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Murillo’s The Prodigal Son and the art of narrative in Andalusian Baroque painting

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 9/21/2021 - 1/23/2022

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This exhibition aims to foster the knowledge and further study of a typology of works made by some of the most relevant Baroque painters in Andalusia: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Antonio del Castillo, Juan Valdés Leal and Alonso Cano. This type of paintings, made in Andalusia during the central decades of the seventeenth century, were representative of the high level of creativity achieved by the most important painters, as well as of the expectations and taste of some of their most active patrons. These are works organized in series, usually of medium size, for private patrons for domestic interiors and chapels. They present a biblical or hagiographical “story”, either the life—more or less complete—of a character, or episodes of a biographical event, which allows to appreciate not only the compositional resources of their authors, but also their ability as narrators of serial episodes.

The content of these series and how their stories unfold are often a reflection of the world of their patrons, their codes and aspirations, and give us an opportunity to glance into their material culture.

In order to better understand these works, we will present three of the best preserved series, which at the same time are testimonies of the high quality achieved by artists in the practice of this typology of paintings: the series representing the parable of the Prodigal Son by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo; the story of Joseph by Antonio del Castillo—which, as well as the latter, is an “exemplary” and bizarre account based on the Bible; and Valdés Leal’s series on the life of Saint Ambrose, which is presented as a “mirror” to the life of the patron who commissioned the paintings, Archbishop Ambrosio Spínola, who was one of the most prominent figures in Seville’s religious history at the time.

The exhibition also includes works by these and other artists, which were part of series that are now either incomplete or dispersed, and relate to the former because of the story they tell, their composition, their chronology, their size or the degree of “self-representation” of their patrons that they present.

This exhibition is possible thanks to the indispensable collaboration of the National Gallery of Ireland (Dublin), as well as the support of other institutions such as the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, the Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla and the Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Javier Portús, Museo del Prado Senior Curator Spanish Painting (to 1800)
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