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Murillo and Justino de Neve. The Art of Friendship

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 6/26/2012 - 9/30/2012

Murillo and Justino de Neve. The Art of Friendship brings together a group of late works by Murillo that were commissioned by Justino de Neve, a canon of Seville cathedral, an important patron of art and a personal friend of Murillo’s. As such, the exhibition represents a significant contribution to research on the artist’s life and work.

The exhibition highlights Justino de Neve (1625-1685) as the patron of some of Murillo’s most outstanding and original works. Among them are the large-scale lunettes on The Founding of Santa Maria Maggiore, to be seen in the exhibition following their recent restoration and cleaning; The Immaculate Conception of the Venerables (also known as The “Soult” Immaculate Conception) from the Prado, which is shown in its original frame that still forms part of one of the altars in the church of the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes; the allegories of Spring andSummer (Youth with a Basket of Fruit) from Dulwich Picture Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland, respectively; and three exquisite religious compositions painted on obsidian, loaned from the Musée du Louvre and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Rienzi House Museum).

The exhibition is organised into various different sections. It opens with Murillo’s self-portrait, which is shown alongside the artist’s portrait of his friend and patron Justino de Neve (both National Gallery, London). The next section focuses on works painted for the church of Santa María la Blanca in Seville (Prado, Louvre and Faringdon Trust, Buscot Park, Oxfordshire), followed by works painted for Seville cathedral and the Hospital de los Venerables (the large-scale Baptism of Christ for the chapel of Saint Anthony and The Virgin and Child distributing Bread to the Priests, now in the Budapest Museum). The next section looks at works executed for Justino de Neve’s personal collection, including three small devotional works painted on Mexican obsidian, shown together for the first time since the seventeenth century, and a miniature on copper that has recently been attributed to Murillo. In total, five works have been restored by the Prado for this exhibition, three from its own collection, one from Seville cathedral and another from the Faringdon Trust.

Gabriele Finaldi, Associate Director of Curatorship and Research at the Museo del Prado


Room C. Jerónimos Building

Opening time

Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm. Sunday and holidays from 10am to 7pm

Sponsored by:
Focus Abengoa
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Museo Nacional del Prado




Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Oil on canvas, 122 x 107 cm, ca. 1670 - 1673
London, The National Gallery.
Bought, 1953

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.

Santa María la Blanca

Santa María la Blanca
The Foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome: The Dream of the Patrician and his Wife
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Oil on canvas, 232 x 522 cm
1662 - 1665
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The church of Santa María la Blanca, which had earlier been a synagogue and then a mosque, was administered directly by the Chapter of Seville Cathedral. Its reconstruction was begun in 1662 under the supervision of Justino de Neve. The dedication of the church was the same as the ancient basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, known in Latin as Sancta Maria ad Nives – or Saint Mary of the Snows – and it combined an allusion to the Virgin’s snowy white purity, with a fortuitous but happy reference to the canon’s surname (Nives–Neve).

Murillo was commissioned to paint two large lunettes to be placed beneath the dome showing the origins of the Roman basilica, and two smaller lunettes for the side aisles honouring the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and the Eucharistic sacrament. The recent cleaning of the Prado lunettes and the painting of Faith (or The Church Triumphant) from Buscot Park has revealed both the subtlety of Murillo’s handling of light and the astounding fluidity of his brushstroke.

The festivities held to celebrate the reopening of the church in 1665 were truly magnificent and were described in a publication written by Justino’s friend, the priest-poet, Fernando de la Torre Farfán (1609–1677). They involved the erection of temporary arches and altars in the adjacent square decorated with paintings by Murillo and other Sevillian painters, processions, grandiose liturgies, poetry competitions and an open-air art exhibition.

The Hospital and Confraternity of Los Venerables Sacerdotes

The Hospital and Confraternity of Los Venerables Sacerdotes
The Infant Christ Distributing Bread to Pilgrims
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Oil on canvas, 219 x 182 cm
1678 - 1679
Budapest, Szépművészeti Múzeum, inv. 777

In 1676 the precarious situation of numerous poor and elderly priests, who found themselves obliged to beg in order to survive, led Justino de Neve and other leading figures in Seville such as Archbishop Ambrosio Ignacio de Spínola (1632–1684) to support the creation of this Confraternity and the construction of the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes between 1676 and 1695. The Hospital, with its church, refectory, infirmary and priests’ cells, was constructed around a large central courtyard. One of the numerous charitable foundations that were established in the wake of the economic crisis suffered by the city of Seville, it reflected the Catholic Church’s new emphasis on charity. In addition to looking after and feeding homeless priests, the Hospital also gave lodging to travelling clergymen.

The building housed four paintings by Murillo, none of which remained in Seville after the withdrawal of the Napoleonic troops in 1813. They are the Portrait of Justino de Neve, which the sitter bequeathed to the Hospital with the express wish that the priests offer prayers to God for his soul; The Virgin and Child distributing Bread to Priests, which was commissioned from Murillo to be hung in the refectory; and two further canvases that were in the church, The Immaculate Conception of the Venerables Sacerdotes, acquired by the Confraternity in 1686 on Neve’s death and shown here for the first time since 1813 in its original frame (still in situ in the Hospital), and The Penitent Saint Peter, which has not been displayed in public since the nineteenth century.

Murillo and Seville Cathedral

The metropolitan Cathedral was the centre of religious life in Seville and the canons of its Chapter, which presided over one of the richest archdioceses in Spain, were among the city’s cultural elite.

Over the course of his career Murillo painted several important works for the Cathedral, which served to establish and consolidate his renown, some financed by private individuals and subsequently donated and others commissioned by the Chapter itself. They include the depictions of the archbishops Saint Isidore and Saint Leander(1655) for the sacristy; Saint Anthony and the Christ Child (1656) for the Baptistery Chapel; and the Birth of the Virgin (1660) for the chapel of the Concepción Grande. When Justino de Neve was elected Mayordomo de Fábrica of the Cathedral in 1667, becoming responsible for the maintenance of its fabric and of the works of art housed within it, he embarked on a number of projects aimed at enhancing the building from an artistic viewpoint. So committed was he to this aim that on occasions he contributed funds from his own resources. It was at this point that Murillo received two further important commissions for the Cathedral. The first was the decoration of the ceiling of the Chapter House, where the canons held their meetings, with subjects intended to inspire virtue and devotion, namely an Immaculate Conception and eight tondos with depictions of the leading Sevillian saints (Isidore, Leander, Ferdinand, Hermenegild, Pius, Laureanus, Justa and Rufina). The second commission was for the large canvas of The Baptism of Christ for the Baptistery Chapel, a work that has been restored at the Museo del Prado for the present exhibition.

The collection of Justino de Neve

The collection of Justino de Neve
Agony in the Garden of Olives
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Oil on obsidian, 35.7 x 26.3 cm
1665 - 1670
París, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures

The inventory of Justino de Neve’s collection drawn up on 28 June 1685, immediately after his death, lists some 160 pictures, which for a non-aristocratic collection was a considerable number. Taken together with his library of books on religion, history and poetry, it stands as evidence of his wide-ranging cultural interests. He owned an important group of paintings by Murillo – eighteen are specifically described as his – as well as a portrait of the artist (not described as by his hand), demonstrating his loyalty and personal commitment to the artist. These included the Immaculate Conception (Prado) which was almost immediately acquired for the Hospital of the Venerables Sacerdotes, and the Portrait of Don Justino de Neve, but also small devotional works on obsidian, flower paintings and allegories of the seasons.

The collection was dispersed in an estate sale at which Murillo’s son, Gaspar, bought several works. Some paintings found their way into the collection of the Flemish merchant, Nicolás Omazur (c. 1630–1698), who ended up owning an even larger group of Murillo’s works than Justino. The canon had paintings on wooden panels, on stone and on copper, and a quartet of miniatures, identified later in Omazur’s collection as by Murillo, one of which, the Dream of Saint Joseph, may be identical with the work exhibited here.

The Art of Friendship

The Art of Friendship
Don Justino de Neve
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Oil on canvas, 206 x 129.5 cm, 1665
London, The National Gallery
Bought, 1979

Of Flemish origin, Justino de Neve was born in Seville. He was ordained in 1646 and made a canon of Seville cathedral in 1658. A cultured, energetic man, from the early 1660s or slightly before his friendship with Murillo enabled the latter to obtain some of his most important commissions: the decoration of the church of Santa María la Blanca (1664-65), the decoration of the cathedral’s chapterhouse (1667-68), and The Baptism of Christ for the upper level of the Saint Anthony Altarpiece in that saint’s chapel (1667-68).

In addition, Justino de Neve commissioned various works from Murillo for the Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes, the foundation for retired priests that he founded, while he also assembled his own collection of some of the artist’s finest works. In 1665 and as proof of their friendship Murillo painted his portrait (National Gallery, London), to be seen in the present exhibition, inscribing it obsequium desiderio pingebat (painted with the desire to give it). Finally, Murillo made Justino de Neve executor of his will in 1682.



The Infant Christ Distributing Bread to Pilgrims

Oil on canvas, 219 x 182 cm 1679 Budapest, Szépmuvészeti Múzeum, inv. 777


The Penitent Saint Peter

Oil on canvas, 212 x 155 cm ca. 1675 Private collection


A Young Man with a Baket of Fruit (Personification of “Summer”)

Oil on canvas, 102 x 81.5 cm 1660 - 1665 Edinburg, Scottish National Gallery. Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund, 1999


The Nativity

Oil on obsidian, 38.1 x 34.1 cm 1665 - 1670 Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, The Rienzi Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harris Masterson III


Don Justino de Neve

Oil on canvas, 206 x 129.5 cm 1665 London, The National Gallery. Bought, 1979


The Flower Girl

Oil on canvas, 120.7 x 98.3 cm 1665 - 1670 London, By permission of The Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery


The Dream of Saint Joseph (obverse) / Saint Francis of Paola in Prayer (reverse)

Oil on copper, 5.8 x 4.8 cm ca. 1670 Madrid, Cortesía de la Galería Caylus




aith or The Church Triumphant

Oil on canvas, 165 x 251 cm 1664 – 1665 Oxfordshire, Trustees of The Faringdon Collection, Buscot Park


The Immaculate Conception

Oil on canvas, 172 x 298 cm 1664 – 1665 Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures, Collection Soult. Acquis en 1817


Agony in the Garden of Olives

Oil on obsidian, 35.7 x 26.3 cm 1665 - 1670 Paris, Musée du Louvre, Départment des Peintures


Christ at the Column

Oil on obsidian, 33.7 x 30.7 cm 1665 - 1670 Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures


The Baptism of Christ

Oil on canvas, 283 x 210 cm 1667 - 1668 Seville, Catedral de Santa María, capilla de San Antonio

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