Murillo and the Prodigal Son in Apollo Magazine

By Isabelle Kent
The Return of the Prodigal Son (detail; 1660s), Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Photo: © National Gallery of Ireland
In 1649 plague struck the city of Seville. It had fair warning and could have shut its gates earlier, like nearby Cádiz, but whether through hubris, economic need or simple negligence Spain’s largest city had remained open for business. Within a year, a quarter of the population had died, and artists were not spared. Juan Martínez Montañés, the so-called God of Wood, and the young still-life painter Juan de Zurbarán both died, and many others fled the city. Floods and famine compounded the crisis. To all observers the situation was clear: the Almighty was punishing Seville. But from calamity came opportunity. As penance, merchants and New World heirs deployed their vast wealth for the glorification of God. And Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was perfectly placed to benefit from their patronage. [More]

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