The Frick Collection
Peter Paul Rubens, The Holy Women at the Sepulchre Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Birth of Saint John the Baptist Francisco de Zurbarán, Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte), The Flight into Egypt Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino, Aldrovandi Dog
The West Gallery of The Frick Collection
Special Exhibition

Jacopo Bassano
The Flight into Egypt
Podcast | Video

Peter Paul Rubens
The Holy Women at the Sepulchre
Podcast | Video

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri called Guercino
Aldrovandi Dog
Podcast | Video

Francisco de Zurbarán
Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose

Masterpieces of European Painting from the Norton Simon Museum
February 10 through May 10, 2009


Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617–1682), The Birth of Saint John the Baptist, c. 1660, oil on canvas, The Norton Simon Foundation

Podcast Available Podcast available by Assistant Curator Margaret Iacono.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Birth of Saint John the Baptist is unambiguously religious in its theme. Murillo presents the scene with all the drama of a theatrical production. In the center foreground of the picture sits a middle-aged nurse who supports the newborn child on her lap while gently drying him following his first bath. One of the three women assisting her grasps a copper washbasin, while a second gazes adoringly at the child and offers a gleaming white cloth. Another servant girl turns toward the father, Zechariah, who gestures at his son. In the background to the right, an exhausted Saint Elizabeth lies in bed, attended by a woman who offers her food. This secondary space is cast in shadow, with only Saint Elizabeth’s face, her right hand, the white of the bed sheets, and the rag draped over the servant’s left arm catching the muted light. Two ethereal sources illuminate the scene: the saintly child, who radiates an intense brilliance, and a cluster of angels, who emit a golden glow as they peer down from the heavens at the beatific infant.

Although various events from the life of Saint John the Baptist are recorded in all four of the canonical gospels, only Luke describes the circumstances of his birth. Murillo’s scene, with its depiction of the infant’s first bath, underscores the Baptist’s future vocation. Also, the brilliant, pure white of the towels can be seen as an allusion to the words of Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347–c. 407), who described John’s purity as surpassing even the whitest of garments. Murillo situates the intimate scene in a humble setting populated with figures reminiscent of those he would have encountered every day on the streets of his native city, Seville. The artist’s talent for relating the most sacrosanct of events in an ordinary language made his works widely appealing.

The Birth of Saint John the Baptist was in England by the early 1800s in the collection of Henry Gally Knight (1786–1846), a poet, author, and Member of Parliament. (Before that time, the painting probably had remained in Spain.) Simon purchased it in 1973, a year after The Norton Simon Foundation had acquired Murillo’s Saint Thomas of Villanueva Giving Alms to the Poor of about 1678.

Margaret Iacono, Assistant Curator

A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition. It contains a comprehensive essay on Norton Simon’s collection by Sara Campbell, Senior Curator at the Norton Simon Museum, as well as detailed entries by Margaret Iacono on the five paintings on loan to the Frick.

Masterpieces of European Painting from the Norton Simon Museum is organized by Colin B. Bailey, Associate Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator of The Frick Collection, and Carol Togneri, Chief Curator of the Norton Simon Museum, with the assistance of Margaret Iacono, Assistant Curator of The Frick Collection.

Principal funding for the exhibition is provided by Melvin R. Seiden in honor of Colin B. Bailey. Major corporate support is provided by Fiduciary Trust Company International. Additional support is generously provided by the Thaw Charitable Trust, Mr. and Mrs. John P. Birkelund, and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.