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Murillo Period 1660-1671

( Originally Published 1882 )



The Academy of Seville.—Paintings in the Cathedral.—Invitation to Court.—All Saints Chapel.

THE need of a public academy of painting had been much felt by Murillo in his early days, and he determined to supply it for the benefit of a younger generation. An attempt had been made by Velazquez to establish one at Madrid ; but, although supported in his endeavour by the King, he failed. Murillo set to work unaided, with his habitual quiet perseverance, regardless of coldness and indifference. By patiently enduring the decided opposition of his rivals, Herrera the younger, and Valdes Leal, he at length won them over to join in the undertaking, and succeeded in opening the academy for purposes of instruction at Seville on the 1st Jan., 160 in one of the apartments of the Exchange. On the 11th of the month there was a meeting of the members, twenty-three in number, consisting of the principal artists in the city, to draw up a constitution for the new society, at which it was agreed there should be two presidents to act on alternate weeks, to superintend the students' work, settle disputes, and keep order in the school; two consuls to act as substitutes or assistants to the presidents, a treasurer to collect subscriptions, a secretary and a deputy. Murillo and Herrera were chosen presidents, the secretary being Ignacio Iriarte, the celebrated landscape painter, and his deputy was Juan de Valdes Leal. The expenses were to be divided amongst the members, the scholars to pay what they could afford. Upon admission each pupil had to make the following profession of faith : " Praised be the most Holy Sacrament and the pure Conception of our Lady." Fines were imposed for swearing and ill-behaviour of any kind; no conversation unconnected with the business of the school was allowed. The instruction given was intended for those who had attained some knowledge of the art of painting, so no copies were provided, but studies were made from the living model and lay-figure. Towards the end of the first year Herrera deserted Seville and the academy, and went to reside in Madrid ; the following year Murillo withdrew almost entirely, probably tired out by the arrogance of Valdes, who was appointed president at the end of the second year, and constantly strove for sole management. In 1666 Valdes removed his name from the list of members, seemingly from jealousy. He considered himself without an equal in the art of drawing, and was much annoyed by the reception into the academy of a foreign artist, in whom he thought he discovered a rival ; nor would he brook any authority beside his own as president. The Seville Academy cannot be said to have had any great influence upon Spanish art, and never produced any first-rate artist, nor did it long survive Murillo—a man who had fewer followers after his death than rivals during his life—for in twenty years after he had gone it was closed for want both of masters and students.

After retiring from the academy, Murillo confined his instructions to those pupils who assembled in his own workshop. By his gentle teaching he knew how to attach them to himself, and he retained the warm friendship of many even to the end of his life. His mulatto slave, Sebastian Gomez, who was employed upon the menial work of the studio, proved that he too had so far profited by the lessons which were given to others in his presence, that he one day finished a head of the Virgin which his master had left on his easel. Murillo, seeing his talent, granted him his freedom and gave him better work to do. There are several paintings by Gomez in Seville after his master's rich style of colouring, but they are faulty in composition.

In 1668 Murillo was employed to restore some allegorical paintings by Cespedes in the Cathedral chapter-room, and to execute a full-length Virgin of the Conception, together with eight oval half-length pictures of saints ; these pictures are still preserved in the Cathedral. The first is a magnificent dark-haired Madonna ; the saints are Rufina, King Ferdinand, Leander, Archbishop Laureano on the left or Gospel side Hermengild, Isidor, Archbishop Pius and .Justa on that of the Epistle. SS. Justa and Rufina were Christians of the third century, whose zeal was so great that in a religious frenzy they broke to pieces a statue of Venus which was being carried through the streets of Seville in solemn procession. They hold high rank among the patron saints of the town ; artists delight in painting them, and the citizens in doing them honour. They are usually represented holding in their hands La Giralda, which was miraculously preserved by their intervention during a storm which destroyed the greater part of the town. Emblems of their trade as potters are often introduced. Single figures of both these saints are in the Stafford House gallery. Some paintings for the sacristy of the Antigua Chapel date from this period, the Infants Christ and John, and the Repose of the Virgin, but these works have disappeared.

Palomino says that in 1670, at the feast of Corpus Christi in Madrid, a painting by Murillo of the Conception which was exhibited attracted great notice, and that Charles II. expressed a desire for the artist to enter his service, and employed Murillo's friend, Don Francisco Eminente, to bring it about. But all his efforts were unavailing, for Murillo had seen nothing attractive in Velazquez's position at court, and preferred his own. independent retirement in Seville. It is said that he excused himself on the plea of old age, but this could scarcely have been a justifiable excuse if the invitation really was sent at the date given. It is probable, for another reason, that it happened a few years later; the King was then only nine years of age. Eminente commissioned Murillo to paint something which he could take as a present to Charles ; but as more time was required for its execution than could be allowed, Eminente bought one from Juan del Castillo, St. John in the Desert, probably the same boy Baptist that is now in the Royal Museum.

The greatest religious festival ever held in Seville took place in 1671 in honour of the canonization of King Ferdinand III., whose body was the most valued relic in the Cathedral. The solemnities lasted several days, and the task of describing them and writing poems in praise of the new saint was intrusted to a presbyter named La Torre Farfan. To Murillo was confided the decoration of the All Saints Chapel, which was so successfully carried out that Farfan expressed his admiration in these words : " One dares scarcely trust one's eyes, and fears to find that one is looking at a phantom and not a real thing. We are lost in wonder at the talent of our Bartolome Murillo, who also here has created what cannot be surpassed." He calls him a " better Titian," and says that Apelles might have been proud to be called a Greek Murillo. So in his lifetime Murillo had the gratification of knowing that men acknowledged his beauty of conception and appreciated his skill in execution.



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