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Murillo and Justino de Neve. The Art of Friendship Thursday, April 12, 2012

Since the major exhibition on Murillo held in London in 1982 there have been a number of smaller ones devoted to specific aspects of his work. They include the exhibition on his paintings acquired by Isabella Farnese and now in the Prado (Seville, 1996); Murillo’s paintings of children (Munich, Dulwich and Madrid, 2001); and his works in US collections (Fort Worth, 2002). In addition, an important exhibition on Murillo’s early output was recently seen in Seville and Bilbao (2009-2010). The present exhibition focuses on the creative nature of the relationship between Murillo and Justino de Neve, which resulted in a group of works of remarkable beauty and quality, all dating from the last two decades of the artist’s life. Comprising 20 paintings - large-scale commissions, portraits, allegories and devotional works – the exhibition will be shown at the Museo del Prado from 26 June to 30 September; from October 2012 to January 2013 at the Hospital de los Venerables, Seville, an institution founded in 1670 under the direction of Justino de Neve and now the headquarters of Fundación Focus-Abengoa; and at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London between February and May next year.

Murillo and Justino de Neve. The Art of Friendship

Gabriele Finaldi, Associate Director of Curatorship and Research at the Museo del Prado, Anabel Morillo, chief director of Fundación Focus-Abengoa and Xavier Bray, chief curator of the Dulwich Picture Gallery

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 will be 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 and Summer (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.

The Art of Friendship

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 Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue that includes six essays, by Gabriele Finaldi, Javier Portús, Peter Cherry, Teodoro Falcón, Benito Navarrete and Ignacio Cano. It also has entries on all the works on display (by Gabriele Finaldi, Elena Cenalmor and Xavier Bray) and a documentary appendix on the life, family and activities of Justino de Neve.