The Wallace Collection shows off its masterpieces as Murillo comes back in fashion

By Mark Sheerin | 25 January 2013

Exhibition preview: Murillo at the Wallace Collection – Painting of the Spanish Golden Age, The Wallace Collection, London, February 6 – May 12 2013

Baroque oil painting showing a boy in white surrounded by shepherds
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Joseph and his Brethren c.1670© By kind permission of the trustees of the Wallace Collection
The internet may have a thing for Ugly Renaissance Babies, but a forthcoming show at the Wallace should demonstrate that during Spain’s Golden Age, babies got quite handsome. Such was the case when Jesus et al were painted by the idealising brush of Bartolomé Estebán Murillo.

The Spanish painter fell out of favour for most of the 20th century, and his rehabilitation culminates this month with simultaneous exhibitions at the Wallace Collection and Dulwich Picture Gallery. It seems that sweetness, soft lighting and smoky brushwork are all hot for 2013.

Most of the works in the forthcoming show are drawn from the permanent collection at the Wallace, whose Murillos are among the best in Britain. These were acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford during the 19th century - just as the painter’s reputation was beginning to decline.

It must have been some bear market, for the current show includes eight masterpieces, only one of which has been bought in on loan (The Rest on the Flight to Egypt from Wrotham Park). In addition, visitors will encounter a number of works by his workshop and associates.

Europe was riven with conflicts and religious strife at the time these works were painted. So Murillo’s calm and spiritual visions were once something of a panacea, for Catholics at least. Some 350 years later, his status as a grand master gives his work an extra patina of reassurance for our no less difficult times.

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