The Latin inscription on the cartouche at the centre of the ledge explains that the self-portrait was made at the request of Murillo's children: 'Bart (olo) mé Murillo portraying himself to fulfil the wishes and prayers of his children - or sons'.
Despite the unlined appearance of the face the painting was probably painted around 1670, when Murillo was in his early 50s and his children would have been of an age to take pride in their father's achievements.
The composition is based on a formula that had been developed for portrait engravings used on the frontispiece of books. The sitter is shown in an oval frame and on the ledge below are the instruments of his profession, a palette and brushes on the right and a drawing and pencil on the left. The portrait was in Brussels the year of Murillo's death, 1682. It was imported to England in the early 18th century and inspired Hogarth's famous self portrait (London, Tate Gallery).