Depictions of the Ecce Homo
and Mater Dolorosa
were highly popular within Spain during the Counter Reformation and Murillo is credited with being one of the main artists to develop a strong demand for the subjects, images of which were proliferated throughout Spain during the Baroque period. Murillo's treatment of the subjects seen here is designed to elicit maximum empathy and pathos from the beholder in their contemplation of the tragic figure of Christ, who is depicted following His scourging, His head bowed in resignation and acceptance of His fate, whilst the Virgin looks on, helpless and unable to intervene, displaying the anguish and horror to be expected from a mother observing the trial and impending execution of their own son.
Whilst Murillo painted numerous treatments of the Ecce Homo
during his lifetime, only three other pairings with the Mater Dolorosa
are known to survive intact today: those in the Prado, in the Collection of the Dukes of Villahermosa, at Pedrola in Zaragoza, and with Caylus in Madrid.1
Professor Enrique Valdivieso dates the Prado and Villahermosa pairs circa
1660-70 and, the soft handling of the present works - characteristic of Murillo's full maturity - would imply a similar likely dating for this pair.
Murillo may have been inspired in his treatment of the subjects by a famous diptych by Titian painted for Charles V, which is recorded in the Escorial by 1574. The great Venetian master first produced the Ecce Homo
, painted on slate, for Charles V in 1547 and subsequently, in 1554, painted a Mater Dolorosa
on marble with the express intention to be a companion piece to his earlier work.2
By 1600 the diptych had been moved from the Escorial to the Alcazar and it seems plausible that Murillo could have seen the paintings there during his visit to Madrid in around 1658.
The unusual format of the painted ovals seen in the present paintings recurs solely in the pair of works by Murillo in Pedraza, whilst the pose of the figures (and in particular of Christ) are entirely different to those in the other suriving sets, suggesting the present works were an entirely independent design by the artist. The figure of Christ is broadly repeated in a three-quarter length treatment of the Ecce Homo
by the artist, today in the El Paso Museum of Art which is dated by Valdivieso to around 1675-82 and thereby in all probability post-dates the present work.3
1. See E. Valdivieso, Murillo: Catalogo Razonado de Pinturas,
Madrid 2010, pp. 438 – 349, nos. 251 -253 reproduced.
2. See H.E. Wethey, Titian
, The Religious Paintings
, vol. I, London 1969, pp. 88-89, no. 32 and pp. 115-16, no. 77, reproduced plates 96 and 97 respectively.
3. See E. Valdivieso, Murillo
, Madrid 2010, p. 524, no. 363, reproduced.