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THE PROPERTY OF A FAMILY

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
THE SLEEPING CHRIST CHILD
Estimate
150,000200,000
LOT SOLD. 610,000 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
22

THE PROPERTY OF A FAMILY

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
THE SLEEPING CHRIST CHILD
Estimate
150,000200,000
LOT SOLD. 610,000 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
SEVILLE 1618 - 1682
THE SLEEPING CHRIST CHILD
inscribed with inventory numbers left and right: B. / 19.
oil on canvas
46.7 x 61.5 cm.; 18 3/8  x 24 1/4  in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report

Provenance

Infante don Luis Antonio Jaime de Borbón y Farnesio (1727–85), palace of Boadilla del Monte, by 1776, recorded in the inventories of 1776 and 1780;

Thence by descent to his daughter, María Luisa de Borbón y Vallabriga, Duquesa de San Fernando (1783–1846), recorded in the inventory of 1793;

By whom sold to Don José de Salamanca y Mayol, Marqués de Salamanca and 1st Conde de Llanos (1811–83), by whom given in 1845 to

Anne, née Clarke-Jervoise, wife of John Abel Smith, MP (1799–1858), Dale Park, Sussex;

Thence by family descent to Lt. Col. Osbert Walter Dudley Smith (1898–1973), Levant Lodge, Earls Croome, Worcestershire;

Thence by family descent to the present owners.

Exhibited

On loan, York, Fairfax House, since 1991.

Literature

Boadilla del Monte Inventory 1776;

Boadilla del Monte Inventory 1780;

Boadilla del Monte Inventory 1793;

Probably A. Ponz, Viage de España, en que se da noticia de las cosas apreciables y dignas de saberse que hay en ella. Trata de Madrid y sitios reales immediatos, vol. VI, Madrid 1776, p. 146 ('de Murillo hay un Niño Dios' at Boadilla);

W. Stirling Maxwell, Annals of the Artists of Spain, London 1848, vol. III, p. 1428;

C.B. Curtis, Velazquez and Murillo. A descriptive and historical catalogue of the works, London and New York 1883, p. 183, cat. no. 163b;

D. Angulo Iñiguez, 'Un Niño Jesús dormido y una Virgen de Murillo', in Archivo español de arte, vol. 36, no. 143, 1963, p. 191, note 1, reproduced fig. 1;

D. Angulo Iñiguez, Murillo. Catálogo crítico, Madrid 1981, vol. II, p. 191, cat. no. 205, reproduced vol. III, fig. 322;

E. Valdivieso, Murillo. Sombras de la tierra, luces del cielo, Madrid 1990, p. 184;

E. Valdivieso, Murillo. Catálogo razonado de pinturas, Madrid 2010, p. 380, cat. no. 165, reproduced in colour.

Catalogue Note

Murillo is best known for his religious subjects and idealised portraits of children, genres that find a particularly successful synthesis in this painting, at once meditative and endearing, offered at auction here for the very first time. The father of nine children, Murillo was a member of several charitable foundations in Seville, and was clearly inspired by intense, personal faith. His sympathy for themes of holy infancy led to the enormous popularity of his art during his lifetime and long thereafter. The present work exemplifies the artistic and religious success of Murillo’s skill in communicating a paradigmatic Christian vision in recognisably human form, undoubtedly based on his own affectionate observation of children from life.

As a model of perfection for all other children, the Christ Child is perennially portrayed as the exemplar of sanctity, virtue and love, and Murillo’s paintings of holy childhood were designed to arouse strong devotional feelings in accordance with Christ’s teaching on childlike, innocent faith: 'Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 18:3).

The subject of the present painting, borne more from Murillo’s imagination than Scripture, naturally calls for a sense of decorum in contrast to the artist's more candid portrayals of children in genre scenes, for example. Here, the Child is idealised, with soft golden curls and plump, rosy flesh bathed in glowing light, yet the work loses none of the naturalism that is what elicits a sympathetic response from the viewer. The overwhelming impression is one of a real infant deep in sleep, settled in the drapery around Him, His expression restful and unaware (or peacefully accepting) of His fate. By portraying Christ as a sleeping child, the artist renders Him simultaneously vulnerable and inviolably sacred – a combination which succeeds in describing a complex theological notion in a way that is clearly comprehensible, and appeals directly to human emotion.

Murillo treated the theme in at least four other instances. Two paintings of larger dimensions, though of the same format as the present work and both datable to circa 1660, comprise the (probably earlier) picture in the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, which also depicts the Child resting on a cross, with the addition of a skull beneath his hand;1 and the canvas recorded in the collection of Sir Harold Augustus Wernher at Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire, which is empty of symbols prefiguring the Passion.2 The pose of the Child in the Luton Hoo painting is replicated in the large, upright picture in the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield, of 1670–75, where Christ is once again portrayed with a cross and a skull, and is watched over by two angels.3 And angels also appear in the earliest example of this subject, a large landscape canvas dated to 1655–60 of current unknown whereabouts, in which angels pull back a curtain to reveal the slumbering Child.4 The present work is dated by Iñiguez to circa 1675, and by Valdivieso to 1660–65. It was possibly once originally part of a pair with a painting of the Infant Saint John the Baptist, indicated by pendant copies of both paintings in Seville Cathedral.

NOTE ON PROVENANCE

Murillo’s works of these subjects and of this size were particularly sought after by private collectors, as the history of the present painting relates. It has been in the possession of the Spanish Royal Family, starting with don Luis di Borbón, famously portrayed with his family by Francisco de Goya, in 1783 (fig. 1); one of the most distinguished Spanish collectors of the 19th century, the Marqués de Salamanca, who owned masterpieces by or attributed to Raphael, Reni, Correggio and Mantegna, not to mention Murillo’s series of the Prodigal Son (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin); and was latterly in the domestic environment of English country and town houses, a context in which many such pictures by Murillo found favour.

1 Inv. no. P1003; see Valdivieso 2010, p. 380, cat. no. 163, reproduced in colour.

2 See Valdivieso 2010, p. 380, cat. no. 164, reproduced in colour.

3 See Valdiviseo 2010, p. 456, cat. no. 280, reproduced in colour.

4 See Valdivieso 2010, p. 331, cat. no. 98, reproduced.

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London