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The Blessed Giles Before Pope Gregory IX (work of art)

Artwork Info

Created
circa 1645–1646
Artist
Bartolomé Estéban Murillo (1617–1682)
Dimensions
65 1/2 × 73 1/4 inches (166.4 × 186.1 centimeters)
Medium
Oil on canvas

Credit

Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina

Object Number
52.9.178
Culture
Spanish
Classification
Paintings
Department
European to 1910

Key Ideas

  • This painting depicts a monk’s meeting with the Pope and two cardinals. A cardinal is a senior official of the Catholic Church. The monk, a man named Giles, said he had a religious experience in which he rose up off the ground and floated in the air. The Pope asked Giles to come to him so he could see this miracle with his own eyes.
  • Bartolomé Estéban Murillo was a Spanish baroque artist known for his religious paintings. 
  • Murillo’s use of light and shadow create a dramatic effect in this painting.
  • The red fabric Murillo depicted in this painting may have been dyed with cochineal, a red-dye-producing insect. 
  • In the 15th century, the Catholic Church designated red as the color of cardinals. Fabric dyed with cochineal was used to make cardinals’ red clothing and hats.
  • The color red represents power and authority in many cultures. It was worn by people of high status in ancient Egypt, China, and Rome.

Learn More

The Blessed Giles Before Pope Gregory IX is part of a series of paintings the artist created for the convent of San Francisco in Seville, Spain. The paintings in this series depict miraculous events in the lives of Franciscan saints. The title of this work refers to a monk named Giles, also known as Giles of Assisi (1190–1262). The monk had reported experiencing states of spiritual ecstasy in which he levitated (rose up from the ground and floated in the air). When Pope Gregory IX heard about this miracle, he asked Giles to visit him so he could witness it himself. 

In this painting Giles’s head is illuminated by an unseen light source. The background is dark, which creates high contrast. This dramatic use of light and shadow was used by many Spanish and Italian painters in the 17th century. The inscription at the bottom of this work is written in Spanish. It briefly tells the story of Giles visiting the Pope. The text (translated to English) describes how “His faith and his love were so miraculous that, standing before the Pope in wonder, he was carried away in a divine ecstasy.”

Bartolomé Estéban Murillo was a Spanish baroque painter who spent most of his art career in Seville, Spain.

He is best known for his religious works. He also painted realistic portraits of women and children. The series of paintings he created for the convent of San Francisco in Seville was his first important art commission. These works established his reputation as an artist.

The red clothing Murillo depicted in this painting may have been fabric that was colored with a red-dye producing insect called cochineal. The Catholic Church designated red as the color of cardinals, or senior officials of the Church, in 1454. Cochineal was used to dye cardinals’ cassocks and hats red by 1588. It is unknown whether Murillo used cochineal-pigmented paint to create this portrait. He used at least two red pigments to depict the various shades of the fabric depicted in this painting. 

Red is the color of high-status individuals in many cultures. In ancient China, Egypt, and Rome, the color red was reserved for figures of power and authority. Red was officially claimed as a symbol of Jesus Christ’s blood and sacrifice, but the color red represented leadership long before Christianity.

Additional Resources

Resources for Teachers 

  • Read an article about Murillo and view a timeline of his paintings.
  • Read an article about color psychology and the ways the color red has been used to represent power and authority throughout history.
  • Read a blog post about Giles of Assisi.

 

Resources for Students

Images

  • A 17th century oil painting depicting Giles the monk before Pope Gregory IX

    The Blessed Giles Before Pope Gregory IX

    An oil painting of five men. Three of the men are seated side by side on the left side of the painting. Two of the seated men are dressed in red robes. The man between them is seated on a taller chair and wears a white robe with a red cape and hat. The other two men are dressed in muted green robes. They stand facing the three seated men across from them. The background is dark, and there is a red carpet with intricate designs on the floor. There is an inscription written in Spanish at the bottom of the canvas painting, below the painted scene.