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The Infant Christ and Saint John the Baptist with a Shell
Murillo, Bartolomé Esteban
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Murillo, Bartolomé Esteban

Sevilla, 1617 - Sevilla, 1682

Murillo, Bartolomé Esteban See author's file

The Infant Christ and Saint John the Baptist with a Shell

Ca. 1670. Oil on canvas.
Room 017

The combination of tangible reality with a visionary and spiritual atmosphere was one of the features that explain the fascination exerted by Murillo’s works, many of them extremely popular, which is why the Catholic Church used his images for the following three centuries. A fair number of his themes are not specifically described in the Bible and some, such as the scenes from the childhood of Christ and Saint John the Baptist, were his own inventions. As in this painting, Murillo portrayed complex theological concepts in easily understandable and sincere images that appealed immediately to the human emotions. The exquisite colours of this painting, with its very rich tonalities, and the manner in which the paint is applied illustrate how Murillo was a forerunner of 18th-century techniques. For this reason his style was enormously attractive to cultivated travellers such as Joseph Townsend, who states in his account of his stay in Spain that "no other Spaniard has equalled him in expression and sweetness". This is one of various works on Christ´s childhood and it has been one of Murillo´s best known paintings and one of the most popular with the Spanish public since it was first exhibited (1819) at the Museo del Prado. The anecdotic atmosphere of this religious image, in the style of genre painting, is reflected in the name by which it is known, The Children with the Shell, which was coined by Federico de Madrazo, director of the Prado, in the 1872 catalogue. Although these holy children display an idealised beauty that is absent from the children depicted in Murillo´s genre paintings, their gestures and expressions are very lifelike. The painting has always been admired for its special charm and for Murillo´s masterful achievement of fluidity and subtlety in the figures, which are bathed in a limpid, silvery light. Although it is not known who the first owner was, the painting was most likely painted for a private client rather than a religious institution, as Murillo´s religious images adapted well to the luxurious interiors of the devout and wealthy Sevillian faithful. Indeed, the painter created an art that was appropriate to household environments. Murillo´s religious works were collected by two of his main patrons, Justino de Neve and Nicolas Omazur, and their popularity among private owners is beyond all doubt following Kinkead´s research. Mayer noted a relationship between this composition and a print made after a painting by Guido Reni (Bartsch, no. 13), possibly inspired by Annibale Carracci. The Children with the Shell is a reflection of a popular form of piety that favoured representing Christ and Saint John the Baptist as children, placing emphasis on both their spirituality and human condition. In this case the theme contradicts the strict ecclesiastical doctrine since, as Francisco Pacheco pointed out in El arte de la pintura (1649), Christ and Saint John the Baptist, although cousins, did not meet until they were both adults, when the latter baptised Jesus in the river Jordan. The most outstanding feature of this anecdote is that it foreshadows in childhood an event that occurred in Christ´s adult life: his baptism by Saint John in the river Jordan. The Christ Child smiles and points towards the soft light emanating from the golden mist formed by the clouds into which the angels appear to merge. In the background dark, threatening storm clouds seem to predict the destiny of both Children. On Saint John´s cross, a ribbon in the manner of a scroll flutters with the inscription "ecce agnus dei", proclaiming the Christ Child as "lamb of God". By placing the lamb in the foreground staring at the two boys, Murillo emphasises its duality as symbol of Christ and favourite companion of any child, thereby placing the religious event in a domestic context. There are several fairly interesting known copies of this composition in Cologne, Richmond and Vienna, among other places.

De Tiziano a Goya: grandes maestros del Museo del Prado, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado: SEACEX, 2007, p.231


Technical data

Related artworks

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Inventory number
Murillo, Bartolomé Esteban
The Infant Christ and Saint John the Baptist with a Shell
Ca. 1670
Height: 104 cm; Width: 124 cm
Royal Collection (Elizabeth of Farnese Collection, La Granja de San Ildefonso Palace, Segovia, 1746, no. 968; La Granja Palace, "cuarto del señor infante son Luis-dormitorio", 1766, no. 968; Royal Palace of Aranjuez, Madrid, "pieza de dormir los Reyes", 1794, no. 968; Royal Palace, Madrid, "trascuarto de la reina-pieza de la chimenea colgada de encarnado", 1814-1818, no. 968).

Bibliography +

Palacio del Real Sitio de San Ildefonso. La Granja., Inventario general Pinturas, Muebles y otras alhajas de la Reina Nuestra Señora que tiene en el Palacio del Real Sitio de San Ildefonso, VII, Madrid, 1746, pp. 89.

Aranjuez: Inventario de las pinturas de este Real Sitio hecho a la muerte de Carlos III., Madrid, 1788.

Inventario. Real Palacio de Madrid. 1814, Madrid, 1814.

Inventario de las Pinturas del Museo Hecho a la Muerte del Rey, Madrid, 1834, pp. 14.

Mayer, August L.1885-1944, Murillo. L'Oeuvre du Maitre, Hachette, Paris, 1913, pp. 89.

Mayer, August L., Historia de la Pintura Española, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1928, pp. lám. 264.

Paris, Pierre, La peinture espagnole depuis les origines jusqu'au debut du, Les Éditions G. Van Oest, Paris,Bruselas, 1928, pp. lám. XXXVII.

Lozoya, Juan de Contreras y López de Ayala, Marqués de, Historia del arte hispánico, IV, Salvat, Barcelona, 1945, pp. 345.

Ars hispaniae: historia universal del arte hispánico, XV, Plus Ultra, Madrid, 1971, pp. 354.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Ponz, Antonio, Viage de España., VI, Madrid, 1972, pp. 31.

Haraszti-Takacs, Marianne, Murillo, Korvina, Budapest, 1977.

Young, Eric., Murillo. Todas las Pinturas de Murillo., Noguer, Barcelona, 1980.

Esteban, Claude, Tout L'Oeuvre Peint de Murillo, Flammarion, Paris, 1980.

Angulo Íñiguez, Diego, Murillo, II, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1981, pp. 199.

Cañedo-Arguelles, Cristina, Arte y teoría: la contrarreforma y España, Universidad, Arte-Musicología Servicio de Publica, Oviedo, 1982, pp. lám. 54.

Ayala Mallory, Nina, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1983, pp. 30/lám. 14.

El niño en el Museo del Prado, Ministerio de Cultura, Dirección General de Bellas Artes, Madrid, 1983, pp. 165.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 447.

Male, Emile, El Barroco. Arte Religioso del Siglo XVII. Italia. Francia., Encuentro, Madrid, 1985, pp. lám. 126.

Velazquez en Zijn Tijd: zeventiende-eeuwse Spaanse schilderk, Rijks Museum, Amsterdam, 1985, pp. 110.

Valdivieso, Enrique, Historia de la pintura sevillana: siglos XIII al XX, Guadalquivir, Sevilla, 1986, pp. 221, 225/lám. 177.

Anatra, Bruno, Venezia e la Spagna, Electa, Milan, 1988, pp. 175/lám. 192.

Brown, Jonathan, La Edad de Oro de la pintura en España, Nerea, Madrid, 1990, pp. 282/lám. 267.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Presencia del Museo del Prado en Mexico. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Televisa, México, 1990, pp. 17/lám. 9.

Valdivieso, Enrique, Murillo Sombras de la Tierra, Luces del Cielo, Silex, Madrid, 1991, pp. 187.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., De pintura y pintores: la configuración de los modelos visuales, Alianza, Madrid, 1993, pp. lám. 264.

Buendía, José Rogelio, El Prado. Colecciones de Pintura, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, 1994, pp. 142.

Murillo: pinturas de la colección de Isabel de Farnesio en el Museo del Prado, Focus, Sevilla, 1996, pp. 86.

Brown, Jonathan, Painting in Spain 1500-1700, Yale University Press, Yale, 1998, pp. 230/lám. 299.

Brooke, Xante, Murillo Kinderleben in Sevilla, Himer Verlag GmbhBayerische Staats, Munchen, 2001, pp. 232.

Brooke, Xanthe, Murillo: scenes of childhood, Merrell Publishers, London, 2001, pp. 128.

Niños de Murillo, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2001, pp. 108.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura barroca española: guía, Museo Nacional del PradoAldeasa, Madrid, 2001, pp. 190.

Portús Pérez, Javier, La colección de pintura española en el Museo del Prado, Edilupa, Madrid, 2003, pp. 160.

Valdivieso, Enrique, Pintura Barroca Sevillana, Guadalquivir Ediciones, Sevilla, 2003, pp. 346.

Aterido Fernández, Ángel; Martínez Cuesta, Juan; Pérez Preciado, José Juan, Colecciones de pinturas de Felipe V e Isabel Farnesio. Inventarios Reales, II, Fundación de Apoyo de la Historia del Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2004, pp. 434.

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado., Tokio - Osaka, 2006.

De Tiziano a Goya: grandes maestros del Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado: SEACEX, Madrid, 2007, pp. 231.

Valdivieso, Enrique, Murillo: catálogo razonado de pinturas, El Viso, 2010, pp. nº325 p.166, 491.

Cobo, G., 'Niños. Naturaleza y juegos' En:, Mena Marques, Manuela B. Goya en Madrid: cartones para tapices 1775-1794, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2014, pp. 204-211 [204 f.5.2].

Hereza, P., ?Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Los niños de la concha' En:, Murillo y su estela en Sevilla, ICAS, Instituto de la Cultura y las Artes de Sevilla., Sevilla, 2017, pp. 232-233 n.37.

Held, Julius S., 17th and 18th century art :baroque painting, sculpture, arch, Prentice-HallH. N. Abrams, Nueva York, pp. 187/lám. 198.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 202.
Murillo. / 202. El niño Jesus y san Juan. / El niño Dios dá de beber en una concha á san Juanito que está delante de el arrodillado y vestido con una pellica. En la parte superior hay una gloria con tres angeles. (C.L.) / Alto 3 pies, 8 pulg, 3 lin; ancho 4 pies, 5 pulg, 3 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 866.
866.-Jesus y San Juan, niños: cuadro conocido con el nombre de Los Niños de la concha. / Alto 1,04. Ancho 1,24.-Lienzo. / Cerca de un manantial que riega un bosquecillo, y arrodillado humildemente sobre un terrazo que amenizan hermosas y silvestres plantas, bebe el Precursor niño el agua que le suministra el niño Jesus en una concha. San Juan apoya con la mano izquierda en el suelo la cruz de caña que descansa tambien en su hombro, y el Verbo infante, al tiempo de darle de beber con la mano derecha, le señala con la otra un rompimiento de gloria con tres ángeles entre nubes...

Inv. Isabel Farnesio, La Granja, 1746. Núm. 968.
Otr [pintura] original en Lienzo, de mano de Murillo , que reptª el Niño en pie, dand de beber con una Concha à Sn Juan que està de rodillas. Tiene cinco quartas de alto; quatro pies, y seis dedos de ancho. Marco dorado liso con Targetas cinceladas ... 1

Inv. Testamentaría Isabel Farnesio, La Granja, 1766. Núm. 968.
Quarto del sºr Ynfante Dn Luis [...] 968 / Ôtro [quadro] de cinco pies de ancho, y quatro de alto, marco dorado y gravado, representa sn Juan arrodillado al Niño Jesus, vale dos mil rrs

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Aranjuez, 1794. Núm. 968.
Pieza de dormir los Reyes [...] {412} 968 / Quatro pies y medio de largo y tres y tres quartos de alto. Cristo niño dando de vever con una Concha á Sn. Juan tambien niño. Ydem. [Murillo] ... 4000

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 968.
Trascuarto de la Reina / Pieza de la chimenea colgada de encarnado [...] {21524-21525} 968-831 / dos varas menos cuarta de largo vara y media de alto = el Niño dando de beber a San Juan = San Juan con el cordero = Murillo

Inscriptions +

Fleur-de-lis, used as a collection’s mark belonging to Elisabeth Farnese. Front, lower right corner

Inscribed in red color. Front, lower right corner

Inscribed in gray. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in gray. Front, upper right corner

Exhibitions +

Murillo y su Estela en Sevilla
05.12.2017 - 08.04.2018

Goya in Madrid
28.11.2014 - 03.05.2015

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
13.09.2007 - 12.11.2007

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
29.06.2007 - 24.08.2007

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado
14.07.2006 - 15.10.2006

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado
24.03.2006 - 02.07.2006

Murillo: scenes of chilhood
30.05.2001 - 26.08.2001

Murillo: scenes of chilhood
14.02.2001 - 13.05.2001

Los Murillos del Museo del Prado
20.05.1996 - 21.07.1996

Guido Reni y Europa
01.12.1988 - 28.02.1989

Location +

Room 017 (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Update date: 18-01-2023 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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