Thence by descent.
Past authorities on Murillo all agree on the dating of this work to the artist's last years, with Mayer pointing to Murillo's characteristic use of dark greyish tints in works of his later period, and Diego Angulo Iñiguez placing it in his final decade. Manuela Mena Marqués, writing in the 1982–83 catalogue of the exhibition held in Madrid and London, gives a dating of about 1680. She notes the vigour of Murillo's technique in this work, his rapid and broad brushwork, and its affinity with the work of Rembrandt (1606–1669). She characterises the spatial conception of the painting, with large open spaces around the figures, as typical of Murillo's late style and with an atmospheric quality comparable to the work of Velázquez (1599–1660), an approach explored by Murillo as early as 1656 in his Vision of Saint Anthony of Padua for Seville Cathedral.1
A work of considerable size and grandeur, The Presentation of the Virgin must once have decorated the wall of a chapel. Given that the choice of subject and its conception are exceptional in Murillo's œuvre, it is probable that this painting is the very same one recorded as residing in the Convento de la Vírgenes, Seville.2 Reference to a 'Presentation of the Virgin' is made in Sevilla Mariana, a religious publication dedicated to Our Lady, its aim to make known the glories of Andalusia, and in particular the city of Seville’s long-standing devotion to the Blessed Virgin, as manifest in its historical monuments and the principal images of the Virgin in the city's most famous sanctuaries. By about 1840 the painting was recorded as belonging to the Archbishop of Sorrento, having left Spain the previous century following its sale to an English peer sometime before 1737, as noted by Angulo.
Mayer considers it highly probable that The Presentation of the Virgin once had a companion piece, while Angulo suggests it was probably part of a series, most likely depicting the life of the Virgin. The rarity of the subject in general – Titian’s treatment of the theme at the Accademia, Venice, stands out as the most celebrated example – distinguishes this work. The presentation of the little child in profile, her placement at the centre of the composition and the overall effect of the lighting, which emphasises her illuminated figure, all serve to draw attention to her as she solemnly ascends the temple steps under her parents’ attentive gaze.
The introduction of a beggar at the lower left of the composition recalls Murillo's secular painting and the genre motifs he incorporates into religious works, such as the comparable figure of a man in rags at the lower left of Saint Isabella of Hungary, Hospital de la Caridad, Seville. The inclusion here of a mendicant – here a crippled beggar one hand clutching his staff, the other held open in hope of donations – serves to underscore the importance of alms giving and works of charity as a route to God. His presence here offers a particularly striking contrast to the spiritual self-containment and purity of the young Virgin resplendent in white and blue.
1 Angulo Iñiguez 1981, vol. II, pp. 238–39, no. 284, reproduced vol. III, plates 128–30.
2 Madrid and London 1982–83, p. 196; Angulo Iñiguez 1981, vol. II, pp. 383–84, no. 867.
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