Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 169



166
Scientific intervention in two major Murillo canvases
Scientific intervention in two major Murillo canvases
Research on the project also included the study of the
animal species in the pictures. The IAPH Laboratory
for Paleontology and Paleobiology have identified:
“churra lebrijana” sheep (a young male and another
adult sheep over four years old), an autocthonous breed
appearing in Andalusia around this time; dogs including
a spaniel as it would have appeared before cross-breeding
in the nineteenth century; seabass (fig. 9); and a camel of
central Asian origin. Murillo painted the sclera or white
of its eyes as white rather than dark, evidence that he
had never actually seen this animal.
In this final stage of his artistic career, Murillo had a
wide-ranging knowledge of visual sources, as shown in the
superb results of these paintings. As well as the skilful use of
pigments, several technical and material characteristics can
be highlighted, features which are particular to the artist.
Fig. 9 / Detail of seabass.
Fig. 10 / Representative
detail of the scene through
successive planes of depth.
In the reds and ochres, vermilion, red lakes, and hematite
(ochre) were used, as well as umbers in the brownishgreys. In many parts, such as clothing, a top layer of
transparent varnish was applied to layers of intense red.
Fig. 7 / Ultraviolet
fluorescence study done on
the canvas of The Miracle of
the Loaves and Fishes.
Fig. 8 / Radiographic study
on the canvas of Moses and
the Water from the Rock of
Horeb.
Lead white was identified in the whites, mixed with
other pigments in the light areas and flesh tones and
darkened with coal black or umber.
Deeper insight into the creative process behind these
paintings was gained through information from image
examination techniques (radiography, ultra-violet
fluorescence) (fig. 7). The radiographic findings reveal
some of Murillo’s particular characteristics and enable a
deeper understanding of his virtuoso technique, pictorial
language, his rendering of light and atmospheric effects,
and expressive brushwork. X ray examination allows the
identification of certain pigments by their atomic weight
and shows the way in which the ground layer was applied
(for example in a series of curved lines corresponding to
the marks made by the priming tools18). The effects of
luminous outlines around some of the figures, causing an
optical play that suggests volume, are observable, as are
the extraordinary aerial perspective around the figures
and the skilled movements of the light and intuitive
brushwork. (fig. 8).
In these paintings, Murillo is able to create works
in his distinctive style, and his unmistakable artistic
personality differentiates his brush from the sources
that he drew upon. For The Miracle of the Loaves and
167
Fishes, he turned to Francisco Herrera the Elder,
and for Moses and the Water from the Rock of Horeb
to Gioacchino Assereto. These great works are
iconographically very complex and a comparison
between them shows the contrasting stylistic progress
defining Murillo’s artistic development.
In terms of compositional organization, each element
has a predetermined place; the composition is made
up of a balanced set of scenes in which figures are
judiciously laid out in their various positions. Murillo
organizes his compositions through a series of receding
planes in which principal figures and elements,
arranged in the foreground, are painted meticulously,
while the background and lesser figures are rendered
with a freer, more schematic and spontaneous technique;
his consummate skill allows him to suggest, rather than
explicitly delineate secondary scenes (fig. 10).

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