The Holy Family with a Bird Bartolome Esteban Murillo Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The Holy Family with a Bird is a painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo which dates from 1650. This artwork underlines a new genre created by Murillo in which religious icons are presented in a domestic, everyday setting.

This painting captures a traditional way of life, with the Virgin Mary winding some thread on the left hand side of the composition and Joseph accompanying the child. The most charming element of this artwork would be in how the Christ child plays with a dog and bird, with Murillo again displaying the sensitive qualities of his work which were a key reason for his ultimate success. It was rare for these figures to be captured in this way, and the genre itself was something of a creation of Murillo himself, with displays of innovation similarly occurring in other parts of his career. Behind them in the background the artist chooses to dimly light that part of the work, just adding some items of furniture in order to underline the domestic setting. The drapery around Joseph is also particularly well done and reminds us of how Murillo had mastered a good number of different artistic elements, far beyond just portraiture.

The bird in this scene is not immediately obvious but is actually being held in the right hand of the young child. Historians have argued that the abrupt lighting used in this painting was directly influenced by Murillo's interest in Italian art from the Renaissance and earlier Baroque eras. He himself would study a good breadth of European art and so was certainly not restricted just to Italian influences. It is also interesting here to see how the artist avoids the use of halos or drama for capturing the images of Mary and Joseph, instead bringing them to life in a human manner that we can all easily relate to. Intimacy was something that this artist could deliver fairly naturally and charm became an inherent part of many of his most famous paintings as a direct result of that.

This painting measures 188cm in width and 144cm in height which is broadly in line with this artist's work during the 1650s. It now resides within the impressive collection of the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, where it is joined by other classic artworks from Spanish and European art. The gallery can probably be considered the finest art venue in all of Spain and it must be remembered that Murillo himself actually travelled to Madrid several times in order to expand his own knowledge of art history. Today is houses some true classics, such as Francisco Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son, La maja desnuda and La maja vestida as well as The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch and also Diego Velázquez's The Surrender of Breda. There are also over fifty artworks from Murillo's own career, making it one of the best places to visit for those looking to understand more about his own achievements.

The Holy Family with a Bird in Detail Bartolome Esteban Murillo