Self-Portrait, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Oil on canvas, 122 x 107 cm

On his death in 1685 Neve possessed at least eighteen paintings by Murillo, including the portrait that records their friendship and which Murillo painted as a gesture of thanks to Neve for having secured him the commission for the large canvases for Santa María la Blanca. Inspired by similar portraits by Italian artists and Van Dyck, Murillo depicted Neve with an elegance and presence rarely encountered in depictions of a Spanish cleric.

Murillo’s particular sensitivity to the subject of children is evident in another work in this exhibition, The Infant Saint John the Baptist with a Lamb, depicting the youthful saint in the desert. It belonged to Justino de Neve who lent it for the temporary altar erected outdoors to celebrate the completion of the rebuilding of the church of Santa María la Blanca.

Together with Velázquez’s depiction of himself in Las Meninas, Murillo’s Self-portrait is one of the most sophisticated and influential depictions of an artist to have been produced in 17th-century Spain. Conceived as a painting within a painting, it includes elements that refer to the intellectual nature of painting as an activity. The splendid celebrations organised to mark the reopening of the church of Santa María la Blanca were described in a publication by Neve’s friend, the priest and poet Fernando de la Torre Farfán (1609-1677). Temporary altars and arches were erected in the square adjoining the church and decorated with paintings by Murillo and other Sevilian artists. In addition, there were magnificent processions and religious ceremonies, poetry competitions and an outdoor exhibition of paintings.

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