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Saint Isidore

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Author(s):
Grollemund Hélène

This major drawing has been compared to the painting of Saint Isidore, which was commissioned from Morillo by the Archdeacon of Carmona, Juan Federigui, as was its companion piece portraying Saint Leander (both may be found in Seville Cathedral). They were hung in the sacristy of the cathedral in August 1655. This drawing, regarded as one of Murillo's masterpieces, shows his perfect mastery of the difficult technique of cross-hatching.

An act of devotion

Saint Isidore was born in Cartagena, Andalusia, in 560 into a family of saints: Saint Leander, whom he succeeded as Bishop of Seville in 601, Saint Fulgentius, and Saint Florentina. A great scholar and prolific writer, he left a number of notable works including a history of the Goths and a huge encyclopedia, Etymologiae. In Seville, Canon Juan Federigui wanted to hang two paintings in the alcoves of the cathedral's sacristy, one of St. Leander and St. Isidore, the other of St. Laureano and St. Hermenegild, to testify to the "special devotion he had for these saints, who will be painted by the best artist presently in Seville, Pedro de Morillo [sic]" (Proceedings of the Chapter, May 19,1655). Only the first two saints were painted and on separate canvases, apparently to give more substance to the figures, for the paintings were to be hung very high on the wall.

Two projects for one painting

There are slight differences between the sketch and the final work, perceptible in the carriage of the head, the presentation of the book, and the background decoration (moreover, the extra four centimeters added to the top of the drawing do not appear in the painting). These changes have been interpreted as an attempt to give a different psychological coloring to the figure. The drawing emphasizes the saint's argumentative, pugnacious character, while the painting brings out his studious nature - perhaps to establish a link to another painting for the chapel of St. Isidore in the cathedral. In fact, it was more likely to have been an initial project that the artist presented to his patron, who requested the changes that Murillo subsequently made to a second drawing. The second project may well have been the St. Isidore in the British Museum, which is very close to the painting both in the figure's attitude and the feeling of serenity and meditation that emanates from it.

Masterly cross-hatching

The Louvre drawing, mainly in pen and ink with highlights in wash, is vigorously executed and uses a variety of techniques to render the shadows: broad cross-hatching for the darkest areas, and more widely spaced parallel lines for the effects of light on clothing and architecture. It is one of the finest examples of Murillo's masterful cross-hatching. It attests to the influence of Herrera the Elder, who was renowned for this technique and helped spread the use of pen-and-ink cross-hatching in Andalusia. Here the relationship between the two artists is obvious, although Murillo replaces Herrera the Elder's close, regular cross-hatching - similar to engraving techniques - with freer, more flowing lines. There are also affinities with Alonso Cano's work. Both artists show the same freedom, the same mastery and sense of detail and precision.

Bibliography

Ressort Claudie, in Dessins espagnols : Maîtres des XVIe et XVIIe siècles, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1991, n 85.
Boubli Lizzie, Inventaire général des dessins : Ecole espagnole XVIe-XVIIIe siècles, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, n 85.
Pérez-Sánchez Alfonso, Tres siglos de dibujo sevillano, Séville, 1995-1996, n 76.

Technical description

  • Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617, Seville-1682, Seville)

    Saint Isidore

    Circa 1655

  • Pen and brown ink, brown wash, and black chalk on pale beige paper (or paper with a light brown wash?)

    H. 23.7 cm; W. 16.5 cm

  • Collection Dezallier d'Argenville, sa vente, 1786 ; colletion Saint-Morys, saisie des biens de Emigrés, 1793, remise au Museum en 1796-1797

    3918445

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Annotation lower right: Morillo