This is an affectionate portrayal of one of Murillo’s most devoted patrons, Don Justino de Neve. The inscribed tablet on the wall reveals that the portrait was made in 1665 and was a gift from the artist – a gesture of friendship.
Murillo’s regard for his friend is obvious in the way he presents him: Justino appears intelligent and welcoming, and while his formal pose indicates his status he is not intimidating. Dressed in a black ecclesiastical cloak, he leans forward as if momentarily interrupted from prayer. The objects on the table relate to his scholarly interests and wealth; a devoted dog sits at his feet.
A well-respected churchman, Justino became a canon of Seville Cathedral in 1658. He secured an important commission for Murillo: a series of canvases for the church of Santa María la Blanca. This portrait may have been painted to show the artist’s gratitude.
This is an affectionate portrayal by Murillo of one of his most devoted patrons, Don Justino de Neve. The inscribed tablet on the pilaster reveals that the portrait was made in 1665, when Justino was 40 years old, and that it was a gift from the artist – a gesture of friendship.
Justino was born in Seville in 1625, the son of a prosperous Flemish merchant, Juan de Neve, and a Spaniard, Sebastiana de Chaves. A coat of arms in the background combines the arms of the Neve family on the left and those of the Chaves on the right. Justino was ordained as a priest in 1646 and became a canon of Seville Cathedral in 1658. He was a well-respected churchman of considerable wealth, renowned for his charity, piety and devotion to learning.
Murillo’s regard for his friend is obvious in the sympathetic way he presents him: his formal pose indicates his status but his intelligent gaze is not intimidating. Dressed in a black ecclesiastical cloak, Justino leans forward slightly as if momentarily interrupted from prayer, his finger marking his place in the small book he holds. He sits in a wooden chair upholstered in crimson velvet, in a room with a view of the terrace and landscape beyond. A delicate silver bell, an ornate clock – the time indicates that Justino is nearing the end of mid-afternoon prayer – and a larger book, alluding to his scholarly interests, rest on the table. A plump ‘toy’ dog with a ribbon and bells on its collar gazes devotedly up at him.
There are echoes of this work in another Spanish portrait in our collection, Queen Mariana of Spain in Mourning, which was painted by Velázquez’s son-in-law, Juan Bautista del Mazo, in 1666.
Justino was an avid art collector and owned 18 paintings by Murillo, including The Infant Saint John the Baptist with the Lamb, now in our collection. He also secured an important commission for Murillo: the decoration of a series of canvases for the church of Santa María la Blanca in Seville. This portrait was painted in the same year as the church’s inauguration, suggesting that it was intended to show Murillo’s gratitude for the support he had received. Justino also oversaw several other commissions, notably Murillo’s series of nine paintings for the chapter house of Seville Cathedral (1668) and other works for the Hospital of the Venerables Sacerdotes (1670s), an institution for poor and retired priests, founded in large part by Justino himself. On Justino’s death in 1685 this portrait was bequeathed to the Hospital, where it remained until the early nineteenth century.
Murillo painted far fewer portraits than he did religious subjects, though we are fortunate enough to own the artist’s Self Portrait from about 1670.
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