“Murillo is one of the most important painters in 17th-century Spain, an artist who was consistently interested in establishing a contact between the surface of a painting and the viewer,” explains Xavier F. Salomon, chief curator of the Frick Collection
Above all, Murillo is remembered for his religious paintings, particularly his renditions of the Immaculate Conception, a cornerstone of Catholic doctrine that obsessed many Spanish Baroque painters. Murillo attempted over two dozen inmaculadas
in his career. One of the most famous is La Inmaculada Concepción de los Venerables
(1678), a jubilant painting of the Virgin Mary that today hangs in the Museo Nacional del Prado
. The work is also known as La Inmaculada de Soult
, after Jean-de-Dieu Soult, the Napoleonic general who stole it from Seville’s Hospital de los Venerables in 1810. After Soult’s death in 1851, the work was sold to the Louvre
for a reputed 615,000 francs—a world-record price for the time.
Another Murillo that went missing was The Vision of Saint Anthony (1656), which eschewed the contrasts of chiaroscuro in favor of a more light-handed, vaporous style. Hung in Seville’s cathedral, the painting was the victim of a notorious art heist in 1874 when an unknown thief cut the figure of Saint Anthony out of the canvas. The fragment turned up in New York several months later, whereupon it was quickly sent back to Spain and re-inserted into the painting. The seams are still visible today.