A new addition to Murillo’s drawn œuvre, the present sheet is the only landscape drawing that can be attributed to the great Spanish master thus far. On the recto is an open view of a hilly landscape, dominated at right by a fortress with a tower and a gate, a forest to the left. A fisherman is quickly defined at left in pen and ink: his boat floats behind him suggesting the presence of a river or a lake in the space between the castle and the wood. Through the artist’s dynamic tight penwork this serene view is transfigured into something unsettling and almost unreal.
Despite being his only pure landscape known, this study finds close stylistic comparisons with others executed by Murillo in the late 1650s and early 1660s, a defining moment for his early graphic style. The Annunciation in the Prado, a preparatory study for his painting in the same museum dating to 1660 (inv. D5998; J. Brown, Murillo virtuoso draftsman, Yale and New Haven, 2012, no. 89, ill; B. Mena Marqués with V. Albarrán Martín, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). Dibujos. Catàlogo razonado, Santander, 2018, no. 31, ill.), is executed in the same energetic ink manner and shows on the verso a series of interlaced exercises in calligraphy which is strictly comparable to those on the verso of the present sheet (which features a similar type of watermark). Here shadows are created through a dense system of sharp parallel and curved hatching which is seen on other drawings from this decade, like the Saint John the Baptist at the Getty (inv. 94.GA.79).
While this composition cannot be linked to any extant painting, landscape played a very important role for Murillo during this period, as attested by his cycle of five canvases of ca. 1665 dedicated to the life of Jacob, now divided between Saint Petersburg, Cleveland and Dallas (The Meadows Museum).
The biographer Antonio Palomino recalled that Ignacio de Iriarte (1620–1685), a painter specialized in landscapes and still lives, was supposed to execute all the backgrounds of the Jacob’s cycle, but after a quarrel Murillo did all the work himself (A. Palomino de Castro y Velasco, El museo pittorico, Madrid, 1724, III , p. 424). Further attesting to Murillo’s strong sensibility for landscape, the present drawing helps shine a light on Iriarte’s influence on him at the beginning of the 1660s.
The old inscription 'Bartolome Murillo fat.' has been the subject of scholarly speculation: there is agreement that this very distinctive script is to be found only on autograph drawings by Murillo – namely nineteenth sheets. Manuela Mena identified it as the artist’s autograph signature (Mena Marqués, op. cit., pp. 680-82), while Jonathan Brown as a later, yet contemporary inscription, possibly left by a collector (Brown, op. cit., pp. 29-36.).
We are grateful to Manuela Mena Marqués for confirming the attribution to Murillo on the basis of digital photographs.