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Work The Birth of the Virgin

Department of Paintings: Spanish painting

La Naissance de la Vierge

© 1992 RMN / Gérard Blot

Paintings
Spanish painting

Author(s):
De Vergnette François

The newborn Virgin Mary is being taken from her bath by servants helped by angels. Her mother, Saint Anne, rests in the background. Murillo, the last of the great painters of Spain's Golden Age, depicts the religious scene with great tenderness. The baroque treatment in this work shows the influence of the Flemish school and Velázquez on Murillo after his trip to Madrid, a turning point in his career.

A newborn baby bathed in the company of angels

The newborn Virgin Mary, radiating light, is being taken out of her bath by a servant who is passing her to another servant. Cherubs hand them a towel from a wicker basket. Other kneeling servants and angels look on as a cloud of angels descends from heaven. Murillo effortlessly integrates these divine figures into this scene full of humanity. In the background, in the shadows on the left, the baby's mother, Saint Anne, rests on a four poster bed, with the father, Saint Joachim, to one side. On the right, also in the shadows, servants dry swaddling clothes by a fireplace. The adult Virgin Mary appears in many of Murillo's works (The Holy Family, Musée du Louvre), but this is the only time he painted the theme of her infancy.

A new religious feeling

Murillo painted this picture in 1660 for the tympanum of a niche in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Seville Cathedral. It was commissioned by the executors of the will of a captain and city councilor. Sevillians showed great devotion for the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception. Murillo, the last of the great painters of Spain's Golden Age, lived in Seville almost all his life. He rose to fame there through his series of paintings commissioned by Andalusian religious orders (The Angels' Kitchen, Musée du Louvre). He imbued his work with a religious feeling very different to that previously expressed by Spanish painters, and his gentle faith was the reason for his success in Seville. He also painted the street urchins of his city in a number of genre paintings (The Young Beggar, Musée du Louvre).

A baroque work

The Birth of the Virgin is a crucial work in Murillo's stylistic evolution. It was one of the first canvases he painted after his stay in Madrid in 1658, where he studied pictures by the great Renaissance masters, the Flemish painters and Velázquez. In this picture he was already gravitating away from the Caravaggist movement, which he had been close to in his early years (The Angels' Kitchen, Musée du Louvre), towards a new, baroque manner, notably in the movements and diagonals animating the central group. The figures are graceful and natural. The skilful chiaroscuro and fluctuating light, possibly influenced by Velázquez, is softened by the use of a vaporous "sfumato" treatment. The overall dynamism of the scene is accentuated by his free brushwork. The reds dotted around his warm-hued composition were perhaps influenced by Rubens.

Bibliography

Ayala Mallory Nina, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Madrid, Éditions Alianza, 1983, pp. 26-27, 36-39.
Ressort Claudie, Écoles espagnole et portugaise, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, pp. 206-207.

Technical description

  • Bartolomé Esteban MURILLO (Séville, 1618 - Séville, 1682)

    La Naissance de la Vierge

    1661

  • H. : 1,79 m. ; L. : 3,49 m.

  • Acquis en 1858 , 1858

    M.I. 202

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Murillo
    Room 26

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