This moving portrayal of Christ shown as He is presented to the crowd that demands His crucifixion, bears all the characteristics of Murillo's much-prized late oeuvre. Painted in delicate yet luminous tones, with fluent, almost vaporous brushwork, it is a perfect example of the great Sevillian artist's ability to produce an image that conveys powerful emotion with great visual elegance.
Professor Enrique Valdivieso (private communication on the basis of transparencies) considers the present picture to be 'una obra espléndida de muy alta calidad' and dates it to circa 1670. Dating it to circa 1665-1675, Angulo (loc. cit.) considered it to be the 'best example' of a composition that was evidently popular, listing several copies, versions and variations of the subject.
Born in Seville in 1617, Murillo is thought to have trained there in the studio of Juan del Castillo, earning his first important commission to paint a series of eleven canvases for the cloister of the convent of San Francisco. In those works he blended the influence of the painting of Francisco de Herrera with the naturalism and tenebrism of the work of Zurbarán. In April 1658, he is recorded as being in Madrid for several months, where he was able to see the royal and aristocratic collections, studying in particular works by Rubens, Van Dyck and the Venetian cinquecento masters. These artists were to have a strong influence on his subsequent work: his monumental Birth of the Virgin of just two years later, painted for the Capilla de la Concepción in Seville Cathedral (now in the Louvre, Paris) shows how Murillo had absorbed the compositional grandeur and rich colouring of Venetian art. After 1668, Murillo produced the masterly second series of nine large pictures for the Church of the Convent of the Capuchinos in Seville, followed by eleven vast canvases for the Hospital de la Caridad (now partly dispersed). In all these works, Murillo never loses his extraordinary ability to portray individual characters and their emotions in a wholly convincing way.
As well as these large-scale commissions, at this time Murillo produced many works on a far more intimate scale: most of his depictions of children date from this late period of 1665 to 1675, including the London National Gallery's charming Peasant Boy leaning on a sill (52 x 38.5 cm.) in which the artist focuses right in on the very essence of his subject matter capturing with seemingly effortless spontaneity the joyful innocence of a young urchin. Although very different in mood, the Cook Ecce Homo also displays a wonderfully distilled concentration of emotion on a similarly intimate scale.
In this canvas, Murillo shows himself to be very conscious of the work of Titian, and in particular the latter's oil on slate Ecce Homo of 1546 that hung in the Royal Palace of the Alcázar in Madrid until 1734 (today in the Prado, Madrid, see fig. 1). In the Cook picture, with regard to mood and overall composition -particularly the way in which the red mantle is draped under Christ's arms- Murillo betrays the strong influence that the work of the Venetian master had on him.
This picture was acquired at the sale of the 'Valuable Collection of Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish and Dutch Masters formed by The Reverend R.R.P. Mealy, Deceased' at Christie's in 1870, for the significant sum of 130 gns. This was the highest price in a sale that consisted of 33 pictures that were being sold from the estate of Richard Ridgeway Parry Mealy, listed in Crockford's Clerical Directories of 1865 and 1870, as of Perfeddgoed, Bangor, and a one time student of St. John's, Oxford. The Ecce Homo was bought at the sale by Colnaghi, probably for Sir Francis Cook and very possibly also on the advice of J.C. Robinson (for whom see the note to lot 22).
In the Cook collection, the Murillo was in stellar company. The 1932 catalogue of the pictures at Doughty House mentions no fewer than five other works by or 'ascribed to' Murillo, all of them hung, along with the present work, in the Organ Room and Garden Gallery extension. Other Spanish canvases also hanging in the Organ Room included a Velázquez masterpiece, the Old Woman frying eggs (now in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), probably acquired the same year as the present Ecce Homo, another Velázquez Portrait of the Buffoon Calabazas, acquired early in the 20th century and now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, as well as El Greco's Christ and the Money Changers (today in the National Gallery of Art, Washington) acquired from Robinson who had bought it in a Paris Hôtel Drouot sale of 1868 and sold it on to Cook by 1894. The Cooks' taste in Spanish art went beyond the Golden Age: a large part of the altarpiece and a separated panel from the Ciudad Rodrigo Retable by the 15th century artist Fernando Gallego also hung in the Organ Room (part of which is today in the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson).
Prior to the picture belonging to the collection of Mealy, no recorded mention of it has surfaced. The composition was, however, engraved twice in 1798 by Manuel Alegre (see fig. 2). One of these is dedicated 'Al Exmo Sr. D. Josef Antonio Azlor y Aragón Duque de Villahermosa y de Palata, Grande de España de primera Clase, lo dedica su más rendido servidor D. Manuel Alegre.' Referred to by Angulo, this engraving, which is in the opposite sense to the present picture and paired with a Mater Dolorosa, corresponds very closely to the present work, and is highly likely to have been based on it, thus confirming the Villahermosa provenance that Angulo gives. If this is indeed the prototype for the engraving, then its pendant Mater Dolorosa seems to have been lost, as no obvious candidate of such sustained quality has survived. There is, at any rate, no doubting the present picture's ability to stand alone as a complete and powerful work of art.
Christ the Man of Sorrows
Oil on canvas
PROPERTY SOLD AT THE DIRECTION OF BRENDA, LADY COOK (LOTS 18-25)
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Manuel Alegre, Madrid, 1798 (dedicated to the Duque de Villahermosa).
London, Burlington House, 1871, no. 65.
London, Grafton Galleries, 1913.
Leamington Spa, Royal Art Gallery, Re-opening Exhibition of Oil Paintings from the Cook Collection, 28 July-30 August and 21 September-15 November 1947, no. 14.
25 1/8 x 21 in. (63.8 x 53.3 cm.)
C. Curtis, Murillo, London, 1883, p. 198, no. 201.
A. Mayer, Murillo Des Meisters Gemälde, Stuttgart/Berlin, 1913, p. 295, illusustrated p. 183.
A. Mayer, Murillo, 1913, p. 183, where dated circa 1675-82.
An Abridged Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond, belonging to Sir Frederick Cook Bart., Visconde de Monserrate, p. 43, no. 8, in the Organ Room.
M.W. Brockwell, A Catalogue of the Paintings at Doughty House, Richmond, and Elsewhere in the Collection of Sir Frederick Cook, Bt., III, English, French, Early Flemish, German and Spanish Schools, 1915, p. 160, no. 523, illustrated, 'clearly a very late work, as we may judge from the soft tonality and atmospheric effects'.
[M.W. Brockwell], 'The Cook Collection Part III', Connoisseur, L, January 1918, p. 9.
M.W. Brockwell, Abridged Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, in the Collection of Sir Herbert Cook, Bt., London, 1932, p. 58, no. 523.
J. Gaya Nuño, L'opera completa di Murillo, Milan, 1978, p. 112, no. 290, dated to 1675-80, 'forse dalla raccolta del duca di Villahermosa'.
D. Angulo Iñiguez, Murillo, Madrid, 1981, II, p. 221, no. 253; III, pl. 329, where dated to 1665-1675.
Duque de Villahermosa, Madrid, 1798 (see note).
The Rev. Richard Ridgeway Parry Mealy, Perfeddgoed, Bangor; (+) Christie's, London, 11 June 1870, lot 113 (130 gns. to Colnaghi).
Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bt., Visconde de Monserrate (1817-1901), and by descent in the Organ Room (no. 21), Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, to
Sir Francis Cook, 4th Bt. (1907-1978), the late husband of Brenda, Lady Cook.