When in 2016, more than two centuries after its plundering, the Penitent Saint Peter (1675) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo he returned to Seville, he told himself that it was to stay forever. Six years later, the fate of the work -with which it was ensured that “part of its soul and identity” was returned to Seville- may once again be far from the city in which it was created, now dragged by the Abengoa crisis. The piece, as part of the company’s assets, has been included in the bankruptcy proceedings, and everything indicates that Banco Santander has set its sights on it to commute part of what the technological multinational owes it and in the process increase its already more than appreciable art collection.
The unknown Murillo who found a village priest
The history, revealed by El Confidencialgoes beyond the Penitent Saint Peter of Los Venerablesits official name, since Abengoa’s red numbers can also mean the goodbye to Seville of another Murillo painting, the Saint Catherine (1650), and the sacred Family (1620) by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, Italian painter of the school of Caravaggio. The three pieces can be admired in the Velazquez Center which is located in what was the Hospital de los Venerables, for which Murillo created his Saint Peter commissioned by his friend and canon Justino de Neve, who in turn would end up donating the painting in 1685 to the hospital institution he had founded himself. The Saint Catherine he also painted it for another enclave in the city, in this case the church of the same name.
The path that the paintings have followed has been different, but the destination point is very similar. The Saint Peter Abengoa acquired it to donate it to its cultural work, the Focus Foundation, but the outbreak of its crisis prevented the definitive transfer, for which it appears as heritage of the multinational. Instead, the Saint Catherine and the sacred Family yes, they are owned by Focus, which has put them up for sale to obtain income when the contributions that come from what was their parent company collapsed.
“They must continue in Seville”
The situation has caught the institutions with a changed foot, to which they have begun to turn their eyes so that, if necessary, they acquire the works and continue in the Seville capital. The mayor, Antonio Muñoz (PSOE), stressed this Wednesday that Saint Peter and Saint Catherine “They must continue in Seville. They are part of our heritage and we cannot allow them to leave the city.” For this reason, it has urged the Junta de Andalucía, the central government and the Focus Foundation itself to take “all measures to guarantee that this is the case”.
There is also the circumstance that only the Saint Catherine and the sacred Family have formalized their declaration as an asset of cultural interest (BIC), which is not yet enjoyed by the Saint Peter despite being the most relevant work –it is considered one of the fundamental creations of the artist’s mature stage– of the three. Of course, the process to be BIC has already begun and this shields you from the risk of being sold outside of Spain, all thanks to the fact that in June 2021 the art historian and teacher registered the petition Benito Navarretean expert in the work of Murillo and president of the Movable Property Commission of the Ministry of Culture Andalusian.
A bizarre story
The new risk that weighs on the Penitent Saint Peter shows that he is not capable of closing his eventful story, no matter how much his return to Los Venerables was hailed in February 2016 as the definitive return home. The painting was one more of the victims of the great looting of Marshal Soult in Seville, which the Napoleonic troops had under their power between 1810 and 1812 in the framework of the War of Independence. Soult ordered the seizure of all flashy works of art (999 valuable pieces were accumulated in the Alcázar) in theory for the museum that Napoleon Bonaparte was promoting in the Louvre, although at the moment of truth he kept a good part of the booty.
On his death, in 1851, his collection was dispersed. The immaculate of Murillo that today is exhibited in the Prado Museum, also known as the Immaculate Soultended up in the Louvre, and returned to Spain in 1941 as a present that Hitler gave Franco from occupied Paris.
in the irish sea
The Saint Peter, meanwhile, headed for the United Kingdom and was never heard of again, because it became part of a private collection and was never exhibited in public, to the point that the only trace there was was a deteriorated black and white photograph. After many ups and downs, he was located by Gabriele Finaldi, then deputy director of Conservation and Research at the Prado and today responsible for the National Gallery from London: it was owned by an Iranian collector on the Isle of Man, a unique enclave in the Irish Sea that is not part of the United Kingdom but does depend on the British crown.
Finaldi obtained the transfer of the work for the exhibition Murillo and Justino de Neve. The art of friendship, which he curated on behalf of the Focus Foundation and which could be seen between 2012 and 2013 at the Hospital de los Venerables itself. That was when Focus had its eye on it and acquired it in 2014 for six million euros, being restored and exhibited in El Prado before a return to Seville in February 2016 –two centuries after his plundering– that was supposed to be definitive.