Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - Two Girls at the Window

by Julia Kynast


Art or reality? Two young women stand smiling at an open window - the subject, which seems so innocent at first glance, reveals much more upon closer inspection. Oscillating between privacy and publicity, the viewer is directly addressed and integrated into the pictorial event. On the one hand, he becomes a participant in the painting, as he is looked at directly from it, and on the other hand, he becomes an art-viewing voyeur. In the process, the boundary between reality and fiction seems to blur.

The two young Spanish women are in the interior of a building, whose interior remains hidden. Leaning on the window frame, which also serves as the picture's border, the younger of the two looks out of the painting, smiling pertly. She wears an off-the-shoulder light dress, her décolleté is adorned with a red flower. To her left, the second lady peers out from behind a casement window. She covers her laughing face with a grayish shawl, which at the same time veils part of her hair. She also wears a simple robe.


Nevertheless, it should be difficult for the viewer to classify both women in the bourgeois society of their time. The bared head and the uncovered shoulders of the girl show an unusual permissiveness that would have caused a great sensation even in the 17th century. But not only her open-hearted appearance, also the Spanish title Las Gallegas, which can be translated as the Galician women, indicates that the women belonged to the courtesan milieu. Numerous Galician women belonged to this milieu in Seville, who had come to the city to work due to poor living conditions.


In addition, the painting could have served as a source of inspiration for the famous masterpiece Maja and Celestina on a Balcony (1808-1812), by Francisco de Goya. The work, which was created much later, also depicts two women in typical Spanish costumes at an open window. A great similarity of both paintings can be found in the lascivious look with which the young girl meets the viewer. The older girl can be clearly identified as a bawd in Goya's work.


In the œuvre of the Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, who was known at the time especially for the depiction of Christian motifs, the genre paintings occupy a special position. The only about 25 paintings can be found without exception outside of Spain. They were especially popular with foreign merchants and gave the artist great international prestige.


Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - Two Girls at the Window

Oil on canvas, c. 1665-1675, 125 × 104 cm, National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.