The Young Beggar | Art for A Epiphany 7

Matthew 5:42 Give to everyone who begs from you…

The Young Beggar
MURILLO, Bartolomé Esteban
(b. 1617, Sevilla, d. 1682, Sevilla
The Young Beggar
c. 1645
Oil on canvas, 134 x 100 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Click image for more information.

In addition to Hovak’s always interesting contribution, he has found this article from the September 2008 CDC publication of EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES – GLOBAL HOMELESSNESS, which used today’s Murillo on the cover (click to read.)
Commentary by Hovak Najarian
The Young Beggar, Oil on Canvas, c. 1645, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1617-1682

During the seventeenth century the Spanish Empire was on the decline and there was great disparity between the wealthy and the poor. The wealthy noble class neither worked nor was required to pay taxes and the poor were in desperate need. Although the government was mismanaged it was supported by silver from mines in South America and wealth from other foreign lands. Foreign possessions and occupied lands however required attention and resources were squandered on wars. Yet, regardless of these conditions, the visual arts flourished.

Bartolomé Murillo and his contemporary, Diego Velazquez, were both natives of Seville. Velazquez became the court painter for Philip IV and worked in Madrid; he is regarded now to be the greatest painter of the Spanish baroque period. Murillo remained mostly in Seville and yet in his lifetime he was far better known than Velazquez. His work was admired throughout Europe.

Murillo built a reputation painting altarpieces but early in his career he began painting the orphaned homeless children who begged and foraged to survive. Disease was widespread among them and many died from the plague (several of Murillo’s children also died in the plague). “The Young Beggar,” (also known as, “The Louse-Ridden Boy”) shown here, was the first of Murillo’s urchin paintings. Murillo’s parents both died when he was a young boy and he identified with the difficult life of street children. He helped with charitable work through his association with the Franciscans.

“The Young Beggar” depicts a boy in patched, torn rags and dirty bare feet sitting alone in a sheltered area. He has just finished eating a lunch of apples and shrimp and now is examining himself in an effort to get rid of lice. Today, this may seem like an odd subject for a painting but it was a reality of the times. Grooming often was depicted in seventeenth century genre paintings, especially in the Netherlands and Flanders where the relationship of hygiene to health was recognized. In Dutch paintings the cleaning of lice also was symbolic of the cleansing of sin and it is thought this painting may have been commissioned by a Dutch or Flemish merchant living in Seville.

[Apart from the pesky insects, the term louse has entered our language with additional meanings. We say a contemptible person is a “louse” and we use the term also for something that is mishandled and not up to par; “It was loused up” or “That is lousy.”]

Hovak Najarian © 2014

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