It may not be out of place to stop here and notice the wonderful variety of holy children that Murillo has given us. His Madonnas invariably hold very beautiful children, not so heavenly, perhaps, as Raphael’s in the Sistine Madonna, but nevertheless, children that charm us into loving them. From the holy babe, with all his lovely qualities, let us turn to that dear little boy of older growth, that Joseph and Mary hold so tenderly by either hand in the picture of the “Holy Family ” in the National Gallery in London, or to those other boys, “The Divine Shepherd ” and “St John.” Better than all, however, are those beautiful children known as “The Children of the Shell,” where the little Christ offers to his playfellow, John, the cooling draught from a conch shell they have picked up in their play. They are children drawn from the sky quite as much as the Jesus in the famous St. Anthony picture.
Among his children there are little girls, too. We have already noticed the Virgin as a child, and there is that other, led by the guardian angel sure and safe along life’s uncertain way. Even in our practical time we all have more or less faith in the guardian spirit that watches over every little child. If by some miracle these children could all come to life, what a joyous yet thoughtful assembly it would be! Difficult indeed would it be to select the one beyond all others precious. No more certain proof exists of Murillo’s high appreciation of spiritual things, of the simplicity and purity of his own life and thought than this selfsame throng of little children that he has given us.
Murillo had always thought that a public academy of painting was very much needed in Seville. In his youth he had greatly felt the need of such an institution. Finally, in 1660, the year of Velazquez’s death, several of the artists united with Murillo in starting an academy. It lived only as long as its founder and never produced a great artist.
In 1671 our artist seemed in the very prime of his power. In that year he began the wonderful series of pictures for the Charity Hospital of Seville. It was an old institution of the city, but it had been neglected until it was almost in ruins. In Murillo’s time a wealthy and pious citizen set about restoring it. For the beautifying of the restored hospital Murillo was commissioned to paint eleven works. They are among his very best. Two of them we must notice in particular, “Moses Striking the Rock ” and “Elizabeth of Hungary Tending the Sick.”
In the first of these the artist shows himself in a new capacity, that of illustrator. Nothing could better express the thirst of that vast assembly in the wilderness than this picture. From a mighty, towering rock the coveted water gushes forth in a generous, crystal stream, by its very abundance making a pool beneath. All degrees of thirst are represented in man and beast, from that which is not pressing to that which, in its intensity, makes a mother seize the cup from the babe in her arms.
In the “St. Elizabeth ” we admire the composition of the work, but the subject rather repels than holds us. With the diadem of a queen upon her head, with the delicate hands of a gentlewoman, and from a costly basin St. Elizabeth bathes the scrofulous head of a beggar. Her ladies-in-waiting turn from the loathsome object of her care, while other patients await their turn. In the distance is the court feast that goes on joyously in the palace while Elizabeth, the mistress of the feast, serves the diseased beggars at the portal.
I have said that we could not stop to notice more than two of this notable series. Yet, as I run my photographs over, I cannot refrain from the mention of one other, the noble and wonderfully beautiful “Liberation of St. Peter.” It is simply a magnificent angel awakening Peter who languishes in prison. The suddenly aroused prisoner, the broken fetters, and above all, that glorious angel, extending a helping hand—his presence making a light in that dark cell—tell in no uncertain accents of the power of our beloved painter.
Thus might we go on from picture to picture, and from year to year, for the list ever strengthens as it lengthens. Two more, at least, should claim our attention before this sketch is closed. They are “St. Thomas giving Alms ” and “The Madonna of the Napkin.” The St. Thomas is rightly the companion of that other great charity picture, “St. Elizabeth.” The one represents the abnegation of self in woman’s way—she gives service. The other represents man’s way—he gives money. At the portal of the church stands the pale-faced, spiritual St. Thomas, dispensing his alms to beggars and cripples. In composition and drawing this is one of Murillo’s greatest works. We are interested to know that it was his own favorite among his pictures.
“The Madonna of the Napkin ” is both beautiful and curious. While Murillo was painting a series of pictures for a Capuchin convent of Seville, the cook became very much attached to him. When his work was done and he was about to leave the convent, the cook begged a memento. But how could he paint even a small picture with no canvas at hand? The cook, bent on obtaining his wish, presented him with a table napkin and begged him to use that instead of canvas. With his usual good nature, the artist complied, and before evening he produced a beautiful Virgin holding the infant Christ. Though done thus hastily, this Madonna is one of his best in design and coloring. His other Madonnas we know well, the one holding a rosary, and the other marked by nothing but its own surpassing grace and beauty, and known simply as Murillo’s Madonna.
According to the subject he was painting, Murillo used three distinct styles of work, known as the cold, the warm, and the aerial. The first, in which the line or drawing is marked by strength, he used in his studies of peasant life. The second he used in his visions, while the third he reserved for his Conceptions—his heavenly effects. So fine a colorist was he, however, and so indispensable a part of his art did he consider the coloring that even the pictures classed as cold are radiant with his lovely, mellow colors.
Through the greater part of Murillo’s life he painted for his beautiful Seville. In 1680, however, he went to Cadiz to paint pictures for the Capuchins at that place. He began on the largest one of the number. It was to represent the marriage of St. Catherine, a favorite subject of the time. Events proved that this was to be his last picture, for, while trying to reach the upper part of it, he fell from the scaffolding, receiving injuries from which he died two years later. Gradually his physical power deserted him until he did not attempt to paint at all. Then he spent much of his time in religious thought. In the church of Santa Cruz near by his home, was a picture of the “Descent from the Cross ” by Campana. Before this picture he spent many hours, so much did he admire it. One evening he remained later than usual. The Angelus had sounded, and the Sacristan wished to close the church. He asked the painter why he lingered so long. He responded, “I am waiting until those men have brought the body of our blessed Lord down the ladder.” When Murillo died he was buried, according to his wish, immediately under this picture.
He died in April, 1682. His funeral was of the sort that draws all classes—a beloved man and a profound genius had passed away. His grave was covered with a stone slab on which were carved but few words beside his name. The church was destroyed during the French wars, and the Plaza of Santa Cruz occupies its place. In later years a statue of bronze was erected in one of the squares of the city in honor of Murillo; there it stands, through all changes, the very master spirit of the city.
If this sketch has implied anything, it has emphasized over and over again the sweet and lovable character of Murillo. His religious zeal was great, yet no one could ever justly write fanatic beside his name. There was too much love in his soul for that. His pictures are indisputable proof of the never-dying love that permeated his life.
He left a great number of pictures, and his habit of not signing them made it easy to impose on unwary seekers after his paintings. Passing by all the work the authorship of which is uncertain, yet is there enough left to make us marvel at his productiveness.