Abraham and the Three Angels was painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murrilo between the years 1670-1674. The painting is a product of oil paints on canvas and was acquired by the national gallery in 1948. It is one of the four narrative paintings taken from the Hospital de la Caridad by the French general Jean de Dieu Soult. The hospitals church is home to some of Seville’s most opulent Baroque sculptures – a style of art for which Murillo was renowned as being Spain’s finest artist.
Abraham and the Three Angels is a perfect illustration of Murillo’s ingenuity for religious painting combined with his flair in being able to narrate biblical stories within his work. This painting in particular, tells the story of Abraham welcoming the three angels into his home after he receives a message from God that his 90-year-old wife is pregnant. The inviting demeanour demonstrated by Abraham through his hand gestures is influenced by the period whereby Murillo himself was welcomed by Velazquez after the death of his parents. The angels arriving as a trio represent God as a visual depiction of the Holy Trinity. Murillo can perfectly balance a blend of naturalistic depiction of the physical aspects and an imaginative suggestion of his spiritual state – he cleverly conveys his intense faith of the child saint in a convincing image. We are shown this through the baby, almost cherub-like faces of the angels.
The use of oil plays a significant role in this painting. Murillo could create a realist anatomy and a sense of intimacy with the use of the sweeping brush stroke aiding him in elaborating his narrative genre of work.
Murillo varies the effects used within the painting for different impacts. He blurs out the background by dissolving the colours with the aim of creating a sense of distance in the painting to represent the journey of the angels. The paint effect of Murillo’s technique in the pictures with the broken effects and atmospheric effects would be characteristic of his work from now on. Murillo also uses tenebrism – the contrast between predominantly dark tones and shadows with bright scintillating colours. In the painting, you can see the contrast between the gradient of colour from the left to the right-hand side. Abraham and his home are situated in the dark half of the painting highlighting the situation in comparison to the angels being in the lghter half symbolising that they are the solution Abraham and his wife are in. This particular style was popular with many Spanish Baroque artists of the 17th century such as Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi – one of the few female Baroque artists of the period.