Christ healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda (1667-1670)

Bartolomé Murillo (1617 -1682)

Art facts:

  • Artist: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
  • Currently аt London, National Gallery
  • Original size: 93.3” x 102.7” inches
  • This work is linked to John 5:1-9


About the artist:

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (baptized January 1, 1618, Sevilla, Spain—died April 3, 1682, Sevilla), the most famous Baroque religious painter of 17th-century Spain, noted for his idealized, sometimes precious manner. Among his chief patrons were the religious orders, especially the Franciscans, and the confraternities in Sevilla (Seville) and Andalusia.

He was born in 1617 in Seville as the youngest of fourteen siblings. Tragically, by the age of ten, both of Murillo’s parents had died, and so he went to live with one of his older siblings, Anna, and her husband. Murillo then went to study with Juan del Castillo, another Spanish painter, for five years, and soon became one of his best disciples. At the age of fourteen, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo began painting and selling his works to bring some money home to support his family.

At the age of twenty-two, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo decided to open a small workshop specializing in cheap paintings, which he would sell during the many public holidays. However, Murillo continued to study other artwork, particularly Flemish art, to improve his own style. Although it is not known whether he traveled abroad, he may have discovered and studied Flemish artwork in Seville, which at the time was a center for trading art from all over Europe.

In 1642, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo traveled to Madrid, where he most likely encountered the works of Zurbarán and Velázquez, whose influences, particularly the early Realist style, can be seen in some of Murillo’s previous works.

Murillo returned to Seville in 1645, where he painted thirteen paintings for the ‘claustro de San Francisco el Grande de Sevilla’ (Monastery of San Francisco the Great of Seville), which helped to increase Murillo’s fame. Following this, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo began to specialize in painting the Biblical subjects of the Virgin and child and the Immaculate Conception. During this time, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo married his wife Beatriz Cabrera, with whom he had nine children. Unfortunately, four of these children died during the plague in Seville in 1649.

From 1658 to 1660, Murillo stayed in Madrid, where he helped found the ‘Academia de Pintura’ (Academy of Painting). He helped direct the Academy with the Spanish painter, Hererra el Mozo. This period was also one of Murillo’s busiest. He received many commissions, including the altarpiece for the Monastery of Saint Augustine and the paintings for the main altarpiece of the ‘Iglesia del Convento de Capuchinos,’ Church of the Convent of the Capuchins, in Seville.

Murillo died in 1682 in Cádiz and was buried, according to the wishes of Murillo himself, in the Church of Santa Cruz.

About the Painting:

In 1664, Murillo’s wife died, and he moved his family into the Convent of the Capuchins. It is after this that he painted his most famous religious works for religious orders such as the Capuchins, the Venerable Sacerdotes, and the brotherhood of the hospital of the Caridad, which dedicated its charitable efforts towards the poor and the sick of Seville of which Murillo was a member. In 1667 Murillo was commissioned by the Caridad hospital for a painting intended to be placed in the Caridad hospital’s dining hall.

At the height of approximately 8 feet, Christ Healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda commands attention from its audience. Its rich colors, dramatic tone, and subject matter show that Murillo was a true baroque painter.

The painting is based on the story of John 5. In Christ Healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, we see anguish and frustration on the paralytic man’s face as he explains to Jesus that he has sat at the pool for nearly 40 years, or 38 to be exact and has never been able to get to the pool first. Upon observing the paralytic’s condition, it is evident that he has opted to live at the pool of Bethesda, and this is evident by the few possessions next to his bed. He has a cane, a plate, and a pitcher- fundamental necessities. We also see Jesus extending his hand to the man instructing him to get up and walk. Around them, there are the disciples and many other sickly and invalid people waiting for their chance to be the first ones into the pool upon the angel’s visit. There is a lot of pain and suffering at the pool of Bethesda.

Upon further study of the piece, we can see the angel that turns the water into a healing pool. The angel is far away, disconnected, and not interacting with the people. Jesus, on the other hand, is among the people, speaking to them, and healing them. Jesus’ message is simple: “follow me and be healed.” This painting would have been particularly affective in the Caridad hospital’s dining hall because the audience would have been the poor and sick. All they needed to do was put their faith in Jesus, who was among them, instead of superstition like the angel at the pool of Bethesda.

Murillo’s interpretation allows for a timeless and universal message: Christ is here to heal you. Follow Him instead of worldly superstitions, and you will be healed.

In time, Christ Healing the Paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda was passed from collector to collector until it ended up in the National Gallery of London, completely isolated from its sextet of paintings.