- Museum number
Studies for St John the Baptist; one as an adult and reaching down to touch a lamb; two as a child, holding a bird and standing
Pen and brown ink over black chalk
Verso: Three studies of putti and a very faint chalk drawing of figures
Pen and brown ink
- Production date
- 1650-1655 (c.)
Height: 220 millimetres
Width: 338 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Modified text from McDonald 2013
Murillo drew in different media – occasionally on both sides of the sheet – to study the same or closely related compositions of which this drawing is a fine example. The recto contains three studies of St John the Baptist, the largest at left depicts him as a shepherd seated accompanied by a lamb. The importance of prints as source material for artists in Spain during the seventeenth century has in recent years become clearer. Jonathan Brown (2012) suggests that his figure was based on a print by Guido Reni. The print is by Girolamo Rossi after Reni from around the 1670s and apart from passing similarities it is rather different to the drawing (U,3.28). However Reni’s work was significant for Murillo and a print source would explain why the main study ends abruptly along the bottom margin when there is ample space for the composition to continue. Furthermore, a number of Murillo’s paintings and drawing show their subject half-length close to the picture frame and this sheet could be simply exploring that type of composition. Reni’s etching of the Infant Christ and the Infant Baptist (see U.3,123) is another example where the Baptist is typologically similar to Murillo’s kneeling figure at right. The kneeling Baptist in the drawing is very close to a painting by Murillo in a private collection (Brown 2012, fig.36, p.68).
The verso of the sheet comprises studies of putti holding a wreath and palm. They show Murillo working through visual possibilities, reversing the pair, changing the position of the palm and wreath and using wash to solidify the figures. The uppermost pair provided the model for those in the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine painted, it seems, almost entirely by Francisco Meneses Osorio for the high altar of the church of the Capuchin convent in Cádiz (D. Angulo Íñiguez, 'Murillo. Su vida, su arte, su obra', Madrid 1981, II, no.88, pp.93-7). The commission for the six paintings was probably begun by Murillo in Seville around 1680, two years before he died and then completed by Francisco Meneses Osorio. Meneses used Murillo's drawings to complete the work. The date of the Cádiz paintings (1680–82) is much later than the date generally agreed for this drawing (c. 1650–55). A drawing by Murillo for the painting of the Mystical Marriage is much more rapidly drawn with uneven lines typical of his later work (Brown 2012, no.90). The earlier dating of the British Museum drawing should not be questioned, but rather taken as evidence for Murillo’s sheets being preserved and used for later compositions.
On the verso of the sheet there are also very faintly drawn black chalk figure studies in different groups. Placed horizontally the drawing reveals at the left a seated man, another outline of a head to his right. Directly across on the other side is the bottom part of a seated man with indications of other figures around him, and in the upper right a head in clear profile and another head above him slightly to the left. Because the sketches are so faint it is not possible to link them to any of Murillo’s paintings and they may not have been drawn by him. The delicacy of the chalk drawing is not entirely typical of Murillo and the only sheet securely attributed to him in the Courtauld Institute, London that comes close is St Francis Embracing Christ and its verso study of the Adoration of the Shepherds.
Brown interprets the numbers on the sheet as evidence that it was once part of a bound volume of sketches. Other drawings such St Francis of Paola (1850,0713.3) are also numbered supporting this conclusion but it begs the question of who numbered them. Where they numbered by Murillo, an associate or by a later compiler? Annotating drawings for preservation agrees with the idea that they were used as source material, especially given Murillo’s enormous influence in Seville. Groups of putti were clearly in demand for religious compositions. Another similar drawing by Murillo of groups of tumbling putti is dated to later in his career.
D. Angulo Iñiguez, 'Algunos dibujos de Murillo', Archivo Español de Arte, 47, 1974, pp.101-2, fig.17; J. Brown, 'Murillo and his drawings', Princeton, 1976, cat.no.11; M. P. McDonald, 'Renaissance to Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain', exh.cat., British Museum, London 2012, pp. 150 & 152; J. Brown, 'Murillo: virtuoso draftsman', New Haven and London 2012, no.11; M. P. McDonald, 'El trazo español en el British Museum: Dibujos del Renacimiento a Goya', exh. cat., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid 2013, cat.no.32.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1976 BM, Spanish Drawings (no cat)
2012/13 Sept-Jan, London, British Museum, ‘Renaissance to Goya: Prints and Drawings from Spain’
2013 March-June, Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, ‘El trazo español en el British Museum …’
2013, Aug-Nov, Sydney, AGNSW, 'Renaissance to Goya'
2013-4, Dec-Mar, Santa Fe, New Mexico Museum of Modern Art, 'Renaissance to Goya'
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Inscribed by Anderdon in lower left: 'Lord St Helens Collection 26 May 1840'. It seems highly likely that all the five drawings by Murillo given by Anderson were bought by him at this important sale.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number