The Beggar Boy by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

The Beggar Boy by Murillo (c.1650)

On December 31st the painting of the day was The Beggar known as the Club-foot by Ribera.  It was a painting of a smiling boy, despite his physical disability, on his way to town to beg for food.  Today’s painting is also of a beggar but in this work of art we are not treated to the sight of a happy child.    My Daily Art Display offering today is The Beggar Boy by the Spanish Baroque Bartholomé Esteban Murillo, the Spanish Baroque painter who was born in Seville in 1616.

Murillo came from a very large family, the youngest of fourteen children.  His father was both a barber and surgeon.  His parents died when he was young and he went to live with a distant relative and artist, Juan del Castillo who started Murillo’s artistic education.  He stayed with Castillo until 1639 when his mentor had to move to Cadiz.  Now Murillo, aged twenty two, had to fend for himself and scraped a living by selling some of his paintings.  In 1643 he travelled to Madrid where he met Velazquez who was also from Seville and had now become a master of his craft.  He took pity on Murillo and let him lodge in his house.  He stayed in Madrid for two years before returning to Seville.  In 1648, at the age of thirty one, Murillo married a wealthy lady of rank, Doña Beatriz de Cabrera y Sotomayor.   Murillo died as he lived, a humble, pious and brave man, in 1682,  leaving a son and daughter, his wife having died before him. 

Murillo has always been one of the most popular painters.  His works show great technical attainment and a strong feeling for ordinary nature and for truthful or sentimental expression without lofty beauty.  He was the last pre-eminent painter of Seville, a prolific worker hardly leaving his painting-room save for his devotions in church.  His works of art achieved high prices and made him a great fortune.  Probably best known for his religious works but produced a large number of paintings depicting contemporary people, mainly women and children.  His realist style when painting those struggling with poverty, such as beggars, street urchins and flower girls gives one a good insight of life in those days for those who were impoverished.

Today’s painting The Beggar Boy, painted circa 1650 and which now hangs in the Louvre, shows a bare-footed young boy sitting, lit up by sunlight streaming in through an opening in the thick walls of the building.  He, dressed in ragged clothes and is slumped on the stone floor of the darkened room with a sad downcast expression.  His feet are bare and the soles are blackened and bloodied.  There is no hint of happiness in his expression, which is in complete contrast to Ribera’s Boy with Club-Foot.  We can only imagine what is going through his mind.  Desperation and sadness with his lot in life must be uppermost in his thoughts.  The feeling of dejection and hopelessness pervades his being and the future for him looks bleak indeed.