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Newly-conserved works by Murillo displayed at the National Gallery of Ireland
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), The Return of the Prodigal Son, c.1660. Oil on canvas. Unframed: 104.5 x 134.5 cm. Presented, Sir Alfred and Lady Beit, 1987 (Beit Collection) NGI.4545. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland.

DUBLIN.- Showcasing a magnificent series of works by one of the most celebrated painters of the Spanish Golden Age, Murillo: The Prodigal Son Restored opened at the National Gallery of Ireland on 29 February 2020. The free exhibition marks thirty years since Murillo’s series of paintings based on the parable of the Prodigal Son has been on display in the National Gallery of Ireland. This follows a fascinating conservation project undertaken by the Gallery.

The Prodigal Son cycle by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682) explores sin, repentance and forgiveness across six paintings, staged in seventeenth-century Seville. Donated to the National Gallery of Ireland by the Beit family in 1987, the works have been conserved over many years in the Paintings Conservation Studio at the National Gallery of Ireland, in a project led by Muirne Lydon. Discoveries from the conservation and subsequent research form part of the exhibition, offering a chance to learn more about the artist and his process.

Sources for inspiration for the Prodigal Son series included an engraving by German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer and a set of etchings by French artist Jacques Callot. These works, on loan from the Chester Beatty Library and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, also have been included in the exhibition, revealing Murillo’s thoughtful planning of compositions.

Director of the National Gallery of Ireland Sean Rainbird said, “Murillo’s Prodigal Son cycle is one of the treasures of the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland. We are delighted that this exceptional group of paintings, now gloriously conserved for future generations, will be on view at the Gallery this Spring.”

Curator of Italian and Spanish Art at the National Gallery of Ireland Dr Aoife Brady commented, “The Prodigal Son is a series of international importance. This is the only intact narrative cycle by Murillo in the world, and one of two that this great master ever created. After thirty years, it is our great pleasure to showcase these paintings to the public in their newly-resplendent condition.”

Paintings Conservator at the National Gallery of Ireland Muirne Lydon added, “This has been a wonderful project to work on. The conclusions of technical research performed on the paintings during conservation will be highlighted in the exhibition, revealing how the series was created – from canvas to ground layers and pigments – and the transformations that they have gone through over time. This new research adds to the growing body of knowledge of Murillo’s painting technique and materials. By situating the paintings both culturally and technically, the exhibition hopes to demonstrate that it is crucial to understand these masterpieces beyond their surface, thereby allowing our visitors to fully appreciate this exceptionally rich series.”

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