Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville 1618 – Càdiz 1682)
The nursing Madonna
oil on canvas
164 x 108 cm
“I am in love with the Virgin by Murillo from the Corsini Gallery. Her head follows me and her eyes keep appearing in front of me like two dancing lanterns “. The famous writer Gustave Flaubert used these words to describe the reaction he got when he contemplated the painting on occasion of his stay in Rome in 1851. The painting, called the ‘Madonna Zingara’ in the city guides, was one of the most admired paintings of the Corsini collection in the nineteenth century due to the lively expressivity of both the Virgin and the child captured by the Spanish painter. The masterpiece was created around 1675 in Seville and it is one of the best examples of the Murillo’s capability to represent a religious subject following familiar narratives and a compositional simplicity.
The Corsini’s painting is centred on the figures of the Virgin and the Child and concentrates its greatest expressivity on the figure’s face and gaze. It was due to their plebeian features that the painting received its nineteenth century designation. Both the eyes of the mother and son become the focal point of the masterpiece. They gaze at the spectator in an intense way. It seems that the viewer has interrupted the moment of breastfeeding. The Virgin’s clothes are slightly pulled away in order to uncover her breast that is hardly visible to the spectator. This discreet representation of the act of breastfeeding responds to the ideals spread by the Council of Trento, that promoted a less explicit rendering of the subject.