Murillo has painted himself inside a fictive frame, his right hand emerging from the stone surround as if he were coming alive and entering our space.
This self portrait was probably painted in about 1670, when Murillo was in his early fifties – his hairline is receding and his moustache turning grey. He is dressed in black, with a delicate lace white collar known in Spain as a valona. He looks out at us, his pose both relaxed and self-assured.
The objects laid out on the ledge below – a palette and brushes, a red chalk drawing, a chalk holder, a ruler and compass – tell us that Murillo is an artist. The Latin inscription reveals that he painted this self portrait to ‘fulfil the wishes and prayers’ of his children.
Murillo probably painted this self portrait in about 1670, when he was in his early fifties – his hairline is receding and his moustache turning grey. He is dressed in black, with a delicate lace collar known in Spain as a valona. He looks out at us, his pose both relaxed and self-assured. The warm tones of his skin contrast with the cool stone of the frame on which he rests his hand. It is decorated with scrolls and foliage, an effect commonly seen in engraved portraits or in book frontispieces.
He has placed himself inside a fictive frame, his right hand emerging from the stone surround as if he were coming alive and entering our space. This motif is something you see in seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings and engravings, and these may have been Murillo’s source of inspiration – such works were available in collections in Seville, where Murillo spent his entire career.
The objects laid out on the ledge below – a palette and brushes, a red chalk drawing, a chalk holder, wooden ruler and compass – tell us that Murillo is an artist. The drawing may allude to Murillo’s central role in establishing an academy for artists in Seville in 1660; there, students were taught the importance of drawing from life. The ruler and compass suggest he painted according to mathematical laws of perspective and proportion. The blobs of paint on the palette are built up to look three-dimensional, adding to the illusion that it shares our space – like the framed Murillo, who seems to have just put it down.
The Latin inscription explains that Murillo painted himself ‘to fulfil the wishes and prayers of his children’. By the time this picture was painted only four of his nine children were still alive – among them his son Gaspar, who may have owned this self portrait. In 1682, the year of Murillo’s death, the artist’s friend and patron, the Flemish silk merchant Nicolás Omazur, ordered an engraving to be made after this self portrait in Brussels; it soon became the best-known image of the artist.
Our self portrait was one of the first paintings by Murillo to arrive in England in the early eighteenth century, and may have inspired the British painter William Hogarth to make significant changes to his own self portrait, The Painter and his Pug (Tate Gallery, London), after seeing it in the collection of the Prince of Wales.
This is one of only two known self portraits by Murillo. The other, now in the Frick Collection, New York, shows the artist in his thirties and was owned by his son Gaspar.
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