I was very excited to see this beautifully restored (1665-1666) painting of St Joseph with his son. I had read a lot about it and that it was destined for the main altarpiece of the Capuchin monastery church in Seville.
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was known for his unique and often innovative depictions of religious figures, including Saint Joseph as a handsome and youthful figure, which was somewhat unconventional for the time. This depiction of Saint Joseph as a youthful and handsome man contrasted with traditional depictions that showed him as an older, bearded man.
Murillo's approach to the depiction of Saint Joseph was a popular trend in the Baroque period. There was a growing emphasis on personal piety and a desire for approachable and accessible religious figures. By depicting St Joseph as a young man, the foster father to Jesus, artists and the Church made him more accessible to the faithful. This approach aimed to create a deeper personal connection between the people and the saints they venerated.
Murillo's mastery as a portrait painter is evident both in the image of Jesus, which he praises with angelic beauty and the special look of intensity, and in the figure of Joseph, traditionally dressed as a craftsman and carpenter. The artist also shows himself to be a great colourist, skilfully using the subtle pink tones in the child's tunic. Normally it is Joseph who holds his staff of recognition with lilies, but in this depiction Jesus has it in his left hand.
In the Baroque period, the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) also came into focus as a model for Christian households. The depiction of St Joseph as a young and active father was possibly intended to emphasise the importance of family life
This new trend fitted well with Murillo's general artistic emphasis on depicting the emotional and compassionate aspects of religious scenes.
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, the Spanish Baroque painter, led a traditional family life. He was born in Seville in 1617 into a family of fourteen siblings, making him the youngest. Tragically, he lost his father at the age of nine and his mother just six months later. One of his older sisters, Ana, took care of him. She supported his artistic ambitions by allowing him to visit the workshop of a relative, the painter Juan del Castillo.
In 1645, he married Beatriz Cabrera, and together they raised a family of eleven children. Murillo's family life greatly influenced his art, especially his depictions of the Virgin Mary and Child. His depictions of the Holy Family, which often show tender and domestic scenes, reflect his own experiences as a husband and father.
Murillo's wife died in December 1663. The following decade was his most productive period as an artist. While working on an altar for the church of Santa Catalina in Cádiz, Murillo fell from a scaffold and died a few months later.
Murillo's art was closely interwoven with family and religious themes and contributed to his lasting legacy as one of the great painters of the Spanish Baroque.