European Master Drawings: Audio Guide

Bartolom Esteban Murillo (Seville, 1617 to 1682)

Saint Thomas of Villanova Distributing Alms to the Poor

Pen and brown ink with brown brush on red-tinted paper

291 x 202 mm


The drawing is titled Saint Thomas of Villanueva Distributing Alms to the Poor by the renowned Spanish artist Bartolom Esteban Murillo, crafted between 1668 and 1669. Murillo was commissioned to design altarpieces for the newly established Capuchin church in Seville, Spain. This piece, intended for a side chapel, celebrates the life of the Spanish friar, Thomas of Villanueva. The central figure, St. Thomas, can be seen assisting the individual kneeling before him. St. Thomas was well-known for his charitable deeds. He once said, Charity is not just giving, but rather removing the need of those who receive charity, and liberating them from it when possible.

Crafted with pen, brown ink, and brush on red-tinted paper, this drawing serves as Murillo’s initial vision. When compared to the final painting in the church, you’ll observe some differences. The depiction of St. Thomas has been changed, background figures have been modified, and the woman with the child was added later. This inclusion emphasizes St. Thomas’s compassion for women and orphans.

This artwork demonstrates the evolution of a piece from its inception to completion, showcasing the artist’s initial ideas about composition and motion. As you gaze upon the artwork, it’s essential to understand this broader context. The artwork is not just a representation of Saint Thomas and his deeds, but also a testament to the Church’s broader efforts during a time of Counter-Reformation.