THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

(MURILLO)

AIMÉ GIRON

After her 3,700 battles with the Moors and the conquest of Granada, Spain had a splendid outburst of literary and artistic glory. In painting, the four schools of Valencia, Toledo, Madrid, and Seville suddenly shone forth with that conception of the real and that care for sharp relief which they owed to the brilliancy of their sunshine, while amid the fogs of the North the outline is more wavering and the vision less clear. Under the influence of this original realism, their works instinctively reproduced that two-fold character which the land of Spain, smiling in her valleys and savage in her mountains, shows in sharp contrast. But the Spaniards are, in truth, much more realistic in their execution than in their inspiration.

The school of Seville, founded by Luis de Vargas, counted among its illustrious masters the greatest painter of that sunlit and passionate Andalusia, Murillo (Bartolomé-Estéban), 1617-1682, Spain's most popular painter, "the painter of the Conceptions," as she called him.

The Immaculate Conception. Murillo.

The Immaculate Conception.
Murillo.

His uncle, Juan del Castillo, a mediocre artist but a good teacher, initiated him into his dry, stiff, and hard manner,—that of the old Florentine school. In his studio young Estéban Murillo had young Pedro de Moya as a fellow-student. One day the former took a fancy to go to Cadiz, where, miserable enough, he painted on pieces of serge some Madonnas for traffic in the West Indies, while the latter went to London to work in Van Dyck's studio. On his return Pedro de Moya brought several studies of the Flemish master, and Murillo, suddenly revolutionized and suddenly illuminated, no longer dreamed of anything but of going to Flanders or Italy, passing—happily—through Madrid. In Madrid, the Velasquez of the Court of Charles II. stopped him on the way, gave him admission to the royal collections, where he copied Titian, Veronese, and Rubens, and then opened his purse to him, and, lastly, revealed the secrets of his mighty art.

Thus taught and thus inspired, Murillo returned to Seville, where he settled once for all, immuring himself in his studio, where—modest, timid, and gentle—he lived with that single love for his art which soon enriched him, two years later adding to it the adoration of his wife, a noble lady of Pilas. It was from this studio that almost all of his laborious, numerous, and superb works issued, sometimes scarcely signed. From the very beginning, Murillo possessed all the qualities of a great master, and henceforth we have only to separate his own personality and originality.

Murillo had three periods, as he also had three styles according to the nature of the subjects he had to treat: the first period, under the influence of the Florentine formulas of Juan del Castillo, was somewhat that of happy and masterly imitations; the second, under the memories of Van Dyck, brought back by Pedro de Moya and of the copies painted at Madrid, belongs to the Flemish school. But, at thirty-five, in full possession of his genius, he reveals himself, with his superb colouring, his consummate ease, his great science, his rich and inexhaustible imagination, his exquisite and tender sentiment, and his harmony, often produced with feminine delicacy and childish grace, with his vigour, his trivialities, and his mysticism.

The genius of Murillo, in fact, obeyed a double current, which carried him forward, on the one hand towards the sky, and on the other towards the earth, towards the Catholic ideal or towards vulgar realities, gentle Madonnas alternately with knavish beggars. Very sincerely and observantly religious, with the contemplative soul of the land of great men and great mysteries, Saint John of the Cross and Saint Theresa, this chaste artist, who never painted a nude woman, has the exalted sentiment of faith of the Spanish artists, a sentiment which is somewhat ennobled by their realism of nature.

"Why don't you finish that Christ?" asked one of his friends.

"I am waiting until he comes to speak to me," replied Murillo.

With these works he enriched the chapter-house of the Seville Cathedral, the Hospital de la Caridad, that of the Hospital de los Venerables, the convents of the Capuchins, the Augustines, etc.

I have said that Murillo had three styles, almost three pencils, not like the pencils of gold, of silver, and of iron that the Venetians attributed to the unequal genius of Tintoret, but in sympathy with the subjects he had to treat. The Spaniards have distinguished and qualified these styles as follows: Frio, calido y vaporoso, cold, warm, and vaporous.