Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682): Two Women at a10/24/2021, 5:10:55 PM
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682): Two Women at a Window, c. 1655/1660, oil on canvas, 125.1 x 104.5 cm (49 1/4 x 41 1/8 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Murillo's genre paintings often possess a wistful charm; 'Two Women at a Window' is a striking example. A standing woman attempts to hide a smile with her shawl as she peeks from behind a partially opened shutter, while a younger woman leans on the windowsill, gazing out at the viewer with amusement. The difference in their ages might indicate a chaperone and her charge, a familiar duo in upper–class Spanish households. Covering one's smile or laugh was considered good etiquette among the aristocracy. According to a second interpretation; this may look like an 'innocent' scene, but it is also possible that something quite different is depicted here. The earliest title given to this painting was Las Gallegas (The Galician Women). As contemporary viewers would have understood, Galicia, a poor province in northwestern Spain, was the homeland of most of Seville's courtesans and prostitutes. The younger woman's direct gaze, along with her low neckline and red flower, may beckon a customer -- or the viewer himself. A tradition of Dutch moralizing pictures showed wayward young women with their procuresses. Murillo would certainly have seen such works in Spain. Many of his clients were Flemish and Dutch merchants living in Seville. Northern paintings, however, usually contained more overt indications of their subject -- the procuress was an older and more sinister figure, and other clues, such as animals associated with lust, might also be included. Murillo's painting remains a puzzle. The convincingly modeled, life–size figures, framed within an illusionistically painted window, derive from Dutch paintings that were meant to fool the eye.