Oil study for the 'Virgin and Child in Glory'

WAG 2016.1


This is the small preparatory oil sketch for the large 'Virgin and Child in Glory' altarpiece, also now in the Walker's collection (WAG 1351). Murillo probably painted it as a modello to show his patron Ambrosio Ignacio Spínola, Archbishop of Seville, before starting on the large altarpiece for the Archbishop’s private chapel. After Murillo had finished the altarpiece he may have presented this sketch to the Archbishop for him to display as part of a small portable altar in one of the domestic rooms of the Archbishop’s palace in Seville. Murillo also used the modello to experiment with the composition and pigments he would use on the larger painting. This oil study appears freely painted, especially around the hands and faces. There are a number of differences compared to the altarpiece. In particular the sketch lacks the golden arch of winged cherubs' heads emerging from the clouds above the Virgin's head. He also omitted from the modello the uppermost cherub clinging to the Virgin’s cloak, on the left side of the finished altarpiece. His changes help isolate the faces of the Virgin, her child and one of the cherubs, who all gaze intensely at us. This intimacy is typical of the work of Murillo. The conservation and technical investigation of this preparatory oil sketch in 2016-17 revealed other changes Murillo made to the picture. For example, he shifted the position of the cherub’s head, at the foot of the Virgin, further to the right. Conservation revealed the ‘double-headed’ cherub. Murillo used the modello not only to try out the design, but also some of the paint colours, and the order in which they were layered on the canvas. Both modello and finished altarpiece used ultramarine as a top layer. This was a very costly blue pigment made from crushed lapis lazuli gemstone, imported from Afghanistan. But the cheaper and darker blue layer underneath was different in each work. The modello used blue verditer, a very cheap synthetic copper-based pigment. The altarpiece used smalt (a cobalt glass paint), mixed with black.