The Virgin of the Rosary
Murillo’s Virgin of the Rosary is an excellent example of the artist’s late style, when he was painting in his so-called estilo vaporoso (‘vaporous style’). The contours of the figures of the Virgin and the Christ Child have been softened and light suffuses the composition, enveloping them in a gentle glow. Although both figures have been idealized to a great extent, they retain a familiar humanity, particularly in the carefully combed hair of the child and the engaging way he toys with the beads of the rosary in a characteristic Murillesque touch.
We do not know for whom this picture was painted, but from 1644 until his death Murillo was an active member of the Confraternity of the Rosary at his local parish church, and it is likely that a painting such as this would have been made for a Dominican church or a monastic chapel in Seville or Cádiz. The commission must have been an important and valuable one because the materials used by Murillo are of the highest order. Unlike such works as the paintings of the two Dulwich beggar boys which were painted on a plain woven canvas, Murillo used a fine linen canvas into which was woven a distinctive damask pattern of crosses and squares. For the intense blue glazes of the Virgin’s drapery, he used ultramarine, a pigment so expensive that it was rarely used in Spain, demonstrating the wealth of the church or confraternity that commissioned this altarpiece.