Free exhibition Murillo: The Prodigal Son Restored opens on 29 February 2020

Oil painting of group of people watching man depart on horseback
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), The Departure of the Prodigal Son, 1660s. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

For the first time in 30 years, newly-conserved works by Murillo displayed at the National Gallery of Ireland

Free exhibition Murillo: The Prodigal Son Restored opens on 29 February 2020

Showcasing a magnificent series of works by one of the most celebrated painters of the Spanish Golden Age, Murillo: The Prodigal Son Restored opens 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 will 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, will also be 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.”

Murillo: The Prodigal Son Restored opens at the National Gallery of Ireland on 29 February 2020 and runs until 10 January 2021. Admission is free. 

This exhibition is generously supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation


Notes to editors

  • Images are available on request
  • Curators Muirne Lydon (Paintings Conservator) and Dr Aoife Brady (Curator of Spanish & Italian Art) are available for interview
  • The exhibition is accompanied by a publication which chronicles the history of the paintings and the conservation project. The publication is available from the Gallery Shop, in store and online
  • A series of events, including pop-up talks and workshops, will support the exhibition
  • Following the closure of the exhibition of the Prodigal Son series in Dublin, the paintings will travel on an international tour, to be displayed in a selection of institutions renowned for the strength of their collections of Spanish art

About Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo is considered by many to be one of the greatest visual storytellers of the Spanish Golden Age. Born into a well-respected Sevillian family, Murillo was the son of barber-surgeon Gaspar Esteban and his wife María Pérez. The youngest of fourteen children, Murillo was baptised in Seville on the 1st of January 1618, where he practiced as an artist until his death in 1682. His paintings were popular among the local Sevillian aristocracy, members of religious orders, and foreign merchants alike, resulting in an oeuvre which dominated the city’s artistic interests for much of the seventeenth century. Though Murillo himself was largely confined to Seville during his lifetime, his popularity expanded far beyond the boundaries of the city, and indeed, of the country. In the centuries following his death, Murillo’s work became highly sought after by collectors of varying nationalities, including those of Britain and Ireland.  The National Gallery of Ireland has eleven paintings by Murillo in its collection, of which six stand out as exceptional: a series depicting the parable of the Prodigal Son, presented to the Gallery by Sir Alfred and Lady Beit in 1987.

The Prodigal Son Restored