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The Holy Family, known as the Virgin of Seville

© 1997 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Spanish painting

De Vergnette François

The Holy Family is here composed of the Virgin Mary, the infant Jesus, Saint Elisabeth and the infant Saint John the Baptist beneath the dove of the Holy Spirit and God the Father. The cross of reeds which Saint John the Baptist is offering his cousin evokes the Passion that Jesus will endure as an adult. A late work, it shows Murillo's evolution towards an extremely gentle style influenced by Raphael.

Family, Passion, Trinity

The Virgin Mary gazes tenderly at the infant Jesus standing on her knees as she presents him for the adoration of Saint John the Baptist and his mother, Saint Elisabeth. Jesus clutches the cross of reeds the young Saint John the Baptist is offering him. This cross and the lamb in the foreground announce the Passion that Christ will later endure. Above the infant Jesus is the dove of the Holy Spirit and, further up in the parting clouds, God the Father surrounded by cherubs holds out his open arms to the earthly group below. The evocation of the Holy Trinity gives this family scene its solemnity. The subject of Jesus' meeting with his cousin fascinated Renaissance artists, notably Raphael (Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist, known as "La Belle Jardinière", Musée du Louvre). The scene is not drawn from the New Testament, however, according to which Saint John the Baptist never met Christ before his baptism, but from a Franciscan text: Pseudo-Bonaventure's Meditations on the Life of Christ. According to this work, the Holy Family stayed at Saint Elisabeth's house after the Flight into Egypt and the two cousins played together, with Saint John the Baptist already showing great respect for Jesus. The association of the Holy Family with the Trinity, on the other hand, is typical of the Baroque period and dear to Murillo (The Heavenly and Earthly Trinites ("The Pedroso Murillo"), National Gallery, London).

A new religious sentiment

Murillo, the last of the great Spanish painters of the Golden Age, lived in Seville, where he rose to fame as a religious painter, painting cycles of pictures for the monastic orders. For private chapels, he painted images of devotion, usually representing the Virgin. The size of "The Virgin of Seville" indicates it would have been intended for a church. Murillo imbued his work with a religious sentiment very different to that previously expressed by Spanish painters. Murillo's religious devotion was popular and tender, which explained his success in Seville. He also painted street urchins, in pictures close to genre painting (The Young Beggar, Musée du Louvre).

Murillo's gracefulness

The style and technique of "The Virgin of Seville", painted between 1665 and 1670, are typical of Murillo's late period. On a formal level, he was initially influenced by Zurbarán and Ribera (The Angels' Kitchen, Musée du Louvre), then later by his decisive trip to Madrid in 1658, where he studied paintings by the Renaissance masters and contemporary Flemish painters. Murillo's inspiration for "The Virgin of Seville" is a picture by Raphael, whose pyramidal composition he reuses, harmoniously associating the members of the Holy Family. The figures are both graceful and natural, the atmosphere luminous and the color delicate, particularly the pink of the Virgin's robe. Murillo's treatment is flowing and smooth, as in Birth of the Virgin (Musée du Louvre).


Ressort Claudie, Écoles espagnole et portugaise, catalogue du département des peintures du musée du Louvre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, pp. 192-193.

Technical description

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

    The Holy Family, known as the Virgin of Seville


  • H. 2.40 m; W. 1.90 m

  • Collection of Louis XVI (acquired in 1786) , 1786

    INV. 930

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Room 718

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Additional information about the work

Signed bottom left: Bartholom. Murillo F. Hispal