Velázquez | Murillo |Sevilla

This year is the 400th anniversary of the birth of Bartolome Murillo, probably Sevilla’s most famous painter, and has been officially declared the Year of Murillo. As part of the commemorations the Fundación Focus-Abengoa, in collaboration with the Prado Museum, London’s National Gallery, and others, has organised a very special exhibition comparing the work of Murillo and Sevilla’s other most famous painter, Diego Velázquez.

velazquez murilloThe two painters, born in Seville a generation apart (Velazquez in 1599 and Murillo in 1617), and having their formative influences there, nevertheless had quite different career trajectories, Velazquez leaving Seville to work at the Spanish court in Madrid in 1623, while Murillo spent his entire working life in Seville. It’s not known whether the two ever actually met in person (though they must have been aware of each others’ work), but while there is no record of a meeting, it’s not impossible as Murillo visited Madrid on several occasions, although art experts think that there was only limited reciprocal influence.

santa rufinaSanta Rufina by Murillo (left) and Velázquez (right)

However, it’s clear from the 19 paintings in the exhibition, 10 by Murillo and 9 by Velázquez, that there were common influences in the cultural world of Sevilla in the 17th century. This shows itself in both the choice (or commissioning) of subjects, especially in religious subjects pertaining to Sevilla such as the Saints Justa and Rufina and the Immaculate Conception, as well as of Saint Peter and the Adoration of the Magi, and the highly naturalistic style of the scenes of everyday life.

day to day lifeEveryday scenes by Velázquez (left) and Murillo (right)

It’s also appropriate that the exhibition is being hosted in the Venerables Hospital, a building that is of the early 17th century, and which has both a historical and current associations with the two painters. Around mid-January the exhibition, which continues until February 28th, surpassed the 50,000 visitor mark.

Velásquez | Murillo | Sevilla
Hospital de los Vernerables
Plaza de los Venerables 8
Open 10.00 – 18.00 (last entrance at 17.30)
General Admission: 8 euros
Free Admission Tuesday 14.00 – 18.00

Justina and Rufina – Two very Sevillana Saints

If you’re in, or have ever been to, Seville, you may have noticed pictures of two young ladies in mediaeval dress, surrounded by pottery and supporting a model of the Giralda tower between them. The picture is most probably a reproduction of the painting by Seville’s favourite artist, Bartolomé Murillo (1617-1682), and the two young ladies are the Saints Justa and Rufina. Although not technically the patron saints of Seville (that honour goes to Ferdinand III, who reconquered the city from the Moors in 1248) they are considered the special protectors of the Cathedral and the Giralda, which they preserved from harm during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and are also patrons of potters and pottery sellers.

justina rufinaAccording to legend they lived in the Triana neighbourhood of Seville in the 3rd century, during Roman times, where they made fine earthenware pottery, a trade by which they supported both themselves and many of the city’s poor. However, they refused to sell what they made for use in one of the city’s pagan festivals, and had all their pots and dishes smashed by angry locals. In retaliation they smashed a statue of the Goddess Venus, and for this crime they were arrested and imprisoned by the Roman prefect Diogenianus.

Unable to persuade them to renounce their Christian faith Diogenianus had them tortured on the rack and with hooks, and then forced them to walk barefoot to the Sierra Morena (a mountain range to the north of Seville). Seeing that their resolve was still unshaken they were deprived of food and water. Justa was the first to die, and her body was thrown into a well. Diogenianus expected that the death of Justa would break Rufina’s spirit, but when it didn’t she was thrown to the lions in the amphitheatre. However, even the lions refused to co-operate and devour her, and Diogenianus finally had her strangled (or possibly beheaded), and her body was burned.

Both bodies were recovered by Sabinus, the bishop of Seville, and given a Christian burial in 287. Their saints’ day is July 19.

Murillo Exhibition at Los Venerables

Right in the heart of the Barrio Santa Cruz, in a charming little square of the same name, is the Hospital de Los Venerables Sacerdotes (Hospital of the Venerable Priests), founded in 1673 by the dean of Seville Cathedral, Justino de Neve, as a home for sick and retired priests, and used for this purpose until the late 1970s. Apart from being quite big, it’s nothing particularly special from the outside, but like so many buildings in Seville the treasures, both arquitectural and artistic, are on the inside, looking away from the troubles of the world outside.

Today Los Venerables is an important museum of the Barroque period (roughly, the 17th century) in Seville, and brings together some of the works of the most gifted artists and architects of that period. It was designed by Leonardo de Figueroa, who also worked on the San Telmo Palace, the Fine Arts Museum, and the Church of Santa María Magdelena, and features an unusual central patio with elevated arcades and a sunken central fountain. The complex includes a church that is surely one of Seville’s hidden jewels. Although modest in size, with only a single nave, the harmony of the shape of the barrel-vaulted roof and the decorations and other artworks, principally by Juan de Valdés Leal makes this a very special place.

In rooms that were once the home of ageing priests are the museum’s art collections. The permanent collection focuses on the life and times of Diego Velázquez, and includes both works by Velázquez himself, as well as other important artists of the time.

From October 9 until January 20, 2013 there is also a special exhibition of works by Seville’s most famous painter, Bartolomé Murillo, which has been brought together in collaboration with the Prado Museum of Madrid and London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, and offers a unique opportunity to see them in the city where they were created.