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Raison d’etre for success

Posted December. 22, 2022 07:45,   

Updated December. 22, 2022 07:45


Baby Jesus leans on Joseph while playing with a dog. Perhaps to get the attention of the dog, he lifts his right hand which is wrapped around a small bird. The dog responds by standing on its hind legs. Maria, who is winding thread, gazes lovingly at them. They appear modest but happier than any other family.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was one of the most successful artists of the 17th century in Sevilla, Spain. He gained fame for his religious paintings based on unique interpretation of biblical stories, like the painting shown here. Murillo did not portray the holy family as glamorous. Instead, he depicted the family as a plain laborer’s family. Christ Child does not have a halo around his head and Joseph the carpenter had wrinkles on his forehead. The Holy Mother also works for a living. The painting features two animals. The bird in Christ Child’s hand appears to be a sparrow, the symbol of freedom; the freedom of spirit which can choose between good and evil. Sparrows, being small and light, fly easily and perch upon branches. Perhaps this is the reason why they are interpreted as souls flying to heaven by doing good deeds. Dogs are symbols of trust and loyalty, the animal that is most trusted by humans. Therefore, the painter depicts a happy and gentle family based on trust despite modest backgrounds.

The artist created this painting at the age of 33, five years after his marriage. He must have wanted to build a happy family after his children were born. Born to the son of a barber in Sevilla, he lost his parents when he was around 10 and lived with his older sister who was married. His sister, however, did not live long. His wife bore 10 children but half of them died at early age. No doubt that family had a special meaning to the painter. He had probably wanted deceased family members to fly to heaven like a bird and rest, while safeguarding the rest of his family with trust, like a loyal dog. To Murillo, who painted all his life, family meant to love and trust as well as the raison d'etre of a successful artist.